What is an obsolete school?

Published 3.23.2017
On Thursdays in 2017, the focus in the arena is education. A teacher friend posted this link on Facebook and noted that many of the 14 things are still the norm at her school, which happens to be a private one. She used to teach in the public schools in a different state, which she greatly preferred to her current position.

Seven of the 14 examples relate directly to technology, and a few of the others do so tangentially. There is zero justification for schools not to embrace the technological world in which we all live and allow their students to benefit from them.

Computer rooms are ridiculous, but school-based laptops and tablets are not. School-based means the devices remain on school premises. WiFi access should be provided. Please note: using computers in education does not eliminate paper and pencil, teacher-student interactions, or group activities. What computer based education does do is permit a level of individualization of presentation that is simply not possible in a traditional classroom.

No Homework

What about homework if the devices can’t leave the premises? Homework should be abolished. Students should be encouraged to read as much as possible in any subject they wish outside of school, but actual school work and assignments should be done at school.

Schools are already kept open beyond school hours to accommodate the schedules of working parents, supervised accessed to the devices could occur during those hours for any child desiring it if that’s what the school decides. Teachers needn’t provide the supervision, as the actual “teaching time” will have ended.

However, my desire would be that the kids be allowed to do activities other than continue studying. Without homework, kids will have more time for reading, playing sports, taking dance or music lessons, participating in after schools activities, working at a job, volunteering, or simply relaxing. Fewer dinners and evenings will be battles because their won’t be any homework to argue over.

How will parents know what the kids are doing or how they are doing? The beautiful thing about computers and the internet is that sharing information is relatively simple. Many parents either own a computer or smart phone, and most others have access to computers, one way or another. If a parent does not, then the school should have computer room for parents to come and check their child’s progress. There are ways around most obstacles.

School-based devices would mean that all children, regardless of socioeconomic status would have access to the same technology. Keeping the learning process (at least as it relates to school activities) within the school means that children in homes without the latest technology are not disadvantaged. All children, no matter family income, will enjoy not having the hassle of homework invading their personal time.

How would it work?

So what exactly do I mean when I say computer based learning “level of individualization of presentation”? I mean that children don’t all learn in the same manner. An example that makes sense and leads to understanding for one child won’t work for another. Traditional classrooms are built around the idea of presenting the same example to all kids. I think there’s a better way. Why can’t there be multiple explanations for a given topic? Teachers could record the explanation given in different ways, allow the kids to pick which they want to watch, and then answer any resulting questions?

Those questions could still be answered for all students at once, but frankly, I think those real-time explanations should also be videoed so that students could review them. I don’t want to belabor the explanation of the learning process, because I think most students know how to find information and learn online. It’s how the do it when left to their own devices (pun intended). It’s only at school that this preferred process is disrupted.

Note that I’m not suggesting that schools turn their students loose on the internet, but rather schools should create a menu of options for students to choose and use. Where appropriate, internet content can be incorporated, but the goal of transmitting a defined curriculum to students isn’t upended by technology. What is upended is the manner of conveying that information to students.

I envision each teacher having the freedom to create the content offerings, and then being present to answer questions and give additional assistance, so I don’t see teachers being eliminated in this scenario. It will require that teachers alter the way they do their job. It will also likely subject them to more monitoring. Testing for knowledge level won’t necessarily change though, in the end, the question is always, once the books, notes or laptops are put away, can a student demonstrate understanding of a concept or mastery of a skill.

Chromebooks are inexpensive laptops that seem almost designed for this type of application. Schools would no longer need to purchase expensive and heavy textbooks that are dated almost as of publication. Rather than books, schools could provide all the school supplies, papers, pencils, etc needed for use at school.

My children wound up completing their schooling using an online high school. My son’s online schooling actually started in Middle School. However, the structure of the courses (no doubt to earn accreditation) would organized and presented very much as they would have been in a traditional school. Some classes offered hints of the power online learning could offer, but in general the standard curriculum was simply transcribed to a website. In fact, they shipped a bunch of textbooks to us, that in general were then never referenced.

Technology alone is not enough, the education process needs to take advantage of the power of the technology. I played the role of “teacher”, meaning I was the live body there to answer questions and give hints as they arose. I also found additional legitimate sites from them to augment the information available through the course. These alternative sites with different presentations often made the difference in understanding. The same information, just presented in a different manner. The process worked best when the kids when the kids could check out different sites until they understood.

None of the above is meant to suggest that kids would never step away from the screen while at school. Just as with presentations given by teachers at the front of the room, eventually the class moves on to other topics or activities. If there are schools doing something like I've described, I am not aware of them. I would love to learn of any such programs.

There is nothing that says that this method won't work for college or university level classes as well. I know that large lectures are becoming passé, as professors are filmed while lecturing and students can then access them at will. But this is still a single presentation of information, but nothing stops students from finding alternative ones, I suppose.


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