Get out the blender, kids

As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

I think I have just glimpsed the future, or at least what could be the future, of public education. I’m talking about the effective use of today’s technology to enhance learning, or what insiders are calling ‘blended education.’ Michael Horn, a co-author of Disrupting Class, provided a definition: Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.

Some, including Michael Horn and his colleagues at Innosight, are predicting that by 2019 50% or more of high school classes will be delivered online, a staggering concept until you consider that in 2007 only one million students were taking courses online, and today four million are. ‘Virtual classes’ qualify as blended learning, because most of those kids are enrolled in traditional high schools.

That’s a growth industry: Just a few years ago only eight states allowed virtual courses or schools; today, nearly 40 states allow it — and a few require students to take at least one virtual class. The best-known virtual school, Florida’s Virtual High School, now enrolls over 100,000 students.

I spent Tuesday watching and listening, first at a school in Mountain View, California, where sixth graders were using iPads to work through mathematical lessons, a curriculum created by Sal Khan and his colleagues at the Khan Academy. Some were working together, some were online, some were doing paper-and-pencil problems, while the teacher monitored their progress on her own iPad or helped kids who asked for assistance. These teachers did not seem to be either ‘the sage on the sage’ or ‘the guide on the side’, as the jargon has it. In fact, one teacher likened herself to ‘an education designer.’ The image of a conductor came into my mind — of an orchestra and a train.

Someone else compared teachers in blended learning situations to today’s doctors, who do not sit by the side of their patients until they recover. Instead, much of the care is provided by nurses (classroom aides), and the doctor is called in only as needed.

Loaded onto the sixth graders’ tablets was a curriculum that covers math well into high school, well over 200 ‘lessons’ that the teacher admitted she herself had not completed. Think about that for a minute — and contrast it with today’s approach, where sixth graders and their teachers have a ‘Sixth Grade Math Book’ as their starting and stopping places.

Can a 'blended learning' approach help save American education?

This approach — again, blended learning — has no such borders or border guards, meaning that kids in 6th grade can move on up. (The curriculum includes lots of ‘refresher’ points, we were told, to insure against ‘learning and forgetting.’)

Later that day the group of about 30 journalists convened at Google to hear from school leaders about their own embrace of technology. Karen Cator, who is Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief advisor on technology, told us that it was time for the US to ‘ratchet up.’

“It’s an inflection point,” the former Apple executive said, because our children are digital natives, because most teachers are now using technology in the own personal lives, and because we all recognize that our schools are failing too many kids.

That said, Cator and others acknowledge that major obstacles stand in the way of widespread adoption of blended learning. One is textbooks, which are, as noted above, divided by grades. Textbooks reflect our slavish devotion to ‘seat time’ as the measure of accomplishment — fifth graders have to spend one year doing fifth grade stuff, and so on. Another obstacle: school funding and graduation credit hours are based on ‘seat time,’ not competency — except in Florida’s Virtual School, where state funding only arrives after a student completes a course successfully. That means that schools don’t have a strong incentive to allow kids to move along at their own pace.

This new educational world of ‘high tech’ will demand ‘high teach,’ former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise noted. Places that train teachers need a major overhaul, and that could be the weak link in the chain.

Today’s bubble tests are a gigantic barrier, because they are ‘dumbed down’ and are not likely to reward those who move ahead. One school leader told us that, before his state tests, he had to ‘ratchet back’ his 9th graders, because most of them were doing 11th grade math. What a message to send to students!

It’s an absurd situation, said ex-Governor Wise.

“We spend about $10,000 a year on each student but trust evaluation to a $5 instrument.” He spends $200-300 a year ‘evaluating’ his $15,000 car. When he said that, I saw heads nodding in agreement.

We also have a long tradition of using schools as a sorting mechanism to identify those who are ‘college material’ and weed out those who are not. That has to change.

And blended learning faces another challenge: because we all went to school, we are experts and know how school is ‘supposed to be.’

Quite by chance, I had spent part of the previous day talking education with a friend who works in an entirely different field. When I told him about the next day’s ‘blended learning’ agenda, he laughed. “My son did that 18 years ago,” he said and proceeded to tell me the story of his 7th grader who, stuck with an uninspiring math teacher, signed up with a new program at Stanford, EPGY, for ‘education program for gifted youth.’ Via computer and with occasional meetings on the Stanford campus, the young man moved through math classes and levels at his own pace. By senior year in high school he was taking advanced calculus at Stanford. There is no new thing under the sun, it’s fair to say, but today’s students should not have to search outside the schools for opportunities to learn. It’s time for them to step up — or fade into obsolesence.


34 thoughts on “Get out the blender, kids

  1. I went to a dog and pony show where a superintendent was talking about 1-to-1 laptops. His high school principal (only one high school in the district) said how this kind of online learning would be a boon to teachers because the good ones would get rich creating content. This implies, of course, that either much more money would go into education, or there will be far fewer teachers.

    I’m no protectionist, but what is the role of the teacher here? It is unclear from the article. What is the role of the school? Also unclear.

    As far as this being unique, since when have kids been denied access to information? Most everywhere I know, kids who can learn content more quickly are moved into other classes or provided other material or enrichment — how is this different? Is the saving of American education a problem of not enough challenge for top students? Is this what people have been screaming about? I don’t think so, though I would agree it is an important issue worthy of more attention.

    You say American education needs saving. By what measure? If the measure is standardized tests, there is no evidence that online learning makes a difference in standardized test scores. If the measure is something else, what is it, and does it really show that American education is in trouble? Is there any evidence that online learning makes any difference by the measure you select?


    • I do not see the use of technology as being utilized without the support of teachers. Also it is only a piece of the puzzle. If it replaces anything, it would be the dull drab lectures within bricks and mortar. We still need to make education real by taking kids into the community and bringing community members into the school. Projects can be enhanced through the use of technology and that is also a teacher supported activity.

      As for saving students, that is done by eliminating the standardized test andreplacing it with more authentic assessment designed to support student learning. Progress will be documented by demonstrating proficiencies in the way each child does it best. Successes toward individual goals allows for accountability that is on an even playing field.

      To me, blended isn’t limited to technology but a well balanced plan for the students future. A plan where students learn in the way they do it best, demonstrate learning in the way they do it best and most important, are allowed to blossom when they are ready. This could be a big step forward when allowed to happen.


    • Did you by chance read last week’s blog? (I took the NY Times to task for shallow reporting about the use of technology)

      Or read this one carefully? The teacher plays a major role, albeit a very different one.
      Re the school, the same point: blended learning takes place, for the most part, within the walls. The point is that kids use the technology to ‘travel’ and work with students all over the world. Ideally, they are creating knowledge, not merely regurgitating–which is what happens in too many schools.


      • I read twice and then read again to see if I could glean more about the role of the teacher before I commented. Maybe I’m just dense. The terms “conductor” or “education designer” don’t mean much to me. Can you explain the role more concretely?

        I hear this bit about “regurgitating” over and over, and frankly, I don’t buy it. Maybe my school experience was better than most, and I’ll admit, that there were some weak teachers who didn’t put in much effort, but I don’t see that to be the case in general. Where rote learning does exist, it may be important. Do you believe that ability to regurgitate basic arithmetic facts is valuable? I do. What about knowing vocabulary of a discipline? What about relative dates of historic events? What about the key ideas of an economist.

        Reasoning and communication are important, but the core knowledge people have a point, though they push it farther than I would. You have to know some things in order to have a reasonable discussion. Last night I read a Martin Gardner article entitled “Why I Am Not An Athiest.” I didn’t get as much out of it as I might because it made lots of references to philosophers and ideas with which I was unfamiliar. Knowing what these people believed and why would have broadened my thinking and understanding or Gardner’s ideas. Is knowing such stuff “regurgitation”? If so, I probably needed some more of it.


      • No argument that both rote learning (multiplication tables, et alia) have a place in schools and in education. No argument about core knowledge (small and large). More later


  2. Virtual learning is also used as an excuse to “place” a student with disabilities at home and not have to deal with providing therapies. Many charters in LA have “programs” where they send a special needs kid into this void of “on-line” school and there is little, if no supervision or support. The other problem is that there is no social component, which is so important to those students with high-functioning or Asperger’s autism.

    Computers do not take the place of social interaction, a skill necessary to function in the world. If we’re all so busy looking at screens and not learning how to share ideas, talk through disagreements or learn to reach consensus as team members, then we’ve missed the most important ability a student needs in life – how to work well with others. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t communicate with your fellow employees.


    • Anything can be used as an excuse for anything. We must be vigilant to see that it doesn’t happen that way. We must also assure that the great possibilities technology brings is only a piece of the puzzle. Communicating with those around the world is phenominal. Going into the neighborhood to make learning real is also phenominal. And I believe that is what is being offered here


  3. My goodness how we avoid the obvious. I don’t know whether I’ve effused about Larry Cremin’s observation about grades-as-we-know them on this blog, but I know I do with some regularity in many places since it’s one of my favorite stories of Columbia. He relished how the first graded school in America, the Quincy School, was built in 1847 to hold eight grades because the contractor figured the site could accommodate eight rooms. We’ve no more foundation than that to justify grades, levels, and achievement goals. “Continuous progress” is actually what happened in every school in the country until…1847.

    Regarding “the blend” I’ve got a very contrary observation from working with a kid I’m currently mentoring. He got shifted into an online course – chemistry in high school – and the whole course is read-then-quiz. Most of the quiz question are neither obvious nor particularly acute. His goal is to get as many 70% quizzes done as quickly as possible and get the hell out of the course. Although it’s moderately well written, the “blend” is more in machinery than substance. I more than sympathize with his eagerness to get out, since it’s not chemistry but “about chemistry,” and answering questions about short readings is about as engaging as a crossword puzzle, and for about as long as a puzzle takes. That IS what much too much of that “blend” represents, and not the kind of choose and play and explore that’s built into the Khan package.

    To sharpen that contrast, incidentally, I recently observed a class in Algebra 2, at the end of their semester. Their teacher was out, and they were in a computer lab. One of the kids asked if he could play with the Khan Academy stuff, and he quickly mentored his peers into exploring how Sal Khan planted the seeds of algebra for his own nephews. After a little exploration, the class decided to see if they could adapt the Khan activities into sequences that reflected their teacher’s view of the course (since the year was almost up), and give their teacher a package to make it easier next year. Now THAT really is blended learning, but the mix has more to do with the interaction than the medium. Or, rather, for effective blends of learning the medium is neither the message nor the mass age as much as it is the massage of data into information (to spin McLuhan one more time).

    And, finally, a quick observation that most state tests cost an awful lot more than $5 per test – in Massachusetts it’s closer to $1200. Where does Michael Horn get them? There is a new coalition of New England states trying to haggle a better price for larger volume, but the prices they’re talking about – the minima – are many, many times what Horn is talking. And that’s for a test that takes the grades a few months to get back to the kids and teachers, by which time most of the feedback function is altogether gone.


    • Joe has some very useful observations about the pitfalls inherent in any new approach, especially when there’s money to be made. Karen Cator of the USDoE talks about the need for greater education and awareness among those who make decisions about software and hardware. It doesn’t benefit anyone to have chemistry and other courses that are ‘check off’ exercises.
      That merely reinforces the importance of teachers and good teaching.
      As to costs, Massachusetts develops its own tests every year, an exercise that is silly on one level but that’s another story. Most states buy tests off-the-shelf. I leave it to Michael to respond about the source of his $5 figure.


    • We must abandon the “either or” mentality. Use technology to take kids from where they are. To me “blended” does not mean isolate. It means it is a connected piece of the puzzle. Perhaps replacing the dull drab lecture would be a good thing, taking kids from where they are is a good thing. But also do the creative human interacvtive things like learning from others and going into the community. I see nothing here that suggests a technology take over.


      • All the blend really requires is more flavors to reflect a newer palate that includes tech. Perhaps your (Cap’s) observation is the real key to too many problems: far too many posit mutual exclusives, where tests must be everything, or anything else must be better than tests. One key to this discussion might be the Mass Ed Reform Act of 1993, framed by the current (new) President of Antioch when he was in the legislature: Mark Roosevelt. There were two distinct points to the Massachusetts test: to give feedback to the school – teacher – kid; and to be an exit criterion that guaranteed schools meet a common agenda. With those in mind, the Legislature also mandated “portfolios,” primarily as the source of appeal should test failure obscure the reality of student skills.

        Over time, most of the districts came to ignore portfolios – they took more and more paper, and became less and less useful as appeals. I believe there were, in fact, only 6 to 10 appeals EVER, based on portfolios. Yet some districts took the idea seriously – largely because of higher ratios of bilingual or special ed kids, who may show better by their work than in standard tests. When they computerized these portfolios they stumbled on at least one extraordinary vehicle to document kid, teacher, school, and community achievements, since kids usually use projects, often from work, from volunteering, or from a church or other service program, to show how well they’ve learned and practice skills like responsibility, teamwork, creativity, and the like. In the course of that documentation, they also prove the school as remarkable: if not the ideal of Horace Mann, surely some 21st Century equivalent.

        Now THAT is the kind of alternative that embraces tests, attendance, and a whole lot more.


  4. This is an approach that may work well in districts which are well funded, but I fear will have another iteration entirely in poor schools. The high school I worked in, until June, for the past 13 years of my career was an exam school in Boston. There were two very outdated computer labs for some 1300 kids. Yes, there were a couple of laptop mobile carts, but Internet access through the building was unreliable. Think pads? I don’t think so.

    Secondly, the on-line curriculum available across the city has been put to a more pernicious use: fixing the numbers. The graduation figures have improved through a system called “credit recovery”. Students in danger of not graduating on time are given a program of on line classes. They work through the curriculum in the way Joe Beckmann observes the student doing the
    “chemistry” class (or worse), get credits and receive the next module and the next. Then they graduate. Education? I don’t think so. More distressing is that this occurs in the same high schools where AP for all is the rule.

    In a democracy, an important role of public schools, in part, is to socialize young people and prepare them to interact in the broader world. It’s not overstating the case to insist that it’s a major role in cases of schools with a large number of high poverty, non-native English speakers or students with special ed needs. This is achieved through the give and take of a live class in real time with the teacher directing instruction. Plunking a kid in front of a screen and calling that education is a farce.


    • We must embrace change in a way that brings in the positive and excludes the negative. There should be no “plunking” . s for the $ issue. That is always difficult but can be nanaged through creativity. For example, I am not an advocate of 1:1 laptops. However if a room had 6 or 7 puters, kids could rotate in groups especially doing projects. Divided into 4 groups kids would do 4 psarts of the project with one part using puter as resource.


  5. I suspect that honest assessment will show the following: (1) teachers will have the most impact when they find engaging ways to facilitate student learning of CORE MATERIAL (knowledge that enables Learners to gather, evaluate, organize, understand, and use other material – themselves individually or in groups); I’m not in favor of using technology for this as it sets perceptions that technology use is for repeated practicing to learn this core material. (2) beyond core knowledge, the key to effective learning (very much key skills necessary for the critical lifelong learning) are the skills practiced dealing with open-ended inquiry projects where the Internet and other technologies are key to gathering, evaluating, organizing, understanding, and using material to address, plan, implement, assess, and refine outcomes; without the use of technology in thesevefforts, educators are inbeffect saying “trust us – students, parents, and eventual employers, we are doing all the necessary things (without technology) that are absolutely necessary so the technology can be incorporated into meaningful and real assignments during their careers.

    So blend away! In school, core knowledge and facilitation of meaningful student-defined open-ended projects; outside school, wide-open technology-infused inquiry.

    By the way, as noted, only the capabilities of the technology are new. For those educators not current, learning alongside the students enhances the student learning. And we cannot forget the importance of ALL students having access to the technology and being challenged with its used on meaningful projects.

    FINALLY, this new approach must have meaningful assessment for decisions about moving to more challenging material (I agree, why restrict to grades?) The obvious answer is the use of portfolios and oral response to questioning; while I believe there is ample room for peer assessment here, there is clearly a key role for educators. So educators are important throughout but most importantly at the beginning (core knowledge) and end (assessment of learning outcomes).


    • I think you’ve spoken a couple times about portfolios as assessment tools. Why is this effective or valuable? At what point are portfolios evaluated? How are they evaluated?

      I’m skeptical (that’s normal for me, though). If kids are interested in projects that they complete, that’s great, but then what’s the point of the assessment? If we’re talking about feedback from multiple sources, that may be valuable for the student, but is that assessment?


      • Portfolio assessment takes everyday student accomplishments and builds it into an educational life story of the student. It can even be a video. Again, it is only one piece of the puzzle. There are many ways to assess, the test being the least valuable.

        The second paragraph of my first book states “Today, according to author John Merrow, we continue our ‘mad (and doomed) rush to find a single measure of school and student quality’ that same timy mold where only the elite survive”

        We must stop thinking “either or”!


      • But you didn’t really address the issue. What is the assessment for? Do some people look at all the material and say that the student, what, can come to school next year? Is the assessment for the student? What does it mean? Do students get ranked?

        Or maybe the assessment is for the teacher — to find out if they’re doing a good job. How does that work without standardized tests? I don’t see it working at all if it’s a matter of one person judging another in the formalized mess we have made of schools.

        I just don’t understand why we’re doing the assessments at all if they don’t provide a somewhat valid basis for comparison. I don’t think we should do them at all, because I don’t believe in the value of such comparisons, but I’m pretty alone on this.


      • Assessment serves many purposes at once – quite the opposite of the either/or of tests alone. One purpose is to set benchmarks, for ones self and for and with a group (of peers, of classes, of schools). One purpose is to give and get feedback, to compare perceptions of self by others, and of others by others outside the system. One purpose is to promote those skills both to others, to teachers (in higher or other classes), to schools (or colleges), to employers. A complement to this purpose is to collect their feedback and refine that promotion.

        Finally, portfolios – appropriately structured – can also provide one or many more bases for comparison: across time, across classes or schools, across languages and cultures, across ages (with parents or grandparent comparisons). Even poorly structured portfolios offer some of this, but the better the structure, the easier the comparison. That’s how I got to know this blog – through Arnold Packer’s “Soft Skills” that he used, with Kellogg Foundation support through Learning Matters, as the framework for his Verified Resume. Because Packer got external validity for the eight skills that emerged from years of Department of Labor negotiations as key defining skills for workplace (and academic) success, they’re a handy set of rubrics specifically useful for just such comparisons. Google Packer, Verified Resume, SCANS or Soft Skills for plenty of documentation on the value of those rubrics.


      • Assessmernt drives the next lesson if done right. It tells what student is good at and what needs work. i.e. Lesson plan followed by reflection and assessment would be integral in developing the next lesson plan, changed by the information gathered. It becomes an individual thing which is another story.


  6. What a stimulating commentary. You have glimpsed the future, but I’m not quite so confident that we will succeed in tapping into the full potential of blended learning.

    Blended learning is coming to many American schools and will likely emerge through osmosis. Students already access the Internet for hours on end each day and increasing numbers of teachers recognize that they are now teaching “digital natives.” It’s just a matter of time before “virtual learning” gains wider acceptance.

    As a Canadian education commentator, I must say that resistance in Canada’s provincial school systems runs very deep. Our provincial systems are dominated by the teacher unions and the province-wide contracts either prohibit or strictly limit “virtual schools” and even “blended learning.” The dominoes will eventually fall here, but long after they do in the United States.

    On my Blog Educhattter, we have been debating whether open access to IT helps or hinders student learning. When, not if, “blended learning” arrives, I do worry about whether educators will capitalize on it to promote higher standards or simply “roll over” and allow it to further “dumb-down” the curriculum. Surely that’s worth discussing.


    • I envy the Canadian system of determining assessments, curriculum and educational needs. Here in LAUSD, I’ve been involved with the special education community advisory committee that provides oversight to the district regarding our over 82,000+ students with disabilities. One of our colleagues is a former Canadian educator and retired from LAUSD’s Division of Special Education. She had gone as our representative to DC during a Race to the Top hearing in order to express the concerns of our committee and in her public comments asked why, in this supposed educational program, there were no “educators” involved on the hearing committee. Not one person who was there had any experience in the classroom, yet they were determining the future of our nation’s education by creating an unfair “lottery” of funding giveaways to “innovative” ideas.

      What was more disgusting is that no one was really listening to public comment. It was a dog-and-pony show to “appear” compliant, but they’d already made up their minds on how they were going to push forward with this ridiculous plan. It discriminates and creates animosity among school districts and states. Why in the world are we rationing and “awarding” instead of creating real plans with real academic growth projections that involve real curriculum.

      Hi-tech is only as good as the ability of the student who uses it. It doesn’t help create understanding or depth. It only is. Skilled teachers can identify when a child needs help in areas where they are weak. A computer program does not.

      I’m sick and tired of businesses disguised as charter foundations who are infiltrating our public schools with the sole purpose of creating a new revenue stream. It is not about educating children or they would be enrolling our students with disabilities and English Language Learners in equal numbers as the public schools. It’s about acquiring property and sucking yet more federal money into their coffers. It’s killing public education as we know it and I’m ashamed of what our education system has become.


  7. Your best point is “Today’s bubble tests are a gigantic barrier.” There seems to be a lot of “reformers” who now recognize it. So fortunately, that unholy alliance may be splitting. I say fortunately not to get in another jab at data-driven “reform.” The problem is that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and in an age of accountability, these marvelous digital tools look like hammers.

