Educational Reform & Distance Learning
President Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan has pointed out that “… districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size. In fact, teachers in Asia sometimes request larger class sizes because they think a broad distribution of students and skill levels can accelerate learning.” I have been thinking about that in relation to qualified teachers & scarce resources.
Would you prefer your kid to be in a larger class with a great teacher or a smaller class with a mediocre one? Beyond that, how can we conserve precious teacher time? Does it make sense for a great teacher to be sitting in back of a desk proctoring exams? Or does it make sense to have them watching while kids read assignments to themselves?
We have the larger challenge of costs. Costs of education have been rising faster than inflation for a generation. We keep on throwing more money at the problem, but results are not improving. We need to rethink the whole system in relation to changes in society and changes in technologies.
I have not been in actual school for a long time, but I recently relearned Portuguese. I wanted to be sure to take advantage of every minute of time I had with the instructor, so I made sure I did all my reading and drilling outside the classroom. Fortunately, you can easily do that these days using Internet. Lots of things can be done online and some cannot.
An article on NPR got me thinking about delivering education. I learned basic Greek & Latin with old fashioned distance education. The University of Wisconsin featured classes by mail way back. Since you don't actually speak these languages, the slow-moving mail service did just fine. I took lots of "distance courses" as an undergraduate. They weren't called that, but anybody who has taken one of those 101 courses in a massive auditorium knows that it is essentially a distance course. The professor sure is distant, even if he is in the same town. It really doesn't much matter in these massive courses whether or not you are nearby.
They talked about MOOCs on NPR. MOOCs are "massive open online courses." They are often offered by great universities. Stanford made the news when 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in an Artificial Intelligence course. They were not just watching. They interacted through social media and evidently learned a lot. These big courses solve some of the evaluation problems by having online standardized tests and peer grading. The main downside is that students don't get credit. This may remain a problem, since universities may be unenthusiastic about giving up their near monopoly status as gatekeepers and certifiers of who is smart and who is not. But change will come.
I am not sure where I stand on the totality of distance education. On one hand, it is very much more efficient. It costs a lot to produce an online course to start with, but after that it is very inexpensive. There is almost no cost to add an additional student. This can spread opportunities and bring down the costs. However, these fierce economies of scale need to be balanced against the socialization aspects. I don't remember learning much in those massive 101 courses, but after hanging around campus for a year, I was a very different person from the one I would have been had I stayed home. It is not so much the campus learning as the being away from home. People who don't go away to school away from home are different from those who do. What happens when students stay not only in their home town but in their actual homes? We might get people with great technical skill but w/o social graces.
There is also something important about just being in an education environment. I learned a lot during my year at Fletcher but I cannot really understand how. I try to read and study and I think that I read and study about as much now as I did then. But I don't learn as much.
I also fear an unintended consequence which is the flip side to opportunity. Distance learning provides great opportunities for people with discipline and desire to excel others. The giant 101 courses are great levelers. I don't think we want to hold anybody back just so that others can be more equal, but we do need to think about it.
The challenge is to create and maintain an academic community while taking advantage of distance learning. I think that is possible if we use distance education to complement other education. Use the programed course to strengthen the rest. This could be as I did with my language class. Spend the hours of rote with a computer that doesn't get impatient or bored and spend the innovative time with human beings.
I can think of another use for distance education. Perhaps we can use it to replace entrance exams. Maybe students can take their first two years of a four-year program online. Performance in actual college courses would be a much better measure of ability than SATs or HS grades. Computers also cannot be biased based on race, gender or beliefs. These kinds of classes, with their low risk and low investment could be open enrollment. Students could take them at their own speed until they mastered the material. Those who were less mature at eighteen could move slower. Others could push ahead. But they all would be in the same place when they were ready to move on.
We have to make changes. We cannot simply spend more. Education has become a kind of bubble. It is moving out of reach of ordinary people to pay.
