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Online Learning: The Next Great Debate?

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
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I recently read with interest an article, "British Kids Log On and Learn Math - in Punjab" published in the New York Times. It reports that schools in Britain are outsourcing both supplemental and private education to math tutors in India via online technology.

Part of what was remarkable to me as I worked my way through the pros and cons in the article is what I learned about auxiliary items in the discussion, such as I did not realize that Pearson Education, a stalwart of educational products in the United States, is really British.

In addition, I was amazed that so many individuals in the U.K., who already know about Open University (OU), would decry the chance for students to find a solution to their needs -- online classes with teachers in India -- that is not only more affordable, but also more flexible for busy family schedules. The Open University, by the way, is a pioneer in using online technology for distance learning; indeed, the Web site for Open University states that more than a quarter of a million students are taking courses in Great Britain and Europe, with worldwide partners, that provide high quality educational experiences.

As their Web site explains so well:

"The OU was founded to open up higher education to all, regardless of their circumstances or where they live. We have students of all ages and backgrounds...As part of our mission we are making an increasing amount of Open University teaching and learning resources available free of charge to anyone with access to the internet, no matter where in the world they live."

With that information in front of me, my question is really this: What took the secondary schools in the U.K. so long to realize the potential of online education to meet the needs of their individual students?

The article extols how the tutors in the U.K. have a price range that is almost twice that of the tutors in India. Teachers in the U.K. unions are worried that they might be replaced if online tutoring is highly successful; they admit that in the article. The article interviews individuals from both sides of this issue, while reporting the facts and opinions. However, the students and families, at this point in time, appear to be in favor of the innovation of offering online courses to British secondary level schools.

If families are willing to spend their own time and money on teachers and tutors in India, that is their freedom. If the schools have found a way in this very tight economy to provide these additional services to their students, that must have been the topic of many administrative discussions before they made a decision to go in that direction. After all, many educators themselves at these U.K. schools may have been students over the years at the Open University and embraced the versatility that distance learning affords every learner.

What are your thoughts on online learning? Is it a threat to the traditional classroom-teaching model, or do you see it more as providing flexibility to students and increasing access to learning? We look forward to your comments on this issue.

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Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Comments (15) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Ashley Sommer's picture

I am currently pursuing my Master's in Education in Adolescent Literacy and Technology online and I am finding the program to be fantastic. I think that exploring technology and all it has to offer is conducive to the degree of real-world success a student with experiences in the later part of their lives at one point or another. This is not to say that one must be completely fluent in the world of technology or their subsequent future will prove to be dim. Rather, having a higher degree of exposure to the digital language of the 21st century has its undeniable advantages.

Having access to Open University is a wonderful way for students to be engaged and proactive in their own learning and development. However,regarding my position within a public school, I still struggle with the teach-to-the-test mentality versus my desire to branch out. Several of my colleague question if more integration of emerging technologies actually makes for smarter children? It seems that during every commercial break there is at least one advertisement for Leapfrog, Playskool and the like which brings me back to thinking about digital natives versus their immigrant counterparts. Falling on the borderline of the divide, I have had increasing exposure to new technologies, their functions and applications through college, but I also spent about 75% of my middle and high school years sitting through copious hours of lecture. I feel that there is almost a technological grooming of children that begins as toddlers and continues throughout a lifetime. Yes, the students may be more computer savvy, but what obstacles may occur when they are asked to be engaged in a lesson or activity that is not technology based? What happens to their participation, attention span and depth of comprehension? Perhaps falling in the middle of the divide has equipped me to pay attention to both ends of the spectrum as I have been a student of both. I feel as though I am better equipped to appreciate the fruits of both worlds.

Sharon Debb's picture
Sharon Debb
Tutor, M.Ed. Student

Secondary students are already learning online; it's just more socially than educationally. Integrating their love for high tech into the educational system will benefit them greatly. The students only need to be shown others ways of using their high end technological devices.

I don't agree with educators who think the kids are losing out because of all the technological advances. After all, educators don't think they have lost anything using technology. I had a friend argue that digtal clocks make kids today lose out on some their math skills by not having to count to figure out the time like you have to do with analog clocks. I argue that analog clocks made us lose out on our math skills by not having to know trigonomety to figure out the time as you do with the sundial.

There is never going to be a situation when these kids will be involved in a lesson or activity that is not technology based. The printed textbook, paper clip, pen, blackboard and chalk; heck, it's all technology. Educators should just embrace it, learn it, and teach students how to use it educationally. School needs to be relevant to how these kids live at home.

Sam Garrett's picture
Sam Garrett
Seventh grade math/science/technology teacher from Fort Bragg, nc

I have been thinking about starting a blog for my seventh grade math students but, I am hesitant because of safety issues. I read Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and I am concerned about cyber bulling. Can you offer any advice?
Thank you

Jessica Melendez-Carrillo's picture

I had an opportunity to view the video posted by Matthew from Ennis, Texas. I personally think it is a great video and more than anything alllows you to reflect on how technology is changing/evolving every day. Facebook is more than a Social Network. It is a tool which allows you users to update thier status, upload pictures and to make comments. Facebook is a learning tool which has changed how teenagers and adults interact.

marci's picture
6th/7th grade Math teach from Marietta, Georgia

I watched the video that Matthew from Ennis, Texas posted. There are a lot of interesting facts. My school has a very large population in the low socioeconomical status. When I ask for parent email addresses, only about 50-60% state that they have the internet available. Perhaps, I should poll the students about Facebook availability at home.

I would love to start a blog or discussion board for my students to access to. Any advice as to the best way to start?

Mike Brady's picture
Mike Brady
Sixth grade geography teacher from Fort McCoy, FL

There seems to be no way around the tightening budgets of school districts around the country. Busing children to large, heated and air conditioned buildings in an age where education can be effectively delivered at home is just impractical. Think of the costs saved in transportation, custodial, utilities and liability insurance if students stayed home or attended school only periodically at small community centers? Millions of dollars. The technology for delivering content and providing learning opportunities and feedback is here. We need to stop dragging our feet and clinging to a 19th century school house model.

Joe Pluskota's picture

I agree with your statement about "when we were in school" and would like to know a little more about your Moodle experience. My district is trying to use Moodle for giving common formative assessments but found the formatting to be quite unfriendly for math equations. Just wondering if you have any suggestions.

Also, how do you propose the student who is learning on-line keep in-line with the curriculum you are trying to teach. I posted an idea on this some time ago, but have not had much response. I have a small issue with how curriculum varies from district to district (especially in math). What is your take on the this idea??

Joe Pluskota's picture

My last comment was for John Kazmaier. Sorry I didn't post that information earlier...

Joe Pluskota's picture

Hi Marci,

Right now I am taking a course that is creating our own blogs for people to follow. Currently, I am using Google Reader and have found that unless you are a subscriber, the public cannot post comments or links. I do not think that is as user-friendly as what you may need for your students. I am sure I will discover a different venue for public comment and will certainly keep you in mind when I find it.


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