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Virtual Classrooms Prompting Real Questions

For many parents, education planning for one’s children can be a maddening endeavor. Especially if lack of financial resources factor into the consideration. Hard decisions need to be made. Dependence on the public school system often becomes a necessity not a choice. As such parents shop around for the most advantageous environment for kids including small class sizes, modern facilities, and of course, top notch teachers. A recent NY Times article by Laura Herrera writes about how school systems in Florida and other states have begun to experiment with virtual classrooms also known as e-learning labs.

In essence, e-learning labs provide a loophole allowing public school systems to adhere to class size limits since technically, the virtual classrooms do not have a teacher and therefore can exceed class size limit restrictions. A “facilitator” is tasked with making sure the students progress in these labs as well as addressing any technical glitches. One could argue this individual can be described as a glorified help desk worker rather than an education professional. The online courses often will be a product of third party providers rather than a creation of the school’s teaching staff. Students will be able to email, call, or text their questions to online instructors. This arrangement places the responsibility almost exclusively on the shoulders of students.

Unlike adults who take a more disciplined approach to an online curriculum, children generally lack the capacity to focus when unsupervised. Grammar School and High School students require the direct guidance and mentoring of teachers who know them on a first name basis. Asking kids to possess the regimented structural behavior to navigate their way through a semester long online class seems misguided. I don’t completely discount the value of the virtual classroom. A synergistic approach incorporating computers within a traditional classroom setting as well as homework assignments might be the balanced approach needed to achieve tangible results.

Technology will continue to evolve playing an essential role in the lives of our children as well as future generations. Yet relying too heavily on technical innovation fuels the potential to further erode the quality of education for countless millions. Parents must cultivate a collective effort to motivate elected officials to allocate proper funding for massive hiring of competent teachers. With the advent of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, parents have the means to directly pressure key players in this ongoing struggle.

What’s your take on virtual classes for grammar school and high school students? What can be done to improve education in the United States to ensure a better future for all children?

  • The way that Florida has rolled this out seems flawed in so many ways. Poor communication with students and parents, and a shaky rational that revolves around saving money and reducing class sizes and suggest that technology is a panacea that can fix these inherent structural problems. Instead of dollars and cents, the focus should be on what is the best learning environment for the students. Now, certainly in this day and age some of this can be done online and, if designed correctly (as the Prof at Penn State correctly points out), can be just as, or even more effective than, traditional classroom teaching. But it has to be done and designed correctly, and the correct way to integrate a blended learning environment starts from the perspective that students learn better this way, and not from a position that this is a way to increase class sizes and replace teachers with facilitators. Starting from this administration first perspective – as Florida has done – instead of a pedagogy first perspective that places emphasis on student learning ensure a fundamentally flawed learning experience for students as it places administration and budgets ahead of student learning.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for commenting Clint. As you point out, a change in perspective is required. Approaching student education from a purely financial point of view is a corporate tactic focused on profit instead of student learning.

  • I’m wary for all the reasons Clint mentioned and then some. I had two online courses in grad school (Education FYI) and I found that I didn’t learn much thre.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your experience Jessica. In my opinion, human beings are wired genetically to learn from each other. Computers certainly can enhance the process, but not replace it.

  • Anonymous

    i really don’t have too much to say on this topic as i’ve no experience in this realm whatsoever. however, i wouldn’t be too quick to discount kids’ ability to get real value out of anything they experience with the help of a computer monitor. as such, i’m not ready to bang a gavel and agree with statements like this: “Unlike adults who take a more disciplined approach to an online curriculum, children generally lack the capacity to focus when unsupervised.” it seems to me that my 9 yo daughter does just fine unsupervised on the computer.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your comment John. The question is not whether your child is computer savvy. The problem lies in how our children are being taught and the unrealistic expectations being placed on them to shoulder the responsibility. Your 9 y.o. in the comfort of your home will do swimmingly. But in a room full of 50 or more students, each with their own level of discipline will at some point either tune out or simply get lost in the mix. There needs to be a better blend of technology and teaching. They are not separate entities.

