Sunday, April 8, 2012

Step forward, backward or sideways?

Closing out the week of Spring Break TU noted that Virginia students who enroll in 9th grade in 2013-2014 will be required to take at least one high school course online to receive their standard or advanced diploma.  This would appear to be a step forward  advancing educational access and integration of technology.   This "blended learner" model presents a lot of future unknowns.   A few thoughts:

Thinking about it a bit it begs the questions of what exactly is the goal?  Is it improving education or getting a feather in the cap?  There is still relatively little known about how online learning and more traditional methods vary in the long run but anyone who has taken an online class has an opinion.  Testing I suppose provides an answer.  But not a complete one.  Rural communities where offerings and staffing are harder to provide might stand to benefit more.  But legislating every student to take a course might seem to originate from somewhere other than Virginia and quality.  

Likely an outgrowth of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Educational state initiatives program, online learning has benefits and limits.    But the origin of the measure is notable.  Three things summarize the approach pushed in Florida and other states by Bush's Foundation and they are school choice, accountability through testing and more use of technology to change education. Accompanying this are a host of other reforms.   There are several posts worth of material there but I read a blog post back in October that did a good job providing some background on the issues.  So the foundation wants to transform education.  I just get worried what it will be transformed into.

Jumping back to the change in Virginia part of me I suppose gets a bit threatened by virtual or distance learning, but that is a small part and doesn't blind me to the potential value of such programs. And speaking of value I would have to assume that local divisions will asked to carry any costs associated with this.  Not that big a deal for larger divisions like the one where I work, but I suspect some will feel the pinch.  The questions is which private company will be happily take that money off their hands. 

A couple types of students typically take virtual courses now.  Often those that are behind and need to catch up or need more support in an alternative setting can be found in the computer lab.  Others include those that can benefit from the expanded offerings available online.    Now a third type will take courses(notice I didn't use the word classes) and that's kids that are made to take them.    I suspect that this measure will do little to impact most students in the long run.  I further doubt that the  experience of taking whatever they have to will make learning very fulfilling.  It will instead just be "filling" in a matter of speaking. 

 Given there do not seem to be limitations of which courses can be taken, I would guess that if allowed many students might choose to take courses already offered at the school.  Seems a bit redundant.  New state requirements like the financial literacy course seem an obvious choice for pairing with technology but I suspect localities will have to figure this stuff out.    The true value of online classes will likely always be debated.  They can get you past a test.    I've taken a few, worked with kids taking a few an they have their limits.    I've taken them for two reasons.  Some because i wanted to learn and others because it was required.  I much preferred the former and most of the latter variety were awful.   Mostly I didn't have to think, just do stuff.  That tends to worry me both as an educator and a parent.  Not that this is a bad thing.

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