Online courses still need aligned teachers

John, In the interest of going to something less controversial than teacherpreneurism, I was hoping to address the rise in online classes for students in K-12 systems. Everyone agrees with the approach of online classes and thus, I should probably stop blogging here. Except that it’s not so simple. For some reason, people still believe […]

John,

In the interest of going to something less controversial than teacherpreneurism, I was hoping to address the rise in online classes for students in K-12 systems. Everyone agrees with the approach of online classes and thus, I should probably stop blogging here.

Except that it’s not so simple. For some reason, people still believe that, once we put computers in front of students, we can remove teachers from the equation and thus never have a question about teachers ever. We undermine questions of teacher capacity by eliminating teachers and all our national edu-problems are solved. All the great online teachers I’ve met, most of whom I’ve met through our book writing, can still do a great live lesson in front of any given audience.

I believe in differentiated pathways for learning, and in many ways, we need to dissolve our ideas of time spent in the classroom or grade levels instead of advanced life skills our students need. In a New York Times piece written recently, the writer discusses how a student dropped a question into Google, got an answer from Wikipedia, mimicked the language of the article, and e-mailed it to her teacher. Will the Googled learner learn how to ask the right questions or simply repeat what others have said with no context? Will the Googled learner develop their own methods for self-investigation or rely on the vast amounts of misinformation on the web as their determinant?

That’s where the teacher comes in.

Transformative pedagogy is so critical to the 21st century that we can no longer accept that we the teachers are the epicenter of all things educational. However, the one thing we can accept responsibility for is teaching students how to learn. The rigors of our most growing fields demand that we push students to learn those skills even when we have no idea what’s on the horizon. For content teachers and generalists, it means very similar things in that, no matter what the content is, there’s a certain set of skills that every student must use irrespective of whether they’re doing it on an iPad, a computer, or with a pencil. Teachers don’t have to be gatekeepers anymore, just mentors and experienced guardians.

Just today, I had the privilege of listening to Linda Darling-Hammond speak to a few of us involved with the Common Core performance tasks here in NYC, and she told us a quick story about her teaching days here. As she was teaching 12th grade English, she realized that some of her students in the back of the classroom couldn’t read. She discarded teaching the Dewey Decimal system unit in favor of teaching kids how to read, and was chastised for doing so. Now that the Dewey Decimal system is irrelevant, we still see the value of reading. While we’re reframing pedagogy for what’s necessary in the 21st century, we’re also making sure we delve deeper into the more critical skills from the past and present that our students need now and in the future.

As Barnett Barry would say to us, online learning and in-person learning is a false dichotomy. Learning can happen anywhere. It often depends on who the teacher is, and if they’re the closed-source programmer who only lets students perform certain functions, or the open-source programmer who helps others build upon their own code so they can develop their own operating systems.