Very recently, I had a discussion with a colleague about students opting out of their classes to pursue “easier” options online: students dumping Math 12, for example, and finding alternate means of delivery from a never-ending list of various School District service providers. Now before I go any further, this is not a rant against online learning; nor is it an indictment of one school district over another. Instead the heart of the matter is student engagement.
Without a doubt, there are students who thrive in an online setting and for them, this environment is the most productive; however, I would argue that these students are in the minority. The majority, I feel, would do far better within a blended model (as exemplified by the Digital Immersion and iPad Programs here at John Oliver) that gives them the online access complimented by direct instruction and the benefits of creating new meaning while sharing a physical space with their co-constructors. But the discussion with my colleague did not address the technologically proficient student; instead, the topic found it’s focus around the issue of students doing “research” and opting for online options that provided the path of least resistance with regard to extrinsic reward (read “final mark”).
My feeling: it’s always been this way. The rules of the game have changed but the game has remained the same. As a member of Grad ’83 I remember driving my ‘70 Plymouth Duster, skipping out to ski Cypress and daydreaming about angles I could take to make my high school experience easier. I still remember polishing and refining the dust jacket of a novel in Mr. Hawthorne’s History class so that I could pass it in as a credible book report in Mr. Charlton’s English class after the break. The only thing that’s changed in 2012 is that now these angles are much more prevalent and readily shared.
Online learning is not necessarily an enhancement via technology and the tool is not the topic of discussion. The technology is the vehicle (not the driver) that brings us to a larger and more productive dialogue around best practice. For example, what’s the point of “flipping a class” if the only thing innovative is assigning the class lesson for homework? Or as I am fond of saying, technology, if used improperly, just makes daydreaming in class a little more sophisticated. What I’m looking for is technology in the service of instruction or as Michael Fullan succinctly puts it, “high-quality digitally based material that will furnish dynamic learning experiences – complete with access to data and to flexible but high quality instructional practices that will, for example, enable the learning of literacy and mathematics at a deep and efficient level.”
Best practice and engagement (not technology): this is what it’s all about. Students, particularly extrinsically driven ones (which means all of them), will always be driven to find solutions. Our role, as I see it, is to help them move from finding solutions (the sign of a good or savvy student) to discovering new ways of doing (the sign of a good thinker). This is the larger discussion predicated on developing best practice – a discussion that will always be ongoing because it is embedded within the fabric of our educational existence.
Why are these particular students dropping classes to go online? We’re not offering what they want (and you can read this as a curricula and/or a classroom engagement issue). Yes, we need to make sure our educational system creates environments to engage technically adept students and that we use technology in our professional practice to support our students as critical thinkers, lifelong learners and ethical decision makers. But, at the core, we need to engage students in our schools; we need to speak to their interests; we need to mentor, inspire and connect; we need to help students not only master content but provide them with the opportunities to create rich, authentic work (face to face, shoulder to shoulder) during the school day.
Why are these students looking for the easy route? I asked one student at my school. Her response: “It’s not about the mark, Mr. Bondi. Well, it kind of is. But I just feel like, bored, and I always have to do the same thing with everyone else. I can do the same thing online and free up some of my time during the day.”
I asked her what she meant about “doing the same thing.”
She laughed. “Have you ever seen Meet the Parents?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Remember that scene where he’s waiting in the airport and he’s the only one? Well, that’s how I felt in that class.”
Here’s the scene she referred to. My question is how many of our students and how many of you would agree with this interpretation?