A green thumb for online learning
Like a bonsai, digital education must be cultivated—with policies that foster its growth and trim its unruly branches. Yet, too few are ready or willing to tend—and bend—this growing plant. Instead, divided camps have emerged. One group—balking at the potential loss of rigor, loss of teachers, loss of interpersonal connections associated with online schooling—stands ready to uproot the fledgling digital-learning initiative. It even seems to have the Wall Street Journal convinced: A WSJ piece from this week starts off with a vignette of an unmotivated online student who sets aside only three hours a day for schoolwork, offers critique of the level of student-teacher communication at Florida Virtual School, and hints at the fear of for-profit takeover of the digital-ed realm. In the other camp are those blind proponents of online ed, who extol its rigor, instructional prowess, and its intrinsic quality-control mechanisms. Responding to the Journal’s piece, Tom Vander Ark personified this movement. In his rebuttal he avers the rigor of online school (but he fails to address credit-recovery programs, a habitual perpetuator of the “easier online” stereotype) and swears that online learning won’t replace teachers (it will). Like charter-school advocates of the mid-1990s, Vander Ark and co. sit contented to overwater and under shape digital ed, allowing it to grow unfettered, creating a free-form—and potentially ugly—product. Both these extremes are wrong. Digital education can and should become a valuable alternative to traditional education. But this cannot happen without a smart sharpening of our policy scissors, and the application of a deft hand to its sculpting. Bonsai!
“My Teacher Is an App,” by Stephanie Banchero and Stephanie Simon, The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2011.“WSJ Picks Problems, Misses the Promise of Learning Online,” by Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart, November 12, 2011.
Category: Digital Learning
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