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Thursday, August 20, 2009

We need BRICKS and CLICKS!



A new study came out stating that online students in college and continuing ed programs score in the 59th percentile versus classroom students in the 50th percentile.  The conclusion stated in the article, Study Finds Online Students Outperform Classroom Counterparts, says:

"The study, conducted between 1996 and 2008, focused primarily on college and continuing education programs. The New York Times reports that online students ranked in the 59th percentile -- markedly higher than the 50th percentile score achieved by those in the classroom. The study's leader, Barbara Means, said that online learning "actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.""

Hold on a moment.  Two years a go we had three students enroll in Georgia Virtual High School -- two of the three dropped the course and went back to the classroom because they said they couldn't learn in that environment which was primarily text based.

The student who stayed was the valedictorian, who says she learns heavily by text.  I would have to argue that students who CHOSE online learning and continue in it have two things in common: 
  1. They are OK with using that environment and 
  2. They have the equipment and internet to access the environment.
My sister is an online professor for a major art college and she's quite good at it, but she also has talked about other professors who don't engage with students and they struggle and some students who just learn better in the classroom.  Some don't have the motivation to engage online and DON'T.

I think that what this says is that the TYPE Of student who is attracted to online learning tends to be a better student than those who are in the classroom. 

It makes me very nervous to see such blanket statements that many will not delve deeper into before saying "OK, we can improve student achievement by putting everyone online." 

To me, online schools should augment the traditional schoolhouse and we should evolve to some sort of hybrid model that takes the best of both worlds -- we shouldn't have to choose between bricks or clicks but have BRICKS and CLICKs.

There are instances where entirely online may make sense for a child, but on the whole, I think that the best of both worlds would involve some sort of hybrid.

To me, one of the comments on the New York Times article tells a lot about the growth of online schools:

"For K-12, online classes may translate to more face-to-face instruction. We pulled our son out of a useless junior high, let him play guitar and video games at home all day, and used an online charter school to teach him ourselves at night. The online curriuculum was definitely superior to what the local school offered, and the 1:1 instruction was very efficient. After one semester, he’s ahead of all his old classmates, rather than failing, and he’s enjoying life. Most people probably can’t arrange their lives to do this, but it sure can work when it works."

 HE improved because of improved curriculum, increased involvement of parents.  Now, what could he have done if he was in a good school, face to face, let me ask you.  Is it good for him to be at home playing video games all day unsupervised?  In this situation, he may have improved but could he have improved more?

Online education growing due to the inadequacy of face to face schooling is a poor excuse for growth, although certainly, this is a reality.

The comments of the New York Times Article are certainly worth reading as they provide insight into this firestorm of discussion.

I still have to wonder about the need for both bricks and clicks in an effective school:  providing the social interaction, the face to face of a good school, and the differentiation that can happen in a good classroom as well as online spaces that truly reflect global engagement and involvement.  There are such great things to be gained from both environments:  shouldn't we pursue the development of the ideal f2f and online environment?




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