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 that their child is among the lucky ones to end up on that teacher’s roster.
What if that terrific teacher could reach two, three or even five times as many students?
That is one of the promises of online learning, said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact and a speaker at today’s webcasted 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 their students and pay them more for doing so by multiplying their reach through technology, said Hassel.
Relieve those great teachers of non-instructional tasks and use video to reach more students and smart software to personalize instruction.
While the panelists disagreed on when and how digital learning should be introduced into schools, all agreed that online education 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 the 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 like 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 where technology plays a larger and larger role in how work is done.
“Technology is inevitable,” said John Chubb, distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University 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 including statewide laptop programs to stumble, such as 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 academic 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,’’ Bauerlein 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 for educators is how to make technology work for schools. Or schools will become, in the eyes of students, irrelevant.”
Now, teachers confront classrooms with a wide range of abilities, students struggling to read even simple books and others breezing through “The Hunger Games” series. “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,” said Chubb.
“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 out.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog