Is online education really an improvement over face to face ?

I've been visiting a variety of sites throughout the ed-tech blogosphere that tout the benefits of online classes and the necessity for students to experience asynchronous learning environments before they leave high school...and I get it...educators need to push the use of online and collaborative environments for students.

But I often wonder, are these experiences any more enriching than traditional face to face classes or are we all simply caught up in the novelty of using the technology ? I ask because of how my former district purchased and implemented technology in the classroom. We often purchased computers and other peripherals but the purchases were often teacher centered. Smart Boards were just expensive chalkboards.

I am taking, and have taken, online classes but they were just extensions of the traditional lecture. Instead of seeing the professor, I would watch a pre-recorded lecture video. Instead of the quiz taking place in class, it would take place online. This isn't exactly a paradigm shift. It's just the same old school dressed in fancy new clothes.

I've set up my Moodle install for next year...but I would really like to collaborate with other teachers so we can do more than just use it to post assignments. How can we truly integrate something like Moodle into our classes so that students take ownership for their learning and not just use it to take quizzes.

I've used google docs with my department in the past to write lesson plans....I would like ideas from other educators on other ways to use collaborative technologies with teachers. How can we use technologies like google docs, skype, etc...to collaborate...in real time...during the school day for the benefit of our students ?

So....any thoughts ?

Views: 26

Comment by lisa on March 10, 2009 at 5:07pm
I use the glossary function in Moodle for several things. In the beginning of the year, I set it to the encyclopedia function and then let the kids upload a picture of themselves and a little blurb. As the year progresses the glossary is used for new vocab, of course...but I let the student add sentences right on the glossary page, almost like a Wiki. Now, I am using the glossary for peer editing, I assign each kid a color,and let them help eachother's writing.

The forums are another place where you can share opinions. I think the best use is teacher moderated. Check student posts every day and comment on them. Otherwise, kids copy eachother's thoughts...at least I have seen this a lot in my school....they think the teacher isn't reading!

The Wiki function in Moodle is also great, you can let them collaborate and add to content. I put my class blog right in Moodle and let them read daily, fun little announcements, mashes it up a little!

Really, your imagination is the limit! Personally, I vote for a blended approach. I like seeing my students in the flesh, unfortunately, it only happens a few times a year. Thank God for webcams, Adobe classroom, Skype, etc!!

Good luck, and embrace the journey!
Comment by Rob Cashin on March 10, 2009 at 7:23pm
Jovan ... excellent post. I am a 'techie' by trade, so I love this stuff anyway. I am always playing around with it. But even I am often very skeptical of the delivered benefits. You are dead on about the tech often being just a dressing over the 'same old' approaches. I read something recently about Second Life in education ... many institutions are using it for 'teaching', but what they do is just create a traditional "lecture hall" in cyberspace. Little real 'added benefit' as I see it, other than overcoming some geographical and access barriers.

I am experimenting with technology for a 'blended' environment - what I mean is I use it to supplement my classroom teaching. But even then, it's mostly an administrative aid. I tend to use a blog to make notes and other materials available, and to improve communications regarding my course. Someone misses a class, no problem - if there' anything important, it's on my blog. Useful, but not earth-shattering.

However, as for the POTENTIAL ... that's different. I believe there are things we can be doing with technology - particularly the internet and web 2 and all that - that actually amount to a new way of teaching / learning. For example ... one course I teach is (college-level) Organizational Behaviour, which covers stuff like communications, leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, conflict management, and so on. It is difficult to observe and comment on these processes in class - it's time-consuming to do anything more than a brief exercise, and I find that THAT demonstrates very little.. So this term, I tried something new. I required the group project team members to conduct their first meeting online ... and provide me with a transcript. The idea is that I (and the students) can 'analyze' the discussions in light of what we learn in class. How are decisions made, who emerges as leader, what other roles emerge, how is conflict managed, etc.. I have no idea how successful this will be. I may need to ask for more more online meetings in future.

Another valuable application might be to pair up my class members with others from 'somewhere else'. Could be in my region, or somewhere across the world. We could have multi-institutional teams, and this would be really valuable when we cover topics in my course dealing with multi-cultural and diversity issues.

Another possibility I've considered is using a virtual world (like Second Life etc) where we let the students loose to 'build' something. It's like your own little behavioural lab. Plus it could be more engaging for the students.

These approaches could potentially add something beyond just window-dressing a typical classroom approach - at least I think so, and I hope so.

One last point ... I'm sure my Human Resource students tire of my addiction to technology, but I am convinced that all our students need to be much more comfortable with the newer net technologies and applications like blogs, wikis, social networking, etc.

Anyway ... my $.02 ... good post ! :)
Comment by Erika Steele on March 10, 2009 at 7:48pm
Recently my large suburban high school went through a technology growth spurt. Despite the shaky network, we have installed numerous SmartBoards, invested in laptop carts, computer rooms for digital portfolios and so on, BUT I too am concerned that students aren't really using this new technology. Little to no PD has been provided and from what I can tell most of it is used for traditional presentations (information flowing from teacher to student.) I feel like I have some ideas and a bit of an understanding about the potential but like most don' t have the time to devote to realigning my lessons to be truly web 2.0ish. Saddle that with the fact that many 2.0 technologies are blocked in my district I feel that my hands are tied.

So to respond to the question, I think that the technology is not the improvement that provides the enrichment--it must be coupled with PD and the desire to apply the online learning tools in new and innovative ways. Only then will we start to really reap the benefits of web 2.0 from an education standpoint.

Thoughts...?
Comment by Jovan D. Miles on March 14, 2009 at 6:24am
Great comments from everyone, thanks so much for taking the time to read and reply.

@ Matt and Lisa...I love the idea of a blended approach if time, money, and all other factors allow that to take place. I agree, that the tech should be used when the content "fits"

I suppose my major hangup is...are we leaving out really rich content that fits because we ( teachers as whole...not us specifically ) don't have the know how or the desire to search for rich, relevant, challenging, interactive real world content ????

@ Rob...you're dead on with your Second Life example. I hate when we sing the praises of new tech and it is just a fancier way of doing the same old thing. I realize that that is the natural progression of technology...to make our every day tasks more efficient....but where is the added benefit to the students ? How does the new tech make them better thinkers ? In many cases...it doesn't.

Also, the potential for us to do great things with the tech is definitely there...I just want to know what it looks like....physically....and in application.

@ Erika...your comment was the perfect one to wrap up this little discussion.

PD is the gift and the curse in ed-tech...if you have too little of it the tech sits in a room somewhere collecting dust...with no one ever really getting the benefit of the district's investment.

If you have too much PD you're going to have some teachers sitting in PD's who don't need it...and you'll have other teachers who need it but because they attend so many PD's they zone out in the middle.

So...how do we deliver effective PD for educators ?

I don't think it should come from some district expert from up on high...it should come from a school based peer ( another teacher...the media specialist ) who can show the teachers how to implement one thing at a time...over time...until teachers are comfortable enough to begin thinking of creative ways to use the tech on their own.

That, however, has the potential to turn that teacher into a troubleshooting go-to guy or gal...which can be a real pain ( trust me...I've been there )

Good conversation though...I'd like to challenge you guys to "draw up" or write up what you think the physical space of a 21st century classroom would look like.

I'm going to do my own...as best as I can...but I think that is where we all need to begin...what tools do we need for the students....how should the desks be arranged...will there even be desks ? Etc...

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