Digital Learning

Regardless of your views on the pros and cons of "digital learning" in K-12 education, it's hard to imagine that online instruction, educational games, embedded assessments, and the like won't have a major impact on our school system in the decades to come. But advocates and critics alike worry: How can we ensure quality in this brave new world? Especially when hundreds of millions of dollars of private capital are flowing into the sector from investors dreaming of making big profits?

Enter Frederick M. Hess (a.k.a. Rick, the wicked smart guy in shorts), with a groundbreaking contribution published today from Fordham, "Quality Control in K-12 Digital Learning: Three (Imperfect) Approaches." This working paper is the first in a series of six, generously underwritten by the Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation; the others will look at accountability, cost, personnel policies, and other key issues. [quote]

So what does Hess conclude? Does he hit upon a magic formula that will ensure that all digital instruction is top-notch and reasonably priced, that all children will be 100 percent engaged with their studies, and that there will...

Guest Blogger

You can do a lot of things with computers nowadays: Do your homework, balance the budget, unlock the secrets of high-performing charters, even battle school districts. If only computers could help us discover cheating, pass funding bills, or make us environmentally literate.

-Joshua Pierson, Fordham Intern

In this week's Atlantic, Gagan Biyani, cofounder of Udemy (a web start-up that provides a platform for anyone in the world to build their own online course with video, virtual-classroom sessions, etc.), said:

The price of college is going to fall, and the Internet is going to cause that fall. The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.

Forget that Biyani, or the rest of the article for that matter, is talking about higher education. The quote could just as easily apply to K-12 schooling in the States. The price of educating our youth is going to fall (in terms of per-pupil outlays, not the cost a family incurs to educate their child, as is the case in higher ed).? And the internet (I'm thinking of that term broadly and rather amorphously here to mean everything from broadband to wifi to 4G to superwifi) is going to catalyze that shift.

It all sounds great. And then Biyani hits you with the brick: ?The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.? If this were a grand game of Clue, we'd be missing the murder weapon. It was the Internet, in the classroom, with the?...

Yesterday afternoon my colleague Chris Irvine and I sat down with three of Denmark's most promising. They're elected leaders of the Association of Danish Pupils, the nation's student-run education-policy organization. (Think: a national student council, or a stellar group of model Congress participants, only the model Congress actually gets to influence policy.)

A few highlights stood out to me as we explained the American education system and federal and state policy, and heard a bit about the issues facing Denmark's schools:

  • The Danes are struggling with how to incorporate virtual learning into the classroom in much the same way that the United States is. For these intrepid youth, intent on discovering means of diversifying instruction and providing targeted, individualized instruction, digital learning wasn't really on their radar. According to the youth, Denmark is behind when it comes to virtual schooling. We commiserated over that fact?and I wondered silently how long it would be before each of our nations were so far behind in this domain that it is noticeably and negatively affecting our global competitiveness. Hopefully we push the throttle forward on digital learning and don't see that reality come to pass.
  • We talked briefly about how our
  • ...
Guest Blogger

After an agonizing wait, we can finally say sayonara to Cathie Black. Now we can get back to griping about e-books, wondering whether an iPad 2 belongs in the hands of kindergartners, and running our race to nowhere.

-Marena Perkins, Fordham Intern

Will you get on or not?? This is the question posed by this morning's page one New York Times story by Trip Gabriel:? More Pupils Are Learning Online, Fueling Debate on Quality.? Gabriel says that some 200,000 kids now attend online schools fulltime and over a million take at least one online course, a nearly 50 percent increase in just three years.

The question of quality is, indeed, the issue that educators and policymakers should be focused on here. And Gabriel is off to a promising start with an anecdote about an online student who went to Wikipedia to answer a question about social Darwinism for an English class. ?He copied the language, spell-checked it and e-mailed it to his teacher,? reports Gabriel.

That kind of quality control challenge is only the tip of the iceberg. ?Gabriel leads his story describing this same student's study of Jack London, ?in a high school classroom packed with computers.? The kid scans a ?brief biography? of London and that's it:

But the curriculum did not require him, as it had generations of English students, to wade through a tattered copy of Call of the Wild or To Build a Fire.

...

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...

The Education Gadfly

?The prevailing sentiment that anyone can do the job of a teacher, or that anyone can direct teachers how to do their job, is ill-considered: Many have tried, and many have failed.'' *

-Christine Emmons, Associate research scientist and scholar at The Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center

"No Teacher Is an Island," Education Week

1.03 million

The amount of students at the K-12 level who took an online course in 2007-8

"More Pupils Are Learning Online, Fueling Debate on Quality," The New York Times

* This quote does not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

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