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Archive for April, 2012

The digital teacher


By Maureen Downey

In every district, in every school, in every grade, there is that great teacher who all parents want for their children. So, parents cross their fingers and hope that their child is lucky enough to end up on that teacher’s roster.

What if every student in the class could get that terrific teacher rather than a fortunate few?

That is one of the promises of online elearning, said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact and a speaker at last week’s Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s panel on Education Reform for a Digital Era.

Hassel said that only about 25 percent of classes have one of these top-tier teachers at a given time. That means the other 75 percent don’t.

Education can enlarge the classroom of the teachers achieving the best results with students and pay them more for doing so by multiplying their reach through technology, Hassel said.

Relieve those great teachers of noninstructional tasks, use video to reach more students and incorporate smart software to personalize instruction.

While the panelists differed on how digital learning should be introduced, they agreed that it represents the future.

“There is a lot of hope and a lot of hype. We have yet to see too many programs in practice live up to their promise,’’ said moderator Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute. “To get it right, we need a much more fundamental and compelling school reform agenda than we’ve got today.”

Today, there is one computer for every three students across all k-12 schools. There is connectivity. There is hardware. Yet, of 55 million students total, it’s estimated that fewer than a million have taken an online course.

Most schools function as they always have — a single teacher overseeing a classroom with, on average, 23 students. That’s in contrast with every other industry in the country in which technology plays a larger and larger role in how work is done.

“Technology is inevitable,” said John Chubb, distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a founder of EdisonLearning. “We can’t put our fingers in the dikes and stop technology from coming.”

The role of skeptic on the panel was assigned to Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30.”

Bauerlein outlined several obstacles that caused initiatives such as statewide laptop programs to stumble, including 50-year-old teachers who didn’t get on board or a lack of schoolwide coordination.

But the toughest challenges come from students who regard technologies as social tools and resist their conversion to learning tools.

“These tools have intense social meaning for them. They are largely mediums of peer pressures, peer absorption, peer fixation and peer topics — coming into their lives 24 hours a day,” he said.

“Try to control that classroom with 25 laptops open and keep students from drifting into social habits,’’ he said.

If technology became as integral to the academic lives of students as it has to their social lives, Chubb said, “this imbalance that clearly exists now would begin to change. There is not the option of keeping technology out. The challenge is how to make technology work for schools. Or schools will become, in the eyes of students, irrelevant.”

Today, teachers face classrooms that have students who are reading at below grade level and students reading at a college level. “Digital learning allows students to learn at their own level … to customize instruction,” Chubb said.

Under rigid rules on teacher pay and class size, Hassel said there aren’t strong incentives now for teachers to embrace technology or become involved in shaping it. “There is no way they can use it to leverage their time. But if they can use technology in time-saving ways and take on more students and earn more, they will become active shoppers and become a driver of quality.”

That research suggests digital learning is not being done very well yet doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved, Chubb said.

“If we wait for definitive evidence that this new model works better than the old model, we will never get there,” Chubb said.

“What we want is to give educators, principals, school districts and charter school heads more flexibility and more incentive to try to figure out how to adopt technology. This is not something policy makers will figure out. Educators will figure it out.”

This article was originally posted at http://www.ajc.com/opinion/the-digital-teacher-1424150.html

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