    I’d build on your comparison to today’s doctors, who do not sit by the side of their patients until they recover. Instead, much of the care is provided by nurses (classroom aides), and the doctor is called in only as needed.”

    Notice why reforms to keep sleep-deprived doctors from making fatal mistakes did not improve mortality stats. The problem was the failure of the doctors and the other professionals to communicate with each other.

    If the medical system, which is inundated with money beyond the wildest dreams of educators, struggles to coordinate services, what does that say about the challenge that schools will face?

    Yes, blended learning is coming, and it will greatly help many schools with students and families who can coordinate these fantastic tools. I smell disaster for low-income schools and families.


  8. Here is the problem I see with a lot of the discussion about technology, too much assumes that being a digital native means you know what you are doing online. It doesn’t just happen, being able to IM and facebook does not facilitate research skills or analysis or even the basics of math facts. Inside Higher Ed just ran an article about an extensive study done on several Illinois campuses regarding student research skills, they found them weak at best. But one of the things that it pointed out was this presumption if you have always lived digitally you would know how to research digitally, the opposite is true because most research platforms are built on old print knowledge like indexes and thesauri. Also a lot of digital content suffers from verification problems that kids are not being taught to evaluate.. But kids don’t know what they don’t know.

    I have done online classes they can be great if you bring prior knowledge to the class, but if you don’t have it they can be very isolating. Any move to blended education needs to think more in terms of enhancements rather than shortcuts and I get the sense from too many politicians it is the latter. If you are interested in the above referenced article here is the link


  9. To me, the basic issue here, as several of you have pointed out, is the “either…or” vs. “both…and” debate. As with many new technologies introduced over the decades, both inside and outside education, there is the usual tension between tradition and innovation; couple that with the explosion of knowledge and the concurrent explosion in means of communication and you increase both the possibilities and the dangers in our human need for social interaction. A couple of comments:

    I think there is an enormous difference between John’s analogies to a teacher as conductor in orchestra and train. The conductor OF an orchestra is intimately knowledgable about the score, the musicians, and the context of the music to be performed; he/she creates something new with every performance, with every motion of the baton. The conductor IN the train need know nothing about the destination of the train or the means of getting there; he/she knows only the location of various cars, the stops, and how to organize tickets and passengers.

    I really appreciate Sonja’s comments on the importance of schools as vehicles for social interaction. Practically all of the views I have seen (in print or internet) of young children using computers in labs or classroom show virtually (pun intended) no social interaction and sad and serious expressions of absorption in small lighted screens. Cator’s quote of “our schools are failing too many kids” to me does not indicate the solution is to computerize more and more of our classrooms. In fact, we may be failing our kids by convincing them that knowledge of facts and more and more data is equivalent to understanding.

    I would go on to say we need to be wary of the virtual and vicarious worlds our technologies provide for us. We have sent pilots on missions over Vietnam from 1955-1975 who never even saw their targets, we now send drones to places whose people we never see or know, and we shake our heads in dismay over increased student violence in schools and in our communities. The same techologies, of course, are also used to cure diseases and injuries, to rescue people in distress, and to organize popular uprisings like those recently in the Middle East. Some countries try futile attempts at controlling or restricting internet communications. [The Cherokee legend of the two wolves within us comes to mind here.]

    Two recent examples: a collegue in my school just completed a Master’s program where he never once left his home and enrolled with no application at all, simple “signed up” as he put it; so now his salary will be automatically increased. A young girl in our county took her own life over confusion between the real world and the virtual world of friendship in Facebook where a “friend” had let her down.

    In today’s world of instant access to knowledge, I would go so far as to say Sonja’s “social interactions” in our community schools [actual neighborhoods vs. virtual neighborhoods] are the primary justification for our schools and classrooms, not as the dispensaries of knowledge. Teaching tolerance [The Sothern Poverty Law Center has a wonderful school program by that name.] has to be done face-to-face in real time to be lasting and effective. So also do we teach students chemistry in real lab experiences, rather than teach ABOUT chemistry on line, as Joe Beckman mentioned. [I teach kids high school science.]

    And so, for me blending is the key, not substitution. Technology (much broader than simple “computers”) is A tool to help us understand our world more deeply, not the panacea of our education ills as many (non-teachers) would have us believe.


