online ≠ isolation


One of the critiques of online education is that it isolates students from their peers.  In a recent posting by technologist Larry Cuban, he wrote that “Both parents and voters want schools to socialize students into community values, prepare them for civic responsibilities, and yes, get them ready for college and career.”  The limit to the “community values” thought is that many schools don’t do this now.  Schools are guided by state and federal laws.  Many parents are ruffled by terms like “Winter Break” or “Holiday Break,” when to them it’s CHRISTMAS!  Federal laws and court cases limit what communities value.  Community values are started at home, nurtured with neighbors, and expanded in churches and civic organizations.  Schools continue to be a barrier to community values.

Further how do schools prepare students for civic responsibilities?  Some have required civics and consumer education courses.  Besides observing a local government in action or visiting a bank, there’s little more in most schools.   Some others have community service opportunities or service groups.  The opportunities are limited to those who want to participate, if they are available at all.  I propose that the local church, synagogue, mosque, YMCA, or local food pantry has better civic programs than those offered in schools.  Volunteer opportunities at museums, nursing homes,  hospitals provide stronger opportunities for students to learn about the strong ties of communities.

I am a proponent of public education, although during these days of globalization, the time and space of “school,” bound by busses, bells and rows of desks, makes less sense than it did twenty years ago.  The great liberation of the Internet has made it possible to break down traditional barriers of time and space.

As for getting them ready for work and college, for the most part, beyond the obvious, high-profile exceptions, many schools get their students ready for college, at a great expense one might add.

Is online education THE answer?  Obviously, no.  While I am not normally a “choice” advocate, online education offers families the capabilities of education, without the boundaries of busses, bells, lines of students in hallways (a waste of time),and walls.  It offers students and families the abilty to time-shift or location-shift school.   It allows familiescomplete flexibility with travel, family arrangements, and time — the most value commodity in traditional schools. 

Not all online courses are of high-quality.  Many resemble higher education courses, where students read an assignment, post blogs or respond to discussion boards, and write analysis papers.  Many K-12 courses, even those from high-profile online schools or for-profit companies, emulate the higher education model.  Adolescents and children need different forms of input: reading, audio, video and simulations.  They need to be able the select the modality in which they learn.  I may want to read the assignment while Mary wants to listen or watch a video.  Additionally, adolescents want more adult direction during their online learning.  They tell us that in our course surveys.

Cuban and many professional peers think that online means isolation.  Students find many ways to socialize beyond the school walls.  Go to any coffee shop, fast food joint or mall parking lot on a warm evening.  You’ll find them socializing.  Perhaps that interaction is more meaningful than the activity that occurs locker bays between classes.  Students socialize in many ways outside school.  They don’t need the premise of school to do that, and they can be productive, socialized citizens.

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