Many of our educational practices were developed in the Middle Ages & perfected int eh 19th Century. Some of the old things are still good. The way Plato taught philosophy would still work today. But new ways can help. We have to try them.
Posted by Christine & John at August 25, 2012 11:45 PM
I’m going to put off getting an education until technology to interface the brain becomes readily available. I like the idea of ‘learning while you sleep’. With a wireless communications link, via a chip insert interfacing the visual and auditory sensors one could learn while you sleep. With no outside interference this may be a great improvement over standard learning methodologies. Perhaps high speed downloads to the brains memory system will become possible.
Otherwise, I remain limited to the WaPo and information passed on WB.
Education is not the mere passing of information. It requires active learning to become an educated person, otherwise you may become like the Bourbons, about whom it was said “they learn nothing and forget nothing.”
Here is the 2012 official Party Platform of the Texan Republican Party:
“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
There are many kinds of education, ranging from rote learning and memorization to synthetic, critical thinking. Distance/E-Learning has been able to provide the former, but never done well with the latter. The personal presence of people simply cannot be duplicated with technology, especially when the various modalities so helpful to critical thinking- sight, sound, and touch- become involved in humans relating to one another.
Technology can do well. Virtual classrooms can include virtually raised hands, discussions, and both visual and aural elements. Contents can be archived. It’s especially advantageous for people far apart, people unable to travel due to physical or financial restrictions, and people restricted by time considerations.
In addition, technology costs a next to nothing compared with brick-and-mortar education. Classroom size can be small or large, and once a curriculum is developed, it can be used again and again, either in the form of e-books or archived class sessions.
Despite these advantages, Distance/E-learning has never done as well as expected because it lacks the element I mentioned earlier- personal presence, and the ability to stimulate critical thinking.
Critical, synthetic thinking skills match up with the highest level of Maslow’s Heirachy of Needs.
Critical, synthetic thinking skills match up with the highest level on Kohlberg’s scale of Moral Development.
Is it any wonder Republicans oppose critical thinking skills? Conservativism advocates an anti-scientific agenda. Evolution is just a theory. Global Warming is a hoax. Women don’t get pregnant from rape. A human being exists from the moment of conception, therefore the pill and other forms of contraception must become illegal, and abortion must be outlawed in all cases, even if saving a a fertilized egg during an ectopic pregnancy kills the woman.
Not sure what I’m saying is true? Review that Party Platform for the Texas Republican Party again, and consider the examples I’ve mentioned, all of which belong to conservative orthodoxy.
It depends on what you mean by “critical thinking skills”. I believe strongly in an interactive education, where student think for themselves. In fact, I believe that much “education” is created in the interaction between and among students and teachers.
But I have seen teachers define “thinking” as being liberal. I have been victim of that myself. I learned all the liberal stuff in school. When I started to think critically for myself I saw that lots of these things didn’t make sense.
Distance learning is something we need to develop. It cannot replace interactions in classrooms, but there are lots of places it can be useful. IMO, lots of math and even grammar in languages can be taught distance. My experience (critically thinking) runs with that. But we need to use both.
I recently relearned Portuguese, which I now speak with near-native fluency. I had lots of direct contact with teachers, but I also spent more hours with internet texts and speakers. The combination of these produced a result I could not have achieved with either by itself. I am convinced that the high-quality interactions with teachers and internet was much more useful than doubling time with teachers, for example.
I also had recent experience with a certification course involving finance and accounting. I needed to take 40 hours for the certification. I took 24 hours in person and 16 online. Both were useful. The online advantage was that I could do it on my own time. I finished that over the Christmas holiday. The in-person time was useful for the contacts I made, but I don’t think I learned as much in terms of actual information.
We need flexibility. In the best of worlds, close contact with great teachers is best. But not all teachers are great; some are not even very good. There are talents and skills involved that some people cannot master. Just increasing contact is not a good plan. The computer may well be better than a bad teacher.