  10. In reading the comments and reflecting, it seems technology may have a role to play not only in blending learning but in assessing learning. Just like retail businesses have gone to “just in time” deliveries, perhaps technology can assist in a similar way, assisting the teacher and the learner to get what they need, when they need it, and then allow them to prove they “got it”. This could work whether remediation is required or whether a student wants to accelerate. But it leaves me wondering can a more flexible and responsive model be applied in education? Can teachers take a different role and is it possible to tailor to the individual learner? It’s already possible to do so much towards making engaging interactive lessons and assessments. How do we reconcile new processes with the existing achievement requirements, and how do we give teachers a role and support and help them make changes to a process which is so laden with past practices and regulation? In terms of effective use of technology, I am overall optimistic as looking backwards reminds me that the overhead projector was once considered by some to be the “a threat to classroom education”. If we are clear in our goals I think we can apply technology in effective ways. But first we need to understand what it can do and make sure we use it effectively to reach worthwhile goals, just as we would in a classroom environment. I’ve been an online educator for 15 years now and I’ve seen a lot of the issues that occur in putting information online. Like many who have already posted I am concerned that there is a considerable learning curve, when we go to an online model. I am also pleased to see people questioning the role of the teacher. How would the online component effect their workload? I’ve seen many devoted early adopters with carpal tunnel, stiff necks, eye strain, and frustration at an online system that can be very “un” user friendly. If technology can assist us in making learning better, more responsive, interesting, practical etc, I think this is what we’d all like to see.


  11. Maybe we need to ask a different set of questions? Maybe we need to scrutinize the basic framework of seat time and credit hours? If current technology allows students to move at their own pace, why do we tolerate the artificial boundaries known as ‘Fifth Grade Math’ or ‘Seventh Grade Social Studies’?
    I am not arguing for computer-based instruction, because I agree with the tone of Rosemary Menager’s comment above, but models of blended instruction/learning exist, for the taking.
    And a huge obstacle is our current paradigm, seat time/credit hours.
    Sal Khan’s math program includes, I am told, lots of refresher loops, to (attempt to) assure that a student moving through cannot simply learn-and-forget (which, by the way) is pretty common in traditional instruction.
    We need to encourage big thinking and we need to find healthy ways to challenge what is, because people won’t readily let go of what they are used to without knowing that what they are about to adopt will be at least as good. That is, no real benefit in just trashing what we have.


    • Why do we tolerate these things? Because it’s part of what makes school what it is, and it hasn’t changed much in 150 years. The teachers expect it. The students expect it. The communities expect it. The colleges expect it. A classroom looks today like a classroom did 50 years ago, except now there are some computers around. It’s about control, and people don’t want to give up control. People are afraid to give up control — can you imagine students doing what they want instead of doing what others want? Inconceivable.


      • Be not so sad. It’s not as static – everywhere – as you say. I sub’ed in high school physics and in engineering yesterday. In the first class they used sensors that graph velocity, volume, and distance in several different graphs. Their challenge was to move and create a graph like that in the book, and their pleasure was in exploring variables, and how those variables interact. And they created loads of new graphs, reflecting hand movements, steps, dances, and a host of other options. In the next few classes they had to design a computer stand, survey potential users, develop a plan to produce it, and then budget, schedule, and deliver what works best. Teams wallowed a little in the design phase, but produced very different ideas, with very different materials and probable production issues; and several framed elegant questions about the markets, and interviewed teachers in off periods from six or seven different departments.

        What this portrays is “open-ended, un-structured, problem-based” vs. “project based” models. The kids knew the difference. They enchanted – each other and their teacher respondents – with their inquiries. Their substitute teacher (me) knew very little walking in, and they were celebratory in how much they could teach me and how much fun they had in the process. And they were remarkably mindful – conscious, careful, documenting, and collaborative – of what went into exploring the remarkably rich options the teacher framed before he missed the class.

        There are, indeed, some brilliant teaching examples all around us. As Louis Agassiz told his Harvard biology class in the 1880’s, “watch your fish.” When you see that kind of teaching in so many places, so many subjects, so many levels, you’ll be able to infer its skeleton, its organs, and it’s purpose. Worked for fish then, and for kids and schools now! Fershure!


    • Exactly right. No more whining, but together, develop a plan that properly serves all kids. Carnegie units started in 1906, letter grades existed then also. They are no longer valid. Seat time doing the same thing accomplishes nothing, however, demonstrated proficiencies, (not test) could be the assessment that drives every students educational life. Take kids from “where they are” celebrating every individual success. To make it more individual, planning time becomes more effective than sitting time.


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