In May 2010, I went to a local meeting of parents of “Gifted and Talented” students to hear about options the presenter had gathered for advanced high school learning in Idaho. To no one’s surprise, online classes were at the top of her list – especially courses from state universities. One mother gushed about her eighth grader, who was taking English 101 from the University of Oregon: “None of the other students even know his age!” the mother bragged. “He just puts his comments in the online discussion and they treat him as an equal!”
Let us note here that this mother’s child does not know any of the other students’ ages, either. They could be a complete class of precocious sixth graders, or grandmothers productively using their time, or pregnant teenagers completing schoolwork at home. There is value in online classes – but it may not be the value Superintendent Luna proposes.
Online coursework is excellent for teachers, lawyers, and other professionals who must annually tick off professional development credits. It is useful for homeschool students who have no other access to educational resources. It is great for adults who want to further their education at home after work so they can advance their careers. But putting students in a classroom in front of a computer with an online class and expecting the resulting jumble of coursework to result in an “education” is short-sighted.
Even for “gifted and talented” students, who are often self-motivated and who search out topics for study that interest them, online education is limited. At best, it offers a “crazy quilt” of random, non-integrated courses that do not result in a cohesive, unified education. If learning is truly “connecting old stuff to new stuff,” as Tim McGhee of Wyoming’s Worland High School claims, then online classes do not result in useful learning.
Currently, our local high school uses online courses for some of its math offerings. One student I know just punches in numbers until the screen tells him he has been successful – then he moves on to the next lesson. Is he learning math? Not really. Is there a teacher there to help him? Yes, of course, and one online, too. The point is that there is really no way to determine if students are doing their online work – they can pass the multiple-choice tests by guessing if they want to. Students report that these are their least favorite classes, in which they learn the least amount of information.
Online education vendors will be thrilled with the new requirement to provide six high school credits per Idaho student. Taxpayer money will go to subsidize these programs rather than staying in our local communities to support our schools. Luna’s economically-appropriate plan will use current levels of funding to fund online credits – even those which originate out-of-state. But all this talk of money is beside the point. Or is it?
It is increasingly clear that Students Come Last in this economic equation. Strong teachers, who are passionate about their subjects, are the key to good education. Online economics are simply that – a method of reducing costs while homogenizing education to a single, multiple choice answer.
Luna-cy #1: advanced technology increases learning
Luna-cy #2: laptops help students learn
· Luna-cy #4: dual credits promote challenge