Virtual Learning Must Enhance Classroom Instruction, Not a Scheme to Save Dollars in Tough Times.


Technological innovations evolve more quickly than humans ability to absorb them.
As democratic revolutions spin across the Arab world they may have been driven by social media, by technological innovation that sprung up only a few years ago.
That little cell phone is now a mighty computer: tweeting, texting, facebook-ing, blogging,  from GPS to the galaxy of the Internet to unlimited apps, all wrapped into that slick little Android, or I-Phone.
Once upon a time teachers scribbled on legal pads and constructed detailed lesson plans, now they shove the memory stick into their computer and world unfolds on the Smartboard.  In some classrooms the new technology is simply an electronic workbook, in others it is an interactive tool to engage students.
Virtual Learning, aka, distance learning or on-line learning is an opportunity,  if used to supplement and not supplant traditional classrooms. A couple of students are interested in studying physics, budget restrictions don’t allow for a class of 3-4 students, however, with the guidance and supervision of a teacher students can view podcasts, Skype with other distant students and experts, participate in electronic bulletin boards, “text” questions, an opportunity to explore areas that just a few years ago would not have been possible.
The new technologies are not a panacea for budget woes. Simply sitting students in front of a computer is cheaper than paying a teacher, and, a disservice to all children. Children need more, not less contact with caring adults, with teachers, counselors and principals.
Commissioner Steiner has suggested that “seat time,” the time requirement for each high school class, be eliminated. This is shortsighted and a bad idea.
Under current regulations each course is required to be 180 minutes per week/54 hours per term, basically a daily class. State Education Department staff argues that a student may be able to complete coursework, especially through on-line learning in less time, and proposes that the “seat time” requirement be eased or eliminated.
In each and every classroom students learn at different rates. Teachers are expected to differentiate instruction, some students require constant encouragement and reinforcement while others can delve more deeply into topics. Eliminating or reducing “seat time” is both unnecessary and dangerous.
In New York City a device called “credit recovery” allows students to make up credit for failed courses through unregulated schemes. Many are on-line “courses” that students can complete in a brief period of time, and, are totally inadequate. The State Education Department after sharp criticism issued regulations that do not address the weakness of these programs. They should have prohibited the program unless approved by superintendents. The staggering dropout rates in Community Colleges can be directly traced to the tsunami of credit recovery schemes. Principals, fearful of Progress Report grades cut corners and harm children.
All Virtual Learning Programs must answer:
1. Does the program include regular face-to-face interaction with the teacher in a classroom setting?
2. Does the virtual school replace a brick and mortar school? If so, who is the faculty? Who certifies the courses and the faculty?
3. Do staff retain academic responsibility and control over the course/curriculum and who teaches it?
4. What role does the staff play in selecting and employing new technology?
5. How does the program address potential access by students?
Rather than waiving seat time the Commissioner and the Regents must develop Standards of Good Practice for Virtual Learning, i.e.,
* close personal interaction must be maintained between student and teacher.
* class size requirements should mimic brick and mortar requirements.
* Online courses should cover all material covered in face-to-face coursework.
* Experimentation (pilot programs) must precede implementation.
* Student assessment must be comparable with regular instruction and courses.
* Students and parents must fully understand virtual course requirements.
We all seek that magic bullet, that answer to life’s most difficult questions. We know the answer: hard work. Putting the textbook under the pillow does not result in the absorption of knowledge. A teenager posting on this blog wrote,
from the point of view of a teenager … children inside of the school are so bored that when given a chance to work on a computer for an assignment, most of them will go to games. if you block the game sites we will strive just as hard to find a new one …. there are just too many distractions and it doesn’t help that more and more of the classes are online work … I am taking 3 and let me tell you it is certainly harder than school. If I could I would change back to normal schedule.  I miss the teachers going over what we were learning in class but do you want to know what I miss most of all, the social interaction with friends.
Technology are tools that can enhance schooling, technology is not a shortcut to save dollars and under serve students 



One response to “Virtual Learning Must Enhance Classroom Instruction, Not a Scheme to Save Dollars in Tough Times.

  1. You write that “Simply sitting students in front of a computer is cheaper than paying a teacher, and, a disservice to all children.” While this appears logical, examination of the NYC DOE’s iZone mega-project appears to intimate to the contrary. The costs for providing each child with a computer or smart terminal, developing appropriate platform software and digital curricula, setting up broadband networks with the capacity to handle a large amount of on line coursework and the like appear to be huge. Rather than saving money, we’ll have to await the forthcoming iZone audits recently announced by NYC Comptroller Liu to see whether any money has been saved at all. While iZone’s line item budget has been a closely-held NYC DOE secret, from the little I’ve been able to glean so far, it will cost far more per pupil for the first 5 years of the project’s implementation than simply making classes smaller and hiring more qualified teachers. And given inevitable hardware replacement and repair, iZone may well cost more per pupil for the entire life of the project.


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