Lawmakers need to stay out of classroom

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I understand that politicians exist to help in maintaining what is a good about a nation or state and improving what needs to be made better. But when it comes to education, I feel they need to stay out of the classroom.

Take for example what is going on in Miami-Dade county in Florida. Students were “automatically registered” for e-learning labs because of a new amendment in FL aimed at reducing class sizes. Now, I think reducing class size is a good idea. As a teacher, reduced class size means I can give individual attention to each student without too much stress or constraints on my time. After all, one person can only do so much on a given day. But having people outside of the school enforce these rules is a bit ridiculous, not to mention counter productive. Lawmakers are not the ones in the classroom, teachers are. I think decisions like these need to be made at the individual public school level, with the work and support of teachers, administration, parents and students. You can read more of what I am talking about here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/education/18classrooms.html?_r=1&hpw

A similar problem consists in lawmakers deciding to have a certain percentage (I forget exactly what percentage) of degree programs completely online by 2015. When I first heard about this, my argument was “we as teachers and administrators can’t be ready by then” and I still partially feel this way. But I also think that the view many students hold toward online learning is incorrect. Here are some common myths I have heard about online education:

  1. Online learning is “easier.”
  2. Online learning can always be done at a student’s own pace
  3. Online learning is more convenient.

If I had to pick the top three myths, these would be it. There are probably others you may be thinking of, if you have encountered these as an online instructor or just overheard comments about online learning and teaching, but these three are always the ones I find repeated.

First, online learning is not easier. Oftentimes, the instructor is seen only as a “facilitator” of information, and this is particularly true for the for-profit “educators.” Further, a student is expected to be self-motivated enough to get the work done on time without too much aid from the instructor. Because you do not meet in a brick and mortar classroom on a regular basis, you don’t receive that regular interaction from the teacher nor is it always easy to find a place to receive extra help. Online tutoring and online writing facilities, at this moment, can only take you so far. I know more advanced online tutoring exists, but many of these are not yet connected to public or private schools or universities. Not all communities have Sylvan and other learning centers.Sometimes we are not yet ready to meet the demand required nor always have the full understanding of the technology to keep it running as efficiently as it could be.

Secondly, online learning does not mean you always get to work at your own pace. Yes, I have completed “courses” where I could work at my own pace, but there were always deadlines for assignments and modules to be completed. And I do realize you are able to work on your homework whenever it is convenient for you, but you can also do that in the traditional university setting, for the most part.

Third, online learning is not necessarily more convenient, an idea also discussed above. For instance, you don’t have the option (in all cases) of listening to a lecture. Instead, you are to learn that material on your own, in whatever fashion is given or in whatever way you find necessary or best for you at that time. Sure, many online schools do offer “online chat sessions” and recorded lectures, but this is not always done. As a student and as a teacher, we also need to realize there is only so much we can do online to facilitate (I am using that word again) learning. And online, group work is one of the most difficult elements of teaching to organize. Some students don’t show up, others are unengaged in it, and most students don’t see online group work to be very helpful to them as learners because group work has not yet found a way to work well online. Teachers in the traditional classroom even have problems with group work, so the problems of group work online are even more insurmountable.

I know this discussion of the problems has been quick, but I feel I have covered the “biggies” I have encountered as an online educator. There are other problems out there and problems and solutions will continue as we further think about and refine the concept of online education, or e-learning. I hope we are ready to take on this task as completely as we need to.

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