The future is now

Or why I don’t think the internet will replace me anytime soon.

Steven Pearlstein from the Washington Post has an article about new websites and YouTube videos that are “transforming” education. His premise is that with the new technology, teachers will no longer be needed in the numbers they are now, and students will be able to learn from new and exciting content on the internet and shared through multi media platforms.

And I agree that there is a lot of new and exciting content on the internet (and there has been for quite a few years) and yes a lot of the big publishers of educational materials are a bit behind the times. Or should I say the state and national educational standards tests are a bit behind the times.

I do believe in standards, although I think high stakes testing is a bad idea all around. However I will say that this article reads like another bash on teachers.  Another we don’t need no education! Leave those kids alone!  But I think one of the biggest problems with education right now is that there are not enough teachers. Classes have 40 students, and that is just too much to really teach each one individually.

That is why some of the online  content can help.  But school and education isn’t about in-putting information and having students out- putting the information.  Those were always the worst classes.  Real teaching is more about the relationship teachers, students and the school have with the information or skills that are being taught.

One of the problems with just putting kids in front of the computer (or TV) is that most learning isn’t that passive.  And there are a lot of subjects that students need to learn, even if they don’t have the internal motivation for it. (and how many teenagers do you know that have a lot of internal motivation?)  Teachers spend a lot of time and effort in finding appropriate materials and appropriate methods of teaching. And appropriate is the key word here.  A TV show or YouTube channel cannot tailor materials to a class, or to help a student.

One of the things a teacher learns very quickly is that each class has its own personality. What approach works for one class will seldom work for another. What helps one student will fall flat for another.  Yes websites and channels and multi media can make the material seem more interesting and relevant.  They can bring some color and music into the classroom. But they can’t interact with the student. (and Skype tutoring or video chat can, but again you need a teacher for that – at least until our robot overlords make their move)   And that is where real learning often takes place, within the interactions that students have with their teacher and with other students.

And with other students is another reason a youtube channel will not replace a school. Schools teach more than just the subjects the students take.  In school we learn how to get along with people who think differently than we do.  Schools teach how to get along with others, how to follow directions, how to socialize. Even if you were a nerd in high school, you probably still had friends, and learned the invaluable skill of how to deal with jerks – a skill that I could argue is more important than learning how to use the past perfect progressive tense.  And yes I am an English teacher and yes I do teach the past perfect progressive tense.  However dealing with jerks is something I do much more often than use past perfect progressive.

Although most of the students in school aren’t jerks, many of them have different ideas, beliefs, skills, and talents. That is one of the reasons I use a lot of collaborative learning and group work in my classes. It is a way for my students to not only to learn from me but from each other. An opportunity lost if students only learn from a video or website.

I do think that education in America, and in Korea needs some serious reform. Students are often treated like products produced in a factory instead of individuals that have individual needs. In America students with ADD and ADHD are often misdiagnosed and students without these diseases are often medicated just to keep them quiet. We don’t have enough physical activity in the day. Many teachers are stuck teaching to a test that has no relevance to real life.  Teachers are overwhelmed with the new fads that come from consultants that are touting the newest bestest thing, administrations that have their own pressures that put them in an adversarial position with teachers, schools that are old and decaying, out of date technology, and parents who are disinterested or second guessing everything the teacher does in the classroom.  Adding technology can help, but in the end, investing in teachers and students is something we all need to do. More teachers, better books, and classrooms that allow students to express their creativity. Most students want to learn, and most teachers want to teach.   But we do need education, and we do need schools.


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