I’ve been subjected to conservative “thinking” in school, the myths and absurd versions of the US past that ignore the histories of women, blacks, and Native Americans, and the horrendous oppression and slaughter of peoples such as the Filipinos during their fight against American colonialism. Those topics are not taught in schools anymore. In current textbooks, the history of the labor movement is no longer taught. Even worse, conservatives have attempted to install magical thinking into science classes, silly stuff like creationism.
There is a difference between imposing one’s opinions and developing critical thinking. The problem for conservatism is that it relies on a lower level of moral development, just as it satisfies a lower level within the heirarchy of needs, a level which demands obedience to authority and tradition. Conservatism responds to unquestioning authoritarianism- hence, the Republican party platform in Texas. This also applies to the national platform, and the legislative agenda of the GOP in the 112th Congress. A fertilized egg is a person with full constitutional rights… because… just because. It’s magic. A church says so. Evolution is ‘just a theory’. Global Warming is a hoax perpetuated by scientists around the world in order to impose socialism on the United States. America is exceptional because God favors America over, say, Sweden. Or the Cayman Islands. Or Switzerland.
Critical thinking questions. It synthesizes a thesis and antithesis to reach an entirely new understanding. Very communist stuff, very Hegelian.
“ower level of moral development, just as it satisfies a lower level within the heirarchy of needs”
Conservatives I know and as I practice myself requires a much higher level of morality than my liberal friends. I take responsibility for what I do. I don’t have the excuse of claiming I belong to an oppressed group or that my boss is out to get me.
I give more to charity than most liberals I know, but I refuse to give to the big united charities. I have the responsibility to figure out which are doing the best job. I also cannot abdicate my morality or critical thinking to government as liberals can.
History books these days are very PC. They indeed do not cover history very well because they need to show respect for all current groups and pretend that they extend back into the past.
History always involves choices of what to leave in and what to leave out. It is also up to historians to create as well as record history. This creates biases and many narratives are possible. We also have a problem with sources.
It is difficult to include much “history” of Native Americans, for example, because they don’t have much in the way of written sources. I helped my son write a history of the Iroquois Federation, for example. We found few written sources and lots of legends that were often at odds with each other and with archeological evidence.
re women’s history - half of all my ancestors were women and it is clear that women played an important role in history, but - again - you face the problem of sources and influence.
Re American exceptionalism - As President Obama said, each country is exceptional. The U.S. is exceptional in many ways. Our combination of decentralization, reliance on precedent in law, remarkable constitution, free markets and the ostensible contradiction between the love of both order and freedom is unique. It has produced in the course of a couple hundred years the most powerful and wealthy society in the history of the world. It is worth trying to figure out how that happened.
Re global warming - I believe that the world is getting warmer and that human activity has contributed. But we do not agree on what to do about it. The U.S. has succeeded in lowering carbon emissions more than any other country in recent years. We did that w/o all those bogus UN ideas.
This is the wonder of America. Various intellectuals have counted us out since before we were even a country. Our system is beyond the understanding of the theorists. We have an evolutionary system rather than one that relies on intelligent design.
Re Marx and Hegel - read both, don’t like either. There are good insights in both but their attempt to systematize history is a fool’s errand.
With Marx - the more I read the less I liked. IMO anybody who still believes in Marx is brain dead or at least unable to think critically.
Education is a highly multi-faceted thing. I tend to believe we are missing the boat with the 7 thru 12 crowd. The Fed should leave the playground. For subjects involving concepts and application I believe a tag team approach is best. Share class time between a standard teacher with a life experience of a 4 yr college lifestyle with a retired pt/volunteer person who has completed a career involving concepts and application of the subject matter. Do our best to put a Neil Armstrong character in each classroom for part of the time.
Grades should improve for every kid in the class and more kids would be hitting college with way better subject comprehension and ability to take on college level study.
Internet is a highly useful tool for learning rote subject material but in no way should it replace or take away from the individual expert offering one on one interaction with the students. Blasphemy, that a school would put someone to teaching language that isn’t proficient/literate in that language.
