The Virtual Classroom

The latest Education Week features an article about the growing interest in virtual education as an economic solution to the mounting costs for "bricks and mortar" education. Instead of a long scream for or against this (at least partially) inevitable reality, I will ask us only to consider this question:

What do we do that online courses cannot do?

This has to be the question that publishers ask themselves when it comes to books (versus free content online); music producers ask themselves when it comes to selling music (versus kids finding or share it for free); organizations must ask when it comes to conferences, journals, or even webinars (since many of the same needs can be met online).

As one person said on Twitter the other day in response to 79 dollar webinars from NCTE: Why would I pay 79 dollars when there is so much great content for free online?

What if June 5th was the last day of school–forever. What if kids came stumbling out of the door to go to school and found a box with a laptop in it and the access code for their new school which was online?

It's a demanding but important question: What do we do, and do better, than computers when it comes to actually teaching our subject? Years ago Garry Kasparov played chess against Deep Blue and lost. The machine did certain things better and more efficiently.

In such a world as I described just now, where all the kids received laptops, I imagine renting the room of my choice, just down the hall from the one I teach in now, and hanging out my shingle: English Teacher. Across the hall another teacher, who loves the game of it all, might open up shop. Not some strange utopia or suburban Summerhill, just people coming together to learn as they have for thousands of years from each other what they need to know and be able to do to understand and sustain a world grown more strange by the day.

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One Response to “The Virtual Classroom”

  1. I really like that you’re taking the approach that people will always find a way to learn, regardless of the primary medium.
    One thing I have learned in taking and teaching online courses is that the teacher is still an incredibly valuable commodity. They are still differentiating and customizing the curriculum. They are an active force in the discussion boards. They are providing in-depth feedback and guidance for students. They can make or break the class. They’re still teaching. They’re just doing it from a distance.
    Yes, the teacher moves to a facilitator and guide on the side role rather than being center stage but isn’t that what all of us strive for in a face to face classroom anyway? Doing it well is no less an art than teaching well face to face. It’s just a different sort of art. I know it’s a stretch for us to wrap our brains around but teachers are still a critical element in online education. Thanks for bringing the issue to the forefront!

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