Still Thinking on the Virtual Education vs F2F

Photo Credit: me

Since I posted earlier on the subject, I have been struggling with what a completely virtual education would be like (hence the second cloudy picture in two posts on this topic). Obviously, I have the opportunity to be a virtual teacher for Florida Virtual Schools just like any other educator. I tried to put myself in that position. Then, I wondered about my son being put in the virtual only environment as an elementary student. It is so far out there that it is difficult to imagine. Mind you, I did my Masters in that environment, but I am an adult. We are talking K-12 in Florida now. How does one pull that off? What does it look like? Is there an ultimate vision for this setting that has yet to be reached?

Dean has a post with his take on this topic (sort of). He discusses the pros and cons of both face to face (f2f) meetings and those online. He makes great points about both. What I wonder, though, is if a distinction can be made for required classes where base-level knowledge is the goal (like most standards-based courses in public schools) compared to elected advanced core courses. Now, I realize the depth of knowledge and comprehension can be much greater when good conversation surrounds the topic, but let’s face it. Few of our kids love studying core subjects and just want to accelerate their progress to get to where THEY want to be (college, trade school, career, etc). If they can finish a core area subject at an accelerated rate at an adequate (whatever that is) level of comprehension, who are we to slow him or her down?

Dean also says (emphasis mine), “But the richness of conversations and willingness to be open and
transparent is difficult to foster in 3 hours a week where much of that
learning is teacher directed.” That is a good point. In a post-secondary setting, he makes great sense with that since the students are basically strangers gathering a few times a week to move forward in their personal, individual college plans.

In a public school, though, the kids all know each other. Then again, that could be the downfall. They know who will accept their input and who will not. We all know that occurs and limits many students’ participation. For example, I remember very clearly sitting in an English course in junior college. The topic had to do with conflicts and how they change literature. The specific time period we were talking about needed more context than the textbook provided to be clearly understood. So I did what any learner should do. I shared a number of things including how the Hessians played a role against the American revolutionaries. One student sarcastically replied with something offhand like, “That is ridiculous that you would even know that.” Being polite, I said, “Well, sorry about that.” The teacher quickly interrupted saying when we get to the point where we have to apologize for having knowledge, she would quit teaching.  While I did not go recluse in the class, I did not share so easily from that point forward. So does the protected cloaking of an online course allow a personality to shine through in all of its intelligence? Mind you, we are talking about students who voluntarily move into online courses.

Gary Stager adds in his valuable two cents as well:

  • First of all, the fact that kids have decided to avoid schooling and accept an alternative, any alternative should neither surprise nor encourage us. Dropping out may be the most rational response to the current system that will not be improved one bit by kids opting out for correspondence school.
  • What is lost when you never meet a teacher face-to-face? Is education merely the objective exchange of questions and answers? Of teaching and being taught?
  • While I remain a great supporter of the affordances offered learners by well-designed online learning environments (I have fifteen years worth of experience teaching online), the Florida Virtual School was not created out of pure intentions. One needs only to look at the new state law requiring online alternatives to school for every elementary school student and it’s easy to conclude that the Florida Virtual School is first and foremost a stealth plan for privatizing public education and cutting costs. Jeb Bush achieved what his ideological brethren only dreamed of by offering a scheme to parents that sounds futuristic. It is impossible to see this news in an apolitical context.

While Gary has a snarky way of saying things, you gotta love the depth of his thinking about this (and pretty much everything). I happen to agree that it is a perfect way for states to begin to privatize education. It will never do away with public education because many parents count on the school day to watch the kids while they are at work, but it will draw many away. Does that mean classism becomes a part of the problem now? Only the students whose parents can afford to stay home and focus on the kids’ education enter the online arena? Would the test scores be reflective of that make-up? Would the state quit funding (like they do anyway) new buildings for public schools because they can build virtual ones for a fraction of a percent? So does that mean kids still going to public school would be in sub-standard buildings?

Seriously, can you see what I am talking about when I say these things have been swirling in my mind way too much lately. I had to get some of them out so maybe something would gel for me. This is pretty much a brain dump post, but maybe you will find something and latch onto it. Jump into the comments and straighten me out. Please.

Textbooks, Technology, and Funding Revisited

The discussion on the TECSIG list serve has begun to echo some of the thoughts I have shared on here recently. The conversation began on the list serve when the Austin American Statesman posted an article titled “Should textbooks or technology be Texas’ spending priority?”  The money quote for those that advocate on behalf of public education within the Texas legislature is this one:

A 19th-century concept of learning is holding back Texas from bringing school technology into the present, some legislators say.

State Representative Dan Branch, also a member of the House Public Education Committee, shared that he felt “A textbook is a vehicle for content.  That vehicle is quickly becoming a horse and buggy.” Then the Statesman threw out this staggering statistic:

Since 1992, the state has allocated each year $30 per student for technology, which totals about $134 million in the current budget.

The bill for textbooks in the 2008-2009 budget was $496 million and will reach $913 million in the upcoming budget. Almost all of the $1.15 billion from the Permanent School Fund in the 2010-11 budget will be needed to pay for textbooks.