Down with the unions, out with the riff raff and give the kids a chance at globalization.
Otherwise - - -
“Blasphemy, that a school would put someone to teaching language that isn’t proficient/literate in that language.” But this is not uncommon in our public schools.
Of course, we Americans already generally speak the language the all the world wants to learn - English.
I have long thought about what language Americans should learn. English speakers have this dilemma that others do not. Of course, if you plan to live or work in a particular part of the world, learn that language. IMO, if you don’t have any particular plans, you should learn Latin. There is a fantastic literature available and you get 2000+ years of Western culture.
I currently live in Brazil, which makes up more than half of South America. I don’t know how many times someone in the U.S. asked me if I learned Spanish before I went to Brazil. I usually just say “no, but I speak the local language very well,” and let them wonder.
I know this post is about education, but I read something interesting this morning and it might be considered in the realm of education. There is a band new ABC/Washington Post Poll out this morning. Polls have to be looked at very closely to get an accurate read on them.
The results of the poll were Romney 47% and Obama 46%, showing Romney up by 1%.
On trusting to fix the economy, it was Romney 50% and Obama 43%. It might be added that several recent polls show the Economy to be the #1 concern of voters by a 70+%.
Next, on trusting to fix the debt/deficit, Romney 51% to Obama’s 38%; the debt/deficit is the #2 concern of voters.
There are many questions asked in this ABC/WAP poll, but here is where it gets interesting. These are the questions and the results:
“901. Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as (a Democrat), (a Republican), an independent or what?
Democrat - 31; Republican - 22; Independent - 39; Other - 6; No opinion - 3.”
There is a 9% higher poll of Democrats than Republicans and a 17% lead of Independents over Republicans. There are many polls that show more Independents vote Democrat than they do Republican.
So instead of seeing a poll who equally votes for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; we are seeing skewed numbers, leaning Democrat.
“33. On another subject, what is your view of the Tea Party political movement - would you say you support it strongly, support it somewhat, oppose it somewhat or oppose it strongly?
The results of this poll show a net support of the TP at 44% and a net opposition of the TP at 42%, with 14% having no opinion.”
I find this poll very interesting because even though the numbers are skewed toward Democrats, we see a +2% support of TP values.
Lastly, the ABC/WAP poll is taken among registered voters and not likely voters; there is a difference, especially in this race where Obama base is not excited.
Just some interesting thoughts.
As you mentioned we are at risk of a whole generation of children with phenomenal hand-eye coordination, but little in the way of social skills.
As a reference you might read “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.
Learning requires communication. Communication requires understanding. Discipline requires responsibility, which requires maturity.
Anecdotally, I have had the opportunity to train people that had limited English skills, and there is nothing that compares with the feeling you get when the light goes on in someones eyes that has just understood a concept that was completely foreign to them just minutes earlier.
You can’t get that from teaching over the Internet.
Learning by rote is a waste of time without the ability to solve problems associated with the subject you are learning.
Memorizing for tests doubly so.
I am sure that learning any foreign language would be enhanced by actually hearing a native speaker speak. This is also difficult to do over the Internet.
I could see the Internet as being a strong tool for language learning if integrated video/audio/text is used. Example: one would read a para of text in the language while listening to/watching a native reading the same para. Maybe there is some of that out there, dunno. Does Rosetta Stone support that?
Are you assuming that everyone can afford the high speed connection necessary to stream the video, the camera to broadcast your image and the mic set-up so that you can be heard?
Not to mention the software?
No Rocky, just a url with a canned learning program. Still, one would need a high end Internet svc. DVD’s would work well. Then, there is the local/school library Internet.
Shouldn’t colleges/univ’s provide a campus wide Internet svc with such canned progs for their students?
But, alas, tenure, unions, grants and all that - - -
Otherwise - - -
Almost everybody in American can afford high speed or will be able to afford it within a short time. You don’t really need that mic set. If anybody cannot afford it they can go to local McDonald’s or libraries. People who don’t learn don’t want to learn. I am not saying that Internet is enough, as I explain above, but it is available.
