Sunday, January 15, 2012

Technology vs Teachers, part 3

(Part 3 of 3. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here)


Many students are being “left behind”, even in this age of widespread education reform. And that’s with teachers and the same classroom! Take the teacher presence out of the classroom experience—why would you expect the students to succeed? 

Yes, the online course requirement will surely “allow students to take subjects that were not otherwise available at their schools and familiarize them with learning online, something [Superintendent Luna] said was increasingly common in college.” (NYT article)

Even when I was in college at the turn of the millennium, several of my classes had an online component. Over email, we would discuss readings from class and share our reflections. However, I can firmly say that it was too slow and impersonal to feel the same as an in-person discussion. There are certainly elements that can complement or reinforce things from a class, but I do not agree that “learning” online (as opposed to practice or reinforcement) is something that happens in college, nor should it. 

I asked my college-age sister about her experience with online components to classes. She said they have discussion groups and can look at the syllabus or other class information, and for one there's even a webcam feature, which is a neat way to do modern 'office hours' or class discussion.

Online learning still requires a teacher somewhere. What it means is that those teachers might be responsible for even more students than a standard classroom, with all the attending grading and other time. Plus there is less person-to-person contact, which makes it more difficult and time-consuming to discuss a complex concept with a student. If you had the option of stopping by a student’s desk for a few minutes to review their work as they were working, and sending a series of twenty emails over three days, which would be the best use of everyone’s time? 

Not to mention the ease of distraction; we adults have all lost hours to the internet when we were “supposed” to be doing other things. Kids are going to be no different! Who will be there to keep them on track in class?

“[Ms. Rosenbaum] said she was mystified by the requirement that students take online courses. She is taking some classes online as she works toward her master’s degree, and said they left her uninspired and less informed than in-person classes. Ms. Rosenbaum said she could not fathom how students would have the discipline to sit in front of their computers and follow along when she had to work each minute to keep them engaged in person.”” (NYT article)

Discipline is the number-one issue that most teachers face—more so than even curriculum. When you’re teaching in a classroom, you can see who is with you and who is lost, not just by how many hands are raised, but also by eye contact, body language, and facial expression. All that nuance is lost when everyone is communicating only through the computer.

Perhaps one reason that it may work better in college is that the students are there more voluntarily, and they are independently trying to work for their own grades. It’s difficult enough to engage a 17 year old who cares more about upcoming graduation than concentrating on their math teacher. Plus, college professors have a high expectation of their students—a lot more passive listening and note-taking, fewer assignments, longer essays, more in-depth exams. If you do the work, you pass; if you don’t, you fail. High schools are more politically motivated to pass their students. I know the middle schools I taught at sure were.

Sometimes I tend to think that all kids hate school and think that teachers are dumb. But they understand that they need good teachers and good schools to help them do their best. Kids want to learn and want to succeed. (At least, until the system beats it out of them.) Kids know better than anyone if their teacher is really invested, and kids want good teaching more than anyone else. 

“Last year at Post Falls High School, 600 students — about half of the school — staged a lunchtime walkout to protest the new rules. Some carried signs that read: “We need teachers, not computers.”
Having a new laptop “is not my favorite idea,” said Sam Hunts, a sophomore in Ms. Rosenbaum’s English class who has a blond mohawk. “I’d rather learn from a teacher.”” (NYT article)

1 comment:

Teacher gardener said...

I agree with Ms. Rosenbaum re my PD. All the state paid PD is now delivered online and I don't like it. I get very little out it of except for my hours. If I, as a teacher and adult, need the interaction with people and materials; how much more do children?