Almost a year ago, I wrote a little post about the Future of Education. Ever since reading Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class and even prior to that, I have been watching and waiting for public education in this country to come around and catch up to what I had been thinking about and doing. The salient components were creating, collaborating and distributing ideas, lessons, materials and then having students do the same.
Back in 2010, these ideas were not welcome in public schools and to a large degree, sharing things publicly is largely discouraged, which includes teacher blogs. Teachers are highly discouraged from being active in public media, forums and discussions on an individual level. And heaven forbid there is anything posted that might be construed as dissent or dissatisfaction. Schools fear transparency for a pretty good reason. If parents really knew what was happening in classrooms, they might react with shock and horror. We need more transparency in our schools, not less. And attempts made by systems to censor through fear and intimidation need to quashed.
Despite or perhaps because of the negativity in education nowadays, th disruption predicted by Christensen is coming closer and closer to reality. As budgets become more strained and as dissatisfaction increases, new opportunities are beginning to appear and technology is becoming a very key component to that. When I start thinking about what I see in schools and look at what can be offered in a virtual environment, the traditional factory modeled schools become a tougher and tougher sell.
First of all, I think about the benefits to the students. First off, physical bullying is nonexistent in this setting. Bathroom graffiti; nonexistent. Pink slime in the lunches: nonexistent. Need a pass to use the bathroom? How about being interrupted by a fire drill? Then there are the issues around riding the bus. Some might argue that students will miss out on valuable social skills from the interaction with classmates. I have seen and experienced these ‘social skills’ which include learning how to curse at adults and each other. Or how to sag your pants and show your butt. Or how important having the latest designer clothes and gadgets is to social status. I could do without a lot of the social lessons that are being passed around in todays schools.
There are benefits to teachers as well. not having to take a lunch count, not having to supervise halls and lunchrooms and playgrounds frees up time to actually work and interact with students. If a student gets unruly or disrespectful in an online session, it is all there and recorded and they can removed with a push of a button, denying the offending student an audience. A teacher in this environment does not have to worry about being assaulted or having their car vandalized in the parking lot. While some online sessions can have many more students, many more can be accommodated through watching recordings of the live sessions. Why should a teacher have to present the same thing 6 times a day when one recording can work as well?
The single biggest downside to the virtual learning environment is that it involves a significant investment by the parent. Not necessarily in money as most homes already have the technology and connections necessary, but in time. The parents have to take over the custodial role for their children, instead of the school. And this is significant especially if both parents are working in full-time jobs.
The disruption is already taking place all over the country and it remains to be seen if or how positive the impact will be on the education of our students. But times for traditional schools are getting tougher all the time with school budgets tightening around the country causing increased class sizes and decreased number of days in schools. With the shortening of the school year, parents are already having to find other ways for their children to be looked after while they work. And herding more students into smaller spaces brings the task of control to such prominence as to totally overshadow the supposed main goal, which is education. It forces the culture to have more in common with prisons than with places of learning.