I’d like to share an example of how the three premises can help anyone to reconsider and validate their thinking and conclusions in relation to Edushift. Let me explain.
In a recent commentary entitled "There's No Online Substitute for a Real University Classroom", University of Toronto professor Clifford Orwin presents a compelling argument to explain the need for physical human-to-human interaction for effective learning.
In essence, Mr. Orwin dismisses online learning by explaining that teaching is “inherently responsive and improvisational. You revise your presentation as it goes, incorporating the students’ evolving reception of it. In response to their response, as individuals and as a group, you devise new variations on your theme. You don’t address students in the abstract or as some anonymous throng scattered throughout cyberspace. You always teach these students, in this room, at this time.”
Although Edushift isn’t intended to venture into the realm of university systems, I was interested and inspired by the argument that a good teaching can’t be replaced entirely by online learning because good teachers, as Orwin suggests, need face-to-face connection with their students. After all, most of us have had situations in our educational past where the help/guidance/support of a great teacher has been invaluable. So, my immediate personal reaction to the commentary was “this is a good example of premise number two; technology is a support not a solution.”
But then, a day or two later, I revisited this commentary to look at the discussion responses. To date, there have been 168 responses from (mostly) students, but also from teachers and professors, with a high degree of emotion and variety of opinions. And, guess what? Many students appear to disagree with Mr. Orwin.
One student, for example, reminded us that the case presented by Mr. Orwin is “good for one kind of learner and one kind of teacher. There are many learners who benefit from online learning more than face to face interaction. Recognizing many kinds of intelligence and differences in learning styles has always been difficult for institutions and individuals rooted in a tradition or practise. What is being prescribed here is a personal preference, not a prescription for all learning.” Wow, nicely done.
And then I realized, this issue isn’t so much about technology as it is about customer satisfaction; the right and increasingly evident capability of students to choose the type of educational experience that they prefer. I jumped to a conclusion without really considering the deeper meaning of what Mr. Orwin’s commentary is really about. When we consider “the what” and “the how” for educational transformation, the case presented in the Orwin commentary isn’t so much about Edushift premise number two as it is about Edushift premise number one; that students will have increasingly greater opportunities to demand a personalization of education service.
Whether or not online learning, however we perceive and choose to actually operationalize this term in our educational systems, is good, bad or otherwise is not the issue. The only person in this debate who has the inherent ability now to decide this outcome is the student. There is no future role for academia to decide. The demon is out of the box, so to speak. If a student doesn’t like or want Mr. Orwins’ mode of educational delivery, he or she can choose something else. That is the new reality.
Not coincidentally, from an August 30, 2012 “Back to School” article by Christine Dobby entitled "Enter the Virtual High School", I was able to read about the exponential growth in enrolment that has been taking place at an Ontario online school based out of the small town of Bayfield, Ontario. According to the article, enrolment at the school is now at 4,600 students; a considerable increase from the nine students it began with only ten years ago.
Depending on how one chooses to do the math, 4,600 students is the equivalent of at least a few average sized high schools. So who are these students? And why have they opted, or found it necessary, to look beyond the physical walls of their local schools, paying hundreds of dollars per course, to complete their high school education?
So, how should public education be responding to the new needs of students? Let’s get on with this before it’s too late.