I think that things like Rosetta Stone as not very good. Tried to learn Arabic with Rosetta Stone, w/o significant success.
Re language on Internet, I had a great time using television news that in many cases come with transcripts. You need to have an already basic language ability before you can take advantage of this is true, however.
This really revolutionized language study for me. I remember the old tapes and beat up magazines. Today you can get today’s news with audio.
There is so much on Internet today. You really can educate yourself these days to a large extent. We should use the new tech in education to supplement good teachers and replace bad ones.
“Almost everybody in American can afford high speed or will be able to afford it within a short time.”
Right now I pay $50.00 a month on top of my cable bill for high speed Internet. I suppose that DSL might work in a pinch though it’s not even close for download speed but in this area the company that supplies it has the worst customer service record on the planet.
We all make our choices based on our own experiences. I am not enamored with the idea of unsupervised learning.
It may work for adults, but we’re not really building schools for adults now, are we?
I don’t think Internet can replace schools. But we can use them to leverage learning.
We have not benefited as much from computers as we could. We have mainly glued them onto existing classrooms much like keeping a operator in an elevator after it has become automatic.
We can use computers as labor saving devices. I did this with my latest language learning. I was in a position to do all the rote stuff at home and demand the teacher’s attention when in the class. When they tried to show movies in class, I objected that I could do that on my own time.
With technology, we can increase the efficiency of class hours. No longer will we need to have teachers sitting there watching students do rote work. They can save that time to do actual teaching.
In essence, we can make classes smaller w/o needing to hire more teachers
I should steer clear of the union issue as I don’t have a clear solution to proffer. Somehow, labor should be treated as part of the team and not the enemy. Some companies work that out and some don’t, won’t or can’t.
Visuals and graphics are strong educators too. I can read a chapter/book on the battles for Chancelorsville ?? and a day later couldn’t tell you if we wee fighting indians, mesquits, etc. But, if I watched a video with graphics in motion showing troops movements/placements, red vs blue, etc I might remember it for a week or more.
“We have not benefited as much from computers as we could.”
I just finished my part of an installation at the UofA Health Services Education Center here in Phoenix.
In this building you cannot escape the technology. In the library alone there are 19 group rooms with network access, and large video screens with hook ups for both Mac and PC based computers.
Also on the campus is a Bio Lab that is shared by ASU, UofA, and NAU
IMHO, this is the future. Being able to network within study groups allows students to share knowledge.
The problem as I see it with home or office study, is that we have been moving further and further apart and not reaping the benefits of sharing within a live group. A live discussion is immediate, there is no lag time between posts, and as a result the discussion is more upbeat.
As far as learning a language, the problem is use it or lose it.
You travel a great deal, and you then stay in one place for awhile. This allows you to continue your education with native speakers, and allows for the expansion of your vocabulary, especially the local dialects and idioms.
You can’t get that type of learning off of the Internet.
Rocky writes; “Yeah, those nasty unions are keeping our children from learning…”
Perhaps Rocky is the last person left in the US that still believes that Teachers Unions exist to ensure a better education for our children. Unions exist to help their members.
In California, the Teacher Of The Year was laid off as others had more seniority.
Our educational results are much worse now than decades ago. Are unions really all about educating our children? If so, will they take the responsibility for our failure to teach our children as well today as we did yesterday?
Did you bother to read the link I provided?
If not then really…
Technology has been employed. I am not saying it has not. But it is only now being deployed as an independent way.
I know that I am harping on my recent experience, but I believe that w/o the new technology I would have required much more time with teachers and I don’t think it would have been as effective. I needed the direct teacher too. But no teacher can as effectively master all the aspects of the subject as you can find with the technology.
Programs would work well with repetitive tasks that bore both teachers and students. A really promising area is gaming. I have seen lots of training being done by games. More can be done.
Did you bother to read the link I provided?
