With online learning, shouldn’t we do better? Shouldn’t we have higher expectations? Shouldn’t we stop telling partial truths? Partial truths don’t help online learning initiatives. All learning through technology is not all powerful.
When I was in elementary school, the teachers used controlled reading projectors. These contraptions used modified film strip projectors to display the text of stories. The projectors fed the story’s text through the film gate while a single line was revealed from left to right. The speed of the text was regulated from 15 lines per minute to 120 lines per minute. Supposedly, the projector was used to help us develop horizontal movement of our eyes to read and to increase our reading speed. Didn’t work for me. My eyes sometimes do not track across the page and it helped make me a non-reader for most of my youth. Technology “solutions” do not always work.
When I was in junior high, my oldest brother was in the U.S. Navy. While he spent most of his time stateside, he was involved with the Navy’s target drones. The Navy had small unmanned airplanes that they launched in the desert near Twenty Nine Palms, CA. His crew prepared and launched the target and then another group attempted to hit it with it with a missile. But I digress.
After Basic Training, he prepared for his work with targets in Memphis, TN. He learned about them through programmed instruction. He left his instructional materials at home when he went to his next duty station.
During those youthful days, I was fascinated with any vehicle propelled by propeller, jet or rocket engine. Through the programmed instruction books he left at home, I learned about radial reciprocating engines and aircraft marshalling. It was self-paced and interesting for me. No teacher demanding that I put away the books so they could move on to the next subject.
My point is that programmed instruction has been used for many years. It allows students to progress at their own rates. From theory developed by B.F. Skinner, it evolved into an instructional method. With computers, it has been called mediated instruction or computer aided instruction. We know that this is a highly effective methodology, but it has largely fallen from favor. It is based on mastery learning, yet is not a favored instructional strategy.
There are readers who will claim that this time it’s different. Yes, first there needs to be a sense of urgency. (See the national number about physics teachers below.) Financially, the current educational system cannot sustain itself. Yes, technology gives us a new dimension of student tracking not available before. Technology allows us to add many different forms of exciting media. However, the learning system is not new — programmed instruction, CAI, mediated instruction, yet it is rebranded as digital, blended or online. There is no new methodology, and it is limited; it does not accent or support other skills students need to be successful in their world.
So I ask the question, “Are the blended learning models proposed in many circles a rebirth of programmed instruction?” Earlier this week I attended a presentation by Bob Wise that was sponsored by the Illinois Policy Institute and the Peoria (IL) Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Wise gave his standard presentation about the need for digital learning. (I’ve heard this in other venues. The video of the presentation will be added here when it is available from IPI.) His reasons for favoring digital learning are around shrinking state budgets, loss of experienced teachers and the need for an educated workforce. He proposes that digital learning allows for comprehensive data systems that can track student learning, converting bubbles to clicks — as I have written about before. The essence of Gov Wise’s thesis is that for our country to compete in a global market we need a highly educated workforce. We need more high school graduates that move into higher education, he postulates. Yet, where do we teach the skills that industry tells us students need: problem solving skills, ability to collaborate, communication skills, etc.? These can’t be measured with a bubble or a click.
The online learning proponents must set the bar high as naysayers will continue to cite the latest alleged deficiencies quoted in the popular press (NY Times, AZ Republic). We need to maintain and professionally enforce quality standards.
Here are three examples in Gov Wise’s presentation that need
- We need digital learning for students who don’t have qualified teachers, for example, the state of Georgia only has 80 some physics teachers. I have heard this before. There’s never been a reference provided when I’ve heard this number cited by various sources. Here’s some more powerful, documented information: In 2007, 66.5% of the nation’s students were taught physics by a teacher without certification in the subject (reference). In 2007, the Georgia’s higher education system produced only 3 physics teachers (reference). The national number is frightening and a strong reason to provide high quality digital learning for these underserved students.
- Carpe Diem, a blended learning school in Yuma, Arizona, is cited as having excellent results with low costs, lower than average Arizona costs and lower than national costs. However, it is average in Yuma County, AZ (reference). It’s ok to get great results with average expenses. This should be celebrated, not selectively removed from the presentation.
- Working with some of the district’s most economically challenged students, Valley High School has dramatically improved its test scores during 5 years. While Gov Wise praises “longitudinal data systems,” AYP is not longitudinal. Further the principal did not do this alone. During five years, many of the students came from a middle/junior high school and that school had to be raising their test scores as well. This was a multidimensional effort — not just that of one school. It is a longitudinal effort not an AYP effort that focuses on results on single grades or levels.
I hope that he reads this to strengthen his presentation about the need for high quality learning opportunities for all kids.