Another Glimpse Into the Future… Present

I have been corresponding with a friend recently regarding online education.  There are a growing number of online education options in the state of Colorado.

Perhaps the best known in Colorado is the Colorado Virtual Academy.  Douglas County School District has an online option.  In the St. Vrain Valley School District, Carbon Valley Charter Academy has the CVA Online Program.  The St. Vrain School District also allows students to take a small number of classes online – Mandarin Chinese is one example.

There are many more examples of online programs in Colorado and across the country.

I have had many, many hours of conversations with parents and teachers about education here in the St. Vrain Valley.  People are not clamoring for online programs.  It is only a small fraction of people who raise this topic.  People do think it is important to integrate technology into instruction but people are not anxious for more online instruction programs at the k-12 level.

Having said this, I am convinced that online instruction is going to transform education as we know it today.  It holds tremendous potential to help students accelerate their learning and to leverage teacher time.  It holds the potential to reduce costs for capital infrastructure (i.e. building school buildings) because students will be able to learn anywhere.

People are not clamoring for online instruction now but they will.  People did not did people clamor for laptop computers or in-car GPS systems, either.

How quickly will demand for online instruction grow?  How quickly will it transform education as we know it?  When I think about questions like this, I’m reminded of a Bill Gates quote regarding the internet.  He remarked about a decade ago to the effect of, “All the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 5 years are overblown and all the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 10 to 15 years are understated.”

I am equally convinced that there will always be demand for physical places – school buildings – that bring together students and teachers for face-to-face interaction.  I do a good deal of professional development.  More and more of it via web and phone.  But, there is just no way to replace face-to-face interactions.

What’s more, young people need opportunities to come together with peers as part of their development process.  Young people need opportunities to escape the controlling influence of their parents so they can stretch and grow.  It is an essential part of growing up.  And, parents need time away from their kids.  I’ll let parents tell you why.

Too often we allow ourselves to get bogged down by the tyranny of the “or.”  We think the world has to be this way OR that; rather than this way AND that.

Education in the future will be “online” much of the time.

Education in the future also will continue to be a physical place.

Other school districts are ahead of St. Vrain when it comes to offering online programs.  We need to become more diligent in investigating and implementing possibilities.  The good news is that many teachers already are experimenting with the possibilities.  The time for a bold step forward is ripening.

I’m not overly concerned that we’re not doing more yet with online instruction.  But we can’t be tentative for too much longer.

We won’t move quickly enough for some people within our school district and they will go elsewhere.  Many other people we will have to cajole to move forward each step of the way.  That is a normal part of the process of change.

I am excited and uncertain about what the future holds for education.  I imagine the possibilities our children have to learn anywhere, anytime to be enthralling.  At the same time, as Joe Mehsling said to me recently, “We have no idea what we’re doing to our kids.”  That’s because we’ve never done this before.

Not every generation must deal with the transformational change that we are experiencing today.  It’s unsettling.  But isn’t that the fun of it?

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4 Responses to “Another Glimpse Into the Future… Present”

  1. Gaythia Weis Says:

    Not every high school can offer every class on a schedule that fits every student. Some students can take some classes independantly as a supplement to their public school courses. Some students need classes that are more advanced than those offered by their schools.
    Two online programs with which my family has had positive experiences as supplementary high school AP level coursework are:
    Oklahoma State University College of Arts and Sciences outreach k-12 learning program http://k12.okstate.edu/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1
    and Stanford University Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY)
    http://epgy.stanford.edu/ohs/EPGY_OHS_Overview.pdf
    Both of these programs offer online tutorial support. At this level, it is the AP test score which is significant, so these were reportable on college applications.

  2. Brian Herman Says:

    John, very insightful. I think your point is dead-on. We have no real idea how technology will transform our education system. We’re playing with ideas in the space but we’re not yet even sure where we’re going. There are many grand experiments underway and it’s too early to know what will work and what won’t. The only thing that is certain is that the world will change.
    And that’s really the hard part. Dealing with the change.
    Too many people are stuck in the past with the “back to basics” and the (oh so ironic) “Three R’s” movement. I hear the cry “It was good enough for me… look how well I turned out.” uttered all the time. The difference is that when my grandpa and father went through public education they were looking at jobs in the steel mills and carpentry and manufacturing. Those were noble jobs but the world has moved on.
    I spend my days working in real-time with people on 4 continents, connected in ways that my university degree from just 15 years ago didn’t really prepare me for, to say nothing of my need to know multiple languages, which my primary education didn’t provide me.
    Today’s children will be doing jobs we can’t even imagine yet. How can a “back to basics” education serve their needs? We’ve got to reach beyond the traditional classroom and chalkboard methods, supplementing (but not replacing) them with technology.
    Change is hard. We need leaders to show us the way and brave people to follow them. The rest of the world will catch up eventually and they’ll find it wasn’t so bad after all. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go for a ride in my horseless carriage.

  3. Brad Jolly Says:

    It is no secret that I am a proponent of online education. However, a necessary first step for either online or traditional education is to have a real curriculum, with real assessments and real standards. Right now, the district has no standards that students must meet, and assessments vary dramatically from school to school and from teacher to teacher.
    How much better it would be to tell students, “here’s what you need to know by the end of each grade and class,” and then let the students (aided by teachers) use whatever online or interpersonal methods work for them to learn the material. The district would then certify whether a student had met the standard.
    As it is today, students know they’ll be shoved along according to the district’s strict standard that they have had a birthday within the previous 12 months. Many student pick up on the district’s message that learning doesn’t matter and drift through their education aimlessly as a result.

  4. Mike Patzkowsky Says:

    Online education is a scary thing both for teachers and parents unfamiliar with technology. But as pointed out the comments someone needs to take a chance and try it. I think we should while it is new, and fresh, so we can help mold the model for online classes. As pointed out Douglas County School District took, immediate steps with out knowing what the future outcome would be and got their online school up and running in about 3 years. They took unusual steps and pulled funds from other ares to launch the project. I am in agreement with John C. that no one is jumping out of their shoes for online education. But I dont think that is because there is not a want or need for it. I think a lot of people have not been engaged enough to even realize the potential or the possibility exists. Parents seem to be up in arms for what they are against and not what they are for. So what people want sometimes never even is brought to light as we are so focused on the negative side of things like a MIL Levy overide. I think if we talked as much about technoly in the classroom and the benefits to the teachers as we do about rasing their salaries and CSAPS. The knocking on the door for technology in the class room would evolve more quickly than we think.

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