      • Anonymous

        w/ respect, the question can be whatever i want to make it. you made a wholesale assumption, i disagreed with part of it, then you redirect me to where you feel the problem lies. again, with respect, you asked me for my opinion via a twitter DM, i give it, then you redirect my opinion to what you think it should be? confused. my original comments stand. namely that i wouldn’t be too quick to to discount kids’ ability to get value out of anything computer oriented.

        this also stands: it’s not a particularly interesting topic for me — certainly not one i would have opined on had i not been asked.

      • Anonymous

        you asked me for an opinion via a DM on twitter, i give it, then you tell me that it’s not valid? don’t ask if you don’t want my take!

        • Anonymous

          Your opinion is always welcome. It’s my view that disagreements are part of the discourse. The challenge lies in how to communicate ideas with one another and remove the vitriol. Difficult at times when the topic sparks emotion. And even more so in this particular format. Gauging the tone of my response is a lesson I need to learn. Thanks again for your opinion. You’ve given me food for thought.

          • Anonymous

            i have no vitriol with regard to this mundane topic. and i was not engaged in the act of “communicating ideas with one another.” again, i was engaged in the act of leaving a comment which you had specifically solicited from me via a DM on twitter.

          • Dadof3

            If you think education is a mundane topic you need to get your priorities straight. And from what I read, CuteMonster simply disagreed with you and you got all bent out of shape. What does it matter how you were asked to comment? Grow up.

  • Heaterm

    You make some interesting points and I wholeheartedly disagree with you. First of all, e-learning & distance learning isn’t the future, it’s the present. Most colleges & businesses leverage this type of learning in their course catalogue. Secondly, our kids are far more tech savvy than our generation. Isn’t it crazy to think I didn’t even have a computer (much less a mobile device) in college. My 2 year old can unlock and effectively utilize my iPhone. He watches me do my job remotely using technology like webcams & conference calls.

    I think this type of education is brilliant, but the execution we are seeing in Florida is the problem. Parents of those students should be using Twitter & Facebook to enhance their kids’ learning experience.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for leaving your opinion Heaterm. I agree with you that our children our vastly more computer literate than previous generations.

      Can you clarify about what points you disagree with me? As I stated in the article, I don’t discount the value of technology in the classroom. And I also expressed my disdain for e-learning labs based on the NY Times article. Technology is pervasive and will only increase in the lives of our children. Just to recap, I believe in a blend of technology and the human element (teachers) that would best serve the needs of children. I do not feel they should be separate entities with the exception of homework assignments.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for leaving a comment Heaterm. In what ways would you suggest Parents use Facebook and Twitter to enhance their kids learning experience?

  • Isn’t this really just another way of doing “home schooling?” There is a great advantage to doing this IF a parent is around. I home-schooled my older son for 18 months and it was very valuable at the time. He is now a Junior in high school and may be doing what they call “Independent Study” for the rest of this school year.

    It is sort of the same as what you write about, Vincent, but without the “virtual” or tech side of things.

    I still believe the best thing for our kids is a good public school system which, sadly, the United States mostly lacks now.

    This, among so many other factors, is why raising children today is so much more difficult on so many levels.

    Sorry for the rambling comment – good stuff, as usual and expected, by you Vincent!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for leaving a comment Bruce. (note: Full disclosure, I asked Bruce to leave a remark via DM on Twitter.)

      Does your son’s school incorporate e-learning labs for certain subjects? If yes, how is the curriculum decided? And what resources are available to students that require extra help beyond the interactive features of the online course.

      • I don’t know the answer to your questions but I will try and find out. We are just starting on the path of “Independent Study” for next semester and have a meeting with the administrators on Tuesday so I’ll know and learn more then!

  • Balance- it is all about balance.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for commenting Jack. It really does come down to balance. At this point, we’re not quite there yet.