There’s No Room for Partisans in the eLearning Revolution

 

Dear Larry. You Don’t Get It.

I always feel proud when Red and Blue join together to support a common cause. Such is the case with online learning as both sides of the political spectrum understand the great benefits that online learning can provide to both teaching and learning. Consider Democratic Governor Bob Wise’s and Republican Governor Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Now project. In Congress, Republican Kristi Noem, a conservative House member, and Democrat Jared Polis, a liberal, created the eLearning caucus to “promote research on successes and failures in eLearning.”

But, I’m not surprised when a partisan from one side imprints their own political agenda on the effort. Such is the case, I suspect, with Larry Sand’s article, Disrupting Class, on the City Journal. In it, he claims that “California’s teacher unions will eventually go the way the way of the Betamax.” Larry cites Hoover Institution claims that unions will be marginalized and that they can’t stop the online learning revolution from happening.

Really Larry? Is that the best you can do? Your proof of your claims is a recent development at the University of California where its teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, fought against online education in order to “protect our members from potential adverse effects of UC’s rapid adoption of online instruction. Larry states that the union will “fiercely protect their turf at any cost.”

Really Larry.

You compare teaching to the horseshoe business, which became significantly less relevant with the advent of the automobile. Yet, Clayton Christensen, in his book “Disrupting Class”, recognizes that K-12 education has a long history of changing itself and rebuilding the education airplane while its flying.  No one claims that brick-and-mortar schools will go the way of the blacksmith or that teachers are the next farrier.

In fact, K12’s primary teachers’ union, the NEA, is ready to prepare its members for the online future. In their publication,  “Guide to Teaching Online Courses”,  they outline their support for eLearning and repeat much of what other online supporters have stated is necessary for the revolution to succeed. The NEA recognizes that “every student deserves a highly qualified teacher online.” They support online learning as a way to expand teachers’ professional roles without leaving the classroom.  One example they provide reinforces how online learning can support students who don’t have access to a full range of courses, namely that a German teacher could offer an AP German course, even if no students in her school take German.

Does that sound like a union that is trying to stop online learning, Larry?

The NEA paper lays out their core beliefs, which don’t vary from what other online supporters have proposed. The NEA believes that online courses should be instructor-led. (No one has advocated for teacher-less classrooms, Larry.) They believe that online courses should be student-centered, that learning should be collaborative, and that activities and assessments should account for different learning styles.  These are all components promoted by a variety of eLearning proponents.

This might make you angry, Larry, but the NEA believes that “schools should set high standards for their online teachers” and that states should recognize each other’s credentials so a credentialed teacher can teach in many states. They also advocate that since online teaching is different from face-to-face, teachers should be provided professional development regarding effective pedagogy and delivery, appropriate and timely feedback, online discussion facilitation, and learning management system navigation. Their publication includes 19 skills that teachers should acquire before they teach online. Skills repeated by other organizations as essential.

Sound like the union is in denial, Larry?

You cite Rocketship Education’s charter network, which uses blended learning to dramatically increase student proficiency. Yet, Rocketship pays their teachers more than surrounding districts and they’ve made regular, ongoing professional development a core component. As Heather Staker believes in her report, “The Rise of K12 Blended Learning”, 90% of all online learning will take place in brick-and-mortar schools, which utilize real teachers. And those teachers will require initial and ongoing professional development to best utilize this new medium.

So why does the NEA support online learning? Well, as many of us have dreamed of for the past 20 years, online learning enables teachers to move from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”, just as advocated by Sal Kahn with his excellent set of lectures. It’s about growing our profession from lecturers to one that can meet every student’s needs.

You say, Larry, that “a superior education for far less money will eventually overwhelm and decimate the unions, and for some, that will come not a moment too soon.”  No one claims that blended learning will cost “far less money.” In fact, some day that online learning can initially cost more.

Yes, K12 education excels in rebuilding its airplane while it’s flying. My only problem is when the qualifications of the next version’s designer is that he took a flight once. Save the partisan efforts for others. I’m proud that Red and Blue fight for the same side in the online learning revolution and I look forward to eLearning’s transformation of both teaching and learning.

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