Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Virtual Education

When I was serving in Vietnam in the late 60's I took some correspondence courses. I, of course, used the mail, not email, just plain USPS. I had a professor in Wisconsin who would assign me work that I would do and send back to him, and he would return that work with comments and grades. It was slow, but I had time on my hands. Today, soldiers can take online courses and do. When I became a teacher and as the technology in my class improved I began having my scholars publish their work online and engage in peer review. I still do that and even operate a CyberSchool in our school to help students with credit recovery. Most of my students do most of their work in my class at home or in the library, since class time is only one hour long. Those students who only use my class to do their work, soon realize that they need to find more time in their day to do our classwork as they look at what their classmates are doing. Peer review has lost of powerful implications and prevents plagiarism. I've been involved with Virtual school as well, but in my school district seat time is what counts and virtual class does not exist yet, since accounting for time is not easily accomplished and f2f seat time is more easily accounted for. Either the student is here or is not here. Work done and quality really aren't the issue, it is about seat time. So when I hear about places that use Virtual schools and the technology to help in credit recovery, dealing with at risk students, filling in gaps in curriculum, and coordination with other schools, I get excited.

"Anytime anywhere" was a rally call of the mid 90's when we were exploring technology in the classroom. It has found another source of use and excitement in Michigan. A middle school math teacher also "teaches trigonometry and geometry to students across the state online through Michigan Virtual School." The teacher comments about how she can do this on her own time and in her own time as long as she responds to a question within 24 hours. That is easy. She also says, "I have time to carefully construct my responses to any questions they have. As a student, I succeeded but did not participate much because I was shy, but I flourished online because of the anonymity." This is very important in any class. I have found that shy students flourish in the online world and that the big mouths who dominate the f2f classroom sometimes do not because they rely on the power they have in f2f. Online classes are a lot more democratic and we are all judged on our performance. Dominating talkers in a class can ruin a class, not in the online world., everyone gets the chance to participate and to take the needed time to cast a good question or answer. She is paid if the students perform well on the state tests and that kind of accountability seems responsible. I agree with her that we need both online and f2f in our education for our student to excel. They need more then the time given in school so that they can ruminate over questions and answers.

Reading a recent article about the growing homelessness population in this country and how the Allegheny County Intermediate Unit's Homeless Children's Initiative is serving and dealing with their growing homelessness population among school aged, I was reminded about how important documenting our work and digitizing it can be and has to be so our students do not lose time or work to document their efforts and accomplishments. A terrible result in homelessness, besides the obvious is for the student is that "changing schools frequently can affect a child's academic success. Research has shown that each time a child changes schools, he or she is set back academically by an average of four to six months, the recent education fund study stated." If each student had a digital portfolio, then this problem might be eliminated or lessened. A digital portfolio can travel with the student as this displaced student moves to another school district. This problem is only going to get worse as our economic woes continue. State school departments should immediately begin creating programs that begin the process of digitizing the work of our scholars.

Another population where technology can be a very useful tool is for the at risk population in our schools. In too many cases, at risk students have dropped out and have lost academic instruction, fall behind and become distractions in class to hide their deficiencies. A teacher in such a program in Milwaukee said, "One student, for example, who had never taken a class with peers before because of inappropriate behavior was able to progress enough that he now is enrolled in technical education classes with other students." Technology provides one to one interaction with these students, provides immediate feedback, and the technology is patient. If a student decides to take a break, he is not interfering with other students who are working. Each student can work at hir own pace. Surveys abound on the internet to help teachers and students identify strengths and weaknesses and do this in confidential ways. When traditional education has failed these students we find that technology may be the answer to help them and society. Further as programs and social workers are eliminated from schools, the technology can provide us with access to information, programs, and surveys we need to access the students. The technology also provides a better way of interacting with these students who can work at their own pace to catch up, to follow lines of inquiry, and to help them develop skills lost in previous years.

Technology has a place in homeschooling as well. Many parents opt out for homeschooling for many reasons. So that parents and school districts can find common ground and consensus, technology can become the key to making this successful for the parent and the school, and above all the student. Again when students can interaction in a school for the extracurricular aspects like band, sports, drama, then we find a good marriage between online education and f2f instruction. "Though the majority of learning happens at home, WAVA students can still take certain exploratory classes, like art and band, and after-school activities, like sports, at regular school. Even with these outlets, the boys said WAVA was missing an important social aspect. Jacob said he would like to go to Mount Si High School next year because he is used to the school climate."

Even in advanced classes the technology can be very useful to provide resources to schools that don't have the resources. Technology provides students in AVID programs with ways to produce webpages, blogs, and other apps that let them advance themselves beyond the walls of the school, to get out of the box and excel. AVID "a pilot project being conducted by Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, a national college-preparatory program for students who are capable of more challenging work but need additional resources to reach their potential. Woodlawn High in Baltimore County is among six schools across the country participating in the AVID Center's African-American Male Initiative, which aims to raise achievement among those students." Technology could provide resources and provide methods to produce products that demonstrate their learning so they can interact more effectively. It provides access for the other participating schools to see each others work and engage in peer review. Further, these digitized documents will serve them well as they apply to college and work. Finally, the power of the tutors or telementors will be better and more telementors could be involved.

Slowly but surely we seem to be seeing good things happening with the use of technology in our schools. I only wish it were at a faster pace, especially since the stuff we are seeing now is very similar to what we saw in the 90's. We haven't progressed too far since we are still seeing pilot programs as we had in the 90's. When will these pilot programs become actual programs and the new culture of education?

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