Last week I blogged about using Skype to learn and my experience in attempting to connect with another classmate. In that blog post I mentioned that I was also venturing into a new online learning experience using Skype called italki. (You can read about my experience using an online teacher here.) What I learned from the experience aside from the actual learning that took place, was that we are no longer limited in how we acquire information or where the teaching takes place. While in the past I have learned using videos, books, and classroom lectures on a local level, last Monday I was able to interact and learn from a teacher who was physically in Brasil. 4190 miles as the crow flies from Wellsboro, and it has me stoked and excited about the prospects of learning in the future.
One of the big shifts mentioned by Richardson is many, many teachers along with 24/7 learning. My experience above and what I have been doing lately bears that out. Let’s look at how I learn by many teachers. First I am taking a class through PLS that is online, allowing me to access its content 24/7. Not only do I learn from the content and the facilitator, but also by my classmates. In fact, if it were not for this class I don’t know if I would have had the courage to try connecting with an online teacher. In trying to learn Spanish I am using resources from Annenberg media online and its video course Destinos, Spanish flashcards created by the University of Washington for use with the Destinos series on Quizlet, and now using an individual online teacher using italki. That is the perfect example of many teachers 24/7.
While I am excited about my own personal learning goals and how this big shift will impact me, I’m not sure that this will, at the moment, have quite as big a shift in the realm of k-12 education. I am not saying that these technologies won’t have an impact; it is just my belief that impact will not be as dramatic for a number of reasons. The biggest reason for the lack of a huge impact in the classroom is individual motivation and thirst for knowledge. If we are honest with ourselves we can acknowledge that students in k-12 education are, for the most part, a captive audience. Not too different from animals in the zoo. Students have little choice in what they get to learn, how often they go to school, or what emphasis is placed on specific parts of the curriculum or what is chosen to be taught. For that matter, neither do teachers or administrators as most decisions these days are made from politicians or the rich and politically well connected. While many many teachers and 24/7 education is a great achievement, most students won’t reach out to these as they are not personally invested in what they are learning.
Another reason I believe there will be limited impact in the classroom is the lack of resources available to schools today. The Federal Government and states are slashing money spent on education reasoning that the problem is really teacher failure rather than poverty and a need for more money. In our world today, the only jobs where more money and great benefits are seen as a necessary commodity are if you are a CEO. While these big business types see many, many teachers and 24/7 access as a way to decrease spending on education, that cannot be accomplished as schools need infrastructure to make this happen, along with time, resources, and the necessary equipment. As schools are now so focused on high stakes testing, and the billions of dollars needed to access and buy the tests, there will be little left over to implement these changes. (Great article about it here.)
Where I do see this having a bigger impact in the classroom is in the actual learning that takes place in the classroom, along with resources to help students learn outside of the classroom. The World Wide Web now makes it possible for our classrooms to connect with others via video conferencing, whether to meet and discuss their latest book with the author or interacting with live video feed pen pals for free as with italki. It also allows us to visit places such as the Louvre without leaving our classrooms, or experiment in a laboratory with chemicals that are not possible in a traditional school. It allows for an easier extension of classroom lessons and opens up creative possibilities for teachers and students alike. Some students will use their new found many, many teachers 24/7 knowledge to further their own personal educational goals and it is those skills that we teachers need to help encourage and teach. While I don’t see the brick and mortar k-12 classroom going away anytime soon, how we teach and how our students learn can be dramatically altered by the technology currently available. To quote Bachman Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet.