A green thumb for online learning




bonsai tree photo

Get your scissors, we'll show you how it's done.
Photo by Antonio Gonzalez Tajuelo

Like a bonsai, digital education must be
cultivated—with policies that foster its growth and trim its unruly branches. Yet,
too few are ready or willing to tend—and bend—this growing plant. Instead,
divided camps have emerged. One group—balking at the potential loss of rigor,
loss of teachers, loss of interpersonal connections associated with online
schooling—stands ready to uproot the fledgling digital-learning initiative. It
even seems to have the Wall Street Journal
convinced: A WSJ piece from this week
starts off with a vignette of an unmotivated online student who sets aside only
three hours a day for schoolwork, offers critique of the level of
student-teacher communication at Florida Virtual School, and hints at the fear of
for-profit takeover
of the digital-ed realm. In the other camp are those blind
proponents of online ed, who extol its rigor, instructional prowess, and its
intrinsic quality-control mechanisms. Responding to the Journal’s piece, Tom Vander Ark personified this movement. In his
rebuttal he avers the rigor of online school (but he fails to address
credit-recovery programs, a habitual perpetuator of the “easier online”
stereotype) and swears that online learning won’t replace teachers (it will). Like
charter-school advocates of the mid-1990s, Vander Ark and co. sit contented to
overwater and under shape digital ed, allowing it to grow unfettered, creating
a free-form—and potentially ugly—product. Both these extremes are wrong.
Digital education can and should become a valuable alternative to
traditional education. But this cannot happen without a smart sharpening of our
policy scissors, and the application of a deft hand to its sculpting. Bonsai!

My Teacher Is an App,” by Stephanie Banchero and Stephanie
Simon, The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2011.

WSJ Picks Problems, Misses the Promise of Learning Online,”
by Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart, November 12, 2011.

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