If not then really…
Posted by: Rocky Marks at August 28
Yup, read it. As my post stated, teacher unions are all about obtaining benefits for its members and not at all about students.
Perhaps Rocky is the last person left in the US that still believes that Teachers Unions exist to ensure a better education for our children. Unions exist to help their members.
If you believe that teacher unions do not ensure a better education for your children, then you know very little about education.
What you do not understand is that a principal in a school wields enormous power. They are almost always supported by the superintendent of a district as well. If a teacher observed a principal doing something that was unfair to a student, or degraded a child or children (nothing illegal, but clearly something that would upset parents if they knew about it) the teacher could turn to their union for support to deal with the situation. If there is no union for the teacher to go to for protection, they will keep their mouths shut in fear of retribution from not only the principal, but the superintendent as well. The teachers union is actually the parents best ally in providing a safe, quality education for their child.
Computers have had games on them for training purposes for decades. This is really nothing new.
On the other hand, memorizing facts is trivial, and can only lead to the boredom you speak of.
Unless of course, you want to play trivial pursuit professionally.
Teaching is supposed to be a noble profession, yet nobility aside, they are still some of the least paid people in this country.
I can only assume that when a teachers needs are met, it can free them up to be better teachers.
For you to assume that all union actions are bad is a bit closed minded, don’t you think.
Nobody believes they are going to get rich teaching American children.
They used to be games like minesweeper. Today they are true simulations.
Re teachers - most teachers are good; most unions are bad. In general, I do not believe government workers, protected by civil service rules and working for the people, should have unions with collective bargaining. They are either redundant or pernicious.
Unions are “things” just like corporations. Whether they can be percieved as good or bad depends on the ethics of the humans running them.
Then I suppose the humans running them are messing up. But it is a hard job. Civil servants should not have a union that has collective bargaining rights. There is a fundamental conflict of interest for politicians, who can reward unions with taxpayer money benefits in return for political favors.
In a private union, the firm pays with its own money. It has economic constraints and incentives not to give away the shop. The same does not work in public sector.
IMO - President Obama should fight to give teachers and state workers should have the same collective bargaining rights and similar pension systems as Federal workers enjoy.
“President Obama should fight to give teachers and state workers should have the same collective bargaining rights and similar pension systems as Federal workers enjoy.”
How do you think that would have worked out in Wisconsin?
I think it would have worked out very well. You know it is a trick question, right. Federal workers do not have collective bargaining rights and the Federal pension systems depends to a very large extent on individual contributions to something much like a 401k plan.
“You know it is a trick question, right.”
Look, I can recognize the fact there are some hacks in all form of work, be it government or otherwise.
I once had the extreme displeasure of working with Harry Belafonte (what an a**hat), who wouldn’t allow non-union cameramen onstage with him at a non-union concert venue.
In the union venues I have worked (with IATSE members), the people in LA, NY, and Phoenix were great, those in Vegas, San Francisco, and Chicago not so much.
That aside, there are those that believe the PATCO strike, and Reagan’s decertification of that union as the benchmark when American labor began it’s slide downhill, and along with it, the stagnation of middle class wages.
There are some on the right that seem to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, in the altruistic attitude of business owners toward employees.
Believe me when I say I get it. Without employers there are no jobs.
However, without employees there is no product, and where does that leave the employer.
My point about civil service, state or federal, is that civil service protections are more than enough to protect workers. They/we do not need unions in the collective bargaining sense. Federal workers get along very well w/o them and have for many years. State workers will be equally well served if their unions become more like associations.
Government workers, IMO, are paid generously and enjoy generous benefits. There is really no reason why they should feel aggrieved.
Employees are obviously necessary to create products and prosperity. But we need to remember that the purpose of the organization, private or public, is to deliver goods or services. Making employees content is an important means to this end, but it is not the goal in itself. When employees cannot or will not accomplish the goals for which they were contracted, it is good manners and just for them to seek other endeavors where they may be more useful.