wasting bandwidth since 1999

Putting Classes on the Web is Not Enough

In the op-ed section of the Post this week, a writer identified as an editor at Reason magazine says that our traditional school system isn’t working so she has a simple solution: move learning online.

Her reasoning follows the same path as that followed by others who believe in the web as a platform for self-service education.

So children continue to learn from blackboards and books — the kind made of dead trees! no hyperlinks! — rather than getting lessons the way they consume virtually all other information: online. Putting reading materials and lecture notes on the Internet, like many teachers do today, is just the first step; it’s like when, in the early days of movies, filmmakers pointed a camera at a stage play. Kids are still stuck watching those old-style movies, when they could be enjoying the learning equivalent of “Avatar” in 3-D. Thousands of ninth-grade English teachers are cobbling together yet another lecture on the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s day, when YouTube is overflowing with accessible, multimedia presentations from experts on Elizabethan theater construction, not to mention a very nice illustrated series on the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge site.

So, what is the URL for that “learning equivalent of “Avatar” in 3D”?

Anyway, she makes some good points about the outdated educational structure we currently have, especially the archaic concept of kids putting in enough “seat time” to earn the required points to punch their exit ticket from a particular class.

However, as with the similar argument in the book Disrupting Class, I’m not convinced that simply moving classes, using the same curriculum and assessments, online would be a cure for everything that ails American education.

Viewing web-based lectures, reading the textbook, playing around with some embedded activities, and taking a test – the format used for much of what passes for online classes – does not qualify as “reform”.

There’s also the matter that students who are successful in online classes are very self-motivated, which excludes many in both high school and college.

On the other hand, there’s no good reason for every student, especially in high school, to show up every day at a specific building for a fixed number of hours when at least part of their work could be done anytime from anywhere.

Just moving classes online is not the solution to an education system that’s isn’t working for an increasing number of kids.

Hybrid classes, part face-to-face and part online, combined with a complete overhaul of the curriculum and how we assess learning, makes much more sense.


  1. Dan Mott

    Tim, this is an interesting topic in which some of us in our department were just talking about recently. If all schooling is is listening to an “expert” and then prove the listening occurred via testing, then that could be done sitting on the beach with Wi-fi. If interaction with other students in a discussion is all there is, then that could also occur while sitting in a quiet Art Museum with Wi-fi (in fact, I get better discussions via Facebook than I do in class of 23). What is it that schools offer that can’t be offered on-line? In science classes, this boils down to lab experiences. Virtual labs don’t come close to the actual lab experience. Inter-discipline Community-based projects might be better in a brick school than in virtual because of the group dynamics and interactions needed for the planning and presentation. I don’t know if any of this would fit neatly into Indicator strands or Benchmarks that lesson plans need, but it would make for interesting schooling. Many schools have Senior projects that do just this. Maybe we could drop the itemized learning lists that “No Child” should be without and incorporate the spirit of the lists into the presentation of projects to a larger audience (community council, school board, etc.) These are just some ideas I’m playing with as I gear up (OK – make summer to-do list) to implement many of them into next year’s Biology classes. :-) We’ll see what happens. :-)

  2. Michael B. Horn

    Figured I’d weigh in again as the coauthor of Disrupting Class… no disagreement with you on this! Online/hybrid is more the opportunity to change, but it’s definitely not guaranteed that just because we go online, change will follow! Many other things have to follow suit — and in addition to those mentioned here, we need to free up the system from being judged on inputs (like time and so forth) and other old metrics. No question about it. As a platform, what online presents is an opportunity and a path to that change.

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