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June 08, 2011
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Peter has already covered Trip Gabriel's NYT piece on digital learning this morning (and done, as always, a mighty fine job). And his post, which draws attention to our collective?and long-standing?deprioritization of robust, challenging curricular content and how that has created a knowledge deficit, is interesting stuff. But, he gives Gabriel's portrayal of the digital-learning landscape far too much credit.
As Peter points out, Gabriel falls into the weeds?and never gets out.
See, there are variations in online learning, each with its own positives and pitfalls. And to conflate them all?from otherwise unavailable AP courses offered in rural areas to supplemental afterschool math-tutoring programs to remedial credit-recovery courses?is to seriously undermine one of the most promising new innovations in education.
And Gabriel should have known better.
His piece starts (and to its credit, ends) on the topic of online credit-recovery programs. He draws the reader in early with an anecdote, showing how easily Daterrius Hamilton is skating through English 3, a course he had failed twice before. Daterrius reads snippets of Jack London instead of opening any of the author's full volumes. To complete his written assignment, the high schooler copy-pastes text from London's Wikipedia page onto his screen, formats some, and submits.
Through this tale, Gabriel has me hooked. Credit-recovery programs, online or otherwise?though the numbers are mushrooming in the online arena, are too-often of dubious quality. And to question the legitimacy of an online course that teaches a struggling student Shakespeare in record time is just.
But Gabriel doesn't limit his report to credit-recovery programs. Instead, he conflates them with all other types of online learning creating, at best, a poor journalistic piece, and, at worst, one that rips the rug from under this nascent education model.
He further loses his thread on digital-learning quality as the piece continues. Presenting the arguments against digital learning, Gabriel states: ?But critics say online education is really driven by a desire to spend less on teachers and buildings, especially as state and local budget crises force deep cuts to education.?
So critics aren't against digital learning because it is thus-far an unregulated market, largely free from strong quality-control mechanisms, but because it might force districts to save money on facilities and employee salaries?
Surely ensuring quality must be paramount as digital learning continues to gain legs. But quality and cost are far from identical. And if we can create digital-learning programs that do both?especially those for motivated students looking to take extra online APs, or for students in need of supplemental help, or individualized instruction?we'd be fools not to.