I guess the Internet will teach our children by itself.

4 11 2011

I got this one from friend of the blog Britney Titus:

Education officials on Thursday gave final approval to a plan that makes Idaho the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate, despite heavy criticism of the plan at public hearings this summer.

The measure is part of a sweeping education overhaul that introduces teacher merit pay and phases in laptops for every high school teacher and student.

Online education? Check. Laptops in every classroom? Check. It’s like the education establishment in the state of Idaho is trying to give UD a heart attack. When you think about it, though, their plan makes sense in a perverse way. First you get students to ignore their teacher in class. Then they can shut down the school buildings, fire most of the teachers and then the students can ignore the few remaining machine-tending teachers from the comfort of their homes.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the rationale for requiring distance education from the article:

Proponents say the virtual classes will help the state save money and better prepare students for college.

Buying every kid a laptop only saves money if you make other cuts to accompany the new expense. That expense is inevitably going to be labor costs. Online education not only de-skills teachers, it forces them to teach more students at the same time. Both moves will save labor costs. [I actually agree that this will prepare students for college since too many universities are doing the exact same thing for the exact same reason.]

The problem is that it’s more important than ever for students to have someone to guide them through the online world since they mostly lack the ability to judge the reliability of online sources and large numbers of them are apparently plagiarizing their papers from Facebook.*

Unfortunately, teachers are being treated like every other worker in this economy, as the jobs report from this morning suggests:

“We are very gradually moving to a labor-less society,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at The Economic Outlook Group. Firms, he said, “are making sure that the number of workers they have now are able to produce more if necessary. The problem is that there are going to be a lot of Americans who are going to remain unemployed for a very long time.”

The real shame is that we need teachers on the job now more than ever, for both educational and crass economic reasons. I hope someone explains that to the Idaho legislature before they start down the slippery slope to where the Internet will teach our children all by itself..

* How is it even possible to plagiarize from social media? Are some teachers giving out status updates as writing assignments? On second thought, I’m not sure I want to hear the answer to that question.


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4 responses

5 11 2011
Music for Deckchairs

I think you’re right to be alarmed every time an educational authority says “this will save money”. It’s right up there with “this won’t hurt a bit”. It won’t save money by being online, though, it will save money by being capable of being taught without a teacher. This can also be achieved with language learning in a lab, and we’re not seeing an in-principle outcry against this.

So I’m not sure we’re yet at the point where “online” is necessarily synonymous with “unstaffed”, but clearly the argument that it’s all going to save money is a giant clue that we’re moving in that direction.

The detail that catches my eye here is the assumption that this is the way colleges will be going, so high schools should build this into their pre-college prep. Unreadiness is exactly the problem adaptive learning vendors like Knewton are proposing to fix, and that’s something to keep a close eye on.

Social plagiarism is what it says on the tin, I think: students plagiarising from each other. But funnily enough, some aspects of social media may be the way forward — student blogging, as you know, can bring the best out in many.

5 11 2011
Leslie M-B

I live in Idaho, and may I just say that there is OVERWHELMING public distaste for this, and educators don’t like it, either. The state superintendent of education has received a ton of donations from online ed vendors, so he’s gone all bull-in-a-china-shop over the idea. It’s shameful. There have been recall efforts to get him out of office, and I think there’s going to be something about overturning this effort on the ballot sometime in the next year or so.

It’s especially sad because there are areas in Idaho where there still isn’t high-speed internet. As if it isn’t bad enough to turn over education to for-profit companies with a very sketchy track record, kids would be accessing this content via DIAL-UP, for Chrissakes.

5 11 2011
Britney Titus

I have to say I think Leslie was hit on the same nerve as me, the nerve that says they didn’t even ask the students about what they wanted. I am sure the students without internet access, let alone those that do not like online classes in general, are not happy at all about this. I just wonder what makes these legislators think that they know what is best for the students? Do they go and specifically ask the students? Do they collect any input at all as to whether this would be successful? If they don’t, how can they be positive this would even lead to more motivated students?

On second thought, maybe I don’t want to know the answers to those questions either.

7 11 2011
Music for Deckchairs

I really don’t want to become the poster girl for education technology vendors at the moment because one or two are making me exceptionally cranky (you know who you are), but I have to say that rightly or wrongly the whole of the higher education enterprise is already based on the assumption that educators know what is best for students. So mostly this makes me crankier than online anything. I work with students who don’t want to read, and students who don’t want to write, and students who don’t want to come to class, and it’s my job to try to find the best way forward with each of them. None of htis is easy — but online isn’t the sole problem here.

The issue of dialup is a big one, however. I’ve worked for a long time on behalf of an institution with very high speed oncampus internet connections which has routinely overlooked in its enthusiasm for high concept sparkly online content that we have students and teachers working in rural communities who have to go away and make a cup of tea while waiting for the page to load. And if it has an embedded video, they can go into town and do the weekly shopping before it’s done.

So yes, mandating anything seems like a step in entirely the wrong direction.

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