Why do we keep paying the textbook companies SO MUCH money when the things are virtually outdated almost immediately. Why do we not focus more attention within the curriculum and instruction side on how technology can help make the instructional process of delivering that content more efficient and timely.  Well, here is a TED Talks video from Richard Baraniuk that takes this thought a bit further:

So maybe opensource textbooks are a little too far fetched for what we do in public schools, you know, with standards and all. Rice University has been doing it for awhile now, though. But what it does not curtail us from doing is being proactive and collaborating on resources that we KNOW are good for what we are doing in our classrooms. If we cannot count on the textbook companies to be forward thinking and designing a textbook system that allows us as teachers and students to have access to the most recent changes in our field of study, then we must as educators find, create, and share resources that will do that for us. It is called collaboration. It is called being proactive and affecting positive change.

With that in mind, Seth Godin posts this morning on the worst business mistake he ever made. He ignored the internet when it was in its early stages. He wrote books about it and even taught others how to utilize it, but he ignored it himself. He calls it simply his “biggest business mistake.” So why did he ignore it then? Consider his reflection:

Because the rules of this new business didn’t match the rules of my existing business. (emphasis his)

Does this correlate to ANYTHING we are doing in Texas education? Does it correlate to ANYTHING we are doing in TCEA? Does it correlate to ANYTHING you are doing in your classroom?

Just a reminder to Texas educators. The 81st Texas Legislature convenes in January. What are your plans to be a part of it?

Will my son see the inside of a high school classroom?

Or will this be what his classroom looks like?

Will Richardson blogged recently about a conference he attended where he heard Andy Ross, vice-president of Florida Virtual High School speak. The quote does not need much lead-in, so here it is:

Finally, I think the conversation that most blew me away was the one with Andy Ross, the VP of Florida Virtual High School. They’ve got almost 1,000 full time staff now and over 20,000 kids on their waiting list to take classes. They can’t hire teachers fast enough. Kids can take their entire high school curriculum online without ever meeting a teacher face to face, though there are plenty of phone calls and e-mails. Andy said that their research shows that those kids do better on the standardized assessments than kids in physical schools, primarily because of the deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery.

Will’s reflections got me to wondering about where my son will be attending high school six and a half years from now. Sure, if it has four walls and a physical teacher, it will be White Oak High School. But, if it is a virtual environment that he excels in for whatever reason, then that is an option he will obviously have available. Texas has already started down that road, albeit years after Florida took the lead. Our own East Texas Virtual High School via SUPRNet has been ahead of the game (and the rest of Texas) on this as well since they visited Florida in the beginning to help get started on the right track.

Yet, we are talking 6.5 years from now. That’s like 30 years in tech life. How far along will we and our technologies be by then? Will Cisco Telepresence be the home solution? Or will it be like CNN’s holograms or more like a real hologram?

Regardless, consider the technologies we use and take for granted today, and think back five years. Yeah. Tremendous, huh? My son has some awesome times ahead of him. Will Texas public schools be ready? Will TCEA be a part of that preparation? Florida already is. They even have openings for Texas elementary teachers to work from home. That means they are taking OUR kids out of OUR classes and OUR teachers from OUR students. Now. How far behind are we?

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach mentioned at a conference recently, “We are preparing kids with the end in mind, and we don’t even know what the end is.” She’s right. But let me take that one step further. We are planning, prepping, and funding our schools with the future in mind, and we don’t even know what the future holds. Can we even begin to plan keeping unimaginable learning environments in mind? Is it possible for us to get out of the mold where we expect 100% of our students (K-12) to arrive for learning on a bus instead of in their pajamas?

I’m not sounding the Armageddon Alarm for public schools. I’m just saying, if we all think the trends we are seeing in places like Florida are either going to pass us by or fade into another realm as the pendulum swings back, I think we are making a huge mistake. What are we doing in our state and school districts to prepare for this paradigm shift?

Facing reality might be a good start.

One goal down.

For the last few years, one of the items I had on my list of things to do was to get published in a national publication. While it was on the list, I had not spent a lot of time focusing on achieving it. Besides, I was too busy blogging.

Well, it seems as though blogging was what I should have been doing. Back in May I got an email from one of the editors at ISTE‘s publication Learning & Leading with Technology. She had read some of my blog posts and was interested in publishing one of my posts in the magazine. Needless to say, I agreed. Woot! Above is a photo of the page in all of its half-page glory. Feel free to read the original post HERE.

Since Learning & Leading is an international magazine and not just a national one, I guess I get bonus points for that goal. Sweet.  Another goal accomplished. What’s next on the list? (No sarcastic comments on that rhetorical question Tim Holt, Miguel Guhlin, Paul R. Wood, Brian Grenier, Kyle Stevens, Dean Shareski, Mike Gras, ……..)

Note to my teachers: See. Blogging has added benefits. Imagine what your kiddos would do with a little notice of their writing outside your classroom. Just imagine.