I definitely think preparation is a key element to it, but we also need to be reaching teachers with different opportunities for them to gain the skills they need to be successful in the classrooms. Some of that is going to be learning technology skills. We also think some of that is going to be learned through residency programs. If you think about it, teaching may not be rocket science, but it’s very close to being a skilled surgeon. A skilled surgeon can only get so much from textbooks and lectures in a college before we say, “the best way for you to learn how to be a surgeon is to put you in a surgical room, where you’re learning from a master surgeon, where you get to watch the procedures, and are slowly brought into it.” We think there’s going to be a lot of room for these residency programs, and we see it as a way to cultivate really high skilled teachers and leaders. So some of that (new preparation) is going to be using technology, some of it will be learning good classroom management, and some will be good classroom instructional techniques.
As a side note, we’re really excited about some of these new technologies that are videotaping teachers, and giving them a chance to have their peers rate them. We do this in sports all the time. The day after the game we get up and we watch films. Anyone who watched Friday Night Lights got to watch the film reels and we do it on ESPN as Monday armchair quarterbacks. It’s a critical part of the way that we do training and how we learn. Increasingly, that’s an option and tool that’s available to a lot of teachers too.
Dr. Rod: We talk about blended learning and that can be a different animal for teachers who are trying to incorporate different modes of operation and curriculum delivery. Talk with us a little about massive open online courses (MOOCs), their value, and enter your opinion as to their staying power.
John: Great questions and it’s really two questions because blended learning is combining the best of online learning, with the best of in-classroom instruction. It blows up this myth of “It’s either completely all online or completely traditional.” I would say that in almost every single blended model that I’ve been to, whether it’s a classroom model or whether it’s a homeschool model, there is one thing that has struck me in terms of talking to the teachers. They were very intimidated by it, when it was first presented to them, but after going through and learning how to teach in this style they never want to go back. That’s because it reinforces all the reasons why they wanted to be teachers in the first place.
Often in a blended learning classroom, you may have a larger class size, but the teacher is actually working with a smaller group of students. That’s because these computer systems are helping to diagnose students and find their strengths and weaknesses. Then they are able to help choreograph the students that need more one on one time with the teachers. They help identify which students can actually work with a parent professional, or maybe a junior-teacher that is learning, or with a mentor educator that is teaching in small groups. So this type of classroom, far from replacing teaching, it actually empowers teaching in a lot of different ways.
MOOC’s are sort of this new experiment that are happening in a lot of different ways right now. The cost to build online courses has fallen, the technology cost, the distribution cost, even the production cost of what it takes. You and I with our iPhones today, could create essentially a video lecture. It would even be in a relatively high quality compared to what it would have taken and cost a couple years ago. As a result it’s very cheap now to produce a course and to deliver a course. I think what we’re seeing in terms of the experimentation is educators asking, “What is the best way to do that?” That could be in terms of duration, along with the right combination of lecture, assignments, simulations, and activities. The goal is to have something that will lead to students not just completing the course, but actually learning the material, and demonstrating that they’ve learned it.
The conventional wisdom right now is trying to position MOOC’s as “Is it going to replace higher education?” or, “Is it going to replace K-12 education?” But I don’t think it’s one of these things where it’s going to replace these institutions. It’s probably going to replace a set of courses that we had in those institutions. So we might have a MOOC instead of the freshman level, 200 person, college lecture hall introduction to math. Or maybe MOOC’s are a way of keeping students and graduates engaged once they leave the school. Whether its high school or college, it can be a way for them to stay up to date with their favorite professor or favorite lecture. I don’t think it’s going to replace the institution, but I think we’re going to see a lot of experimentation. We’re particularly interested in whether or not MOOCs are one tool for supporting teachers in their professional development.
If you think about it, these blended learning systems are constantly churning out data that can really help educators. Let’s say the blended learning system tells the teacher that the whole class is struggling with fractions. A teacher doesn’t need to go to a 3 day pre-Algebra professional development course. They just need a very quick course in how to teach fractions. Maybe the best way to do that is through a 1 week MOOC. That’s something that could be done on the teacher’s time, and on the teacher’s schedule, in a way that helps them address the particular area that they’re struggling with. We’re very intrigued by this notion of MOOC’s helping to revolutionize professional development as a way of providing more support for teachers.
Dr. Rod: A couple things come to mind in your response there John. One would be the word “institution” and everything that seems to go with an institution. I think of the stereotype of its slow-moving approach to change, and the fear that is associated with it sometimes. We hear that throughout education. Governor Bush this morning talked about how “empires do not go quietly into the night.” I thought that was sort of a fantastic wrapper today in looking at this. How can we change that from a public relations standpoint, so that teachers aren’t afraid that they’re being replaced and pushed into a facilitator role? What can be done so teachers feel that their skills are being embraced, and how can we at the same time bring in new talent that maybe spent the first 5 or 10 years of their profession as a lawyer or some other profession?
John: It’s a great question, and I think that these forces are not just purely technological. If you talk to any parent and most teachers right now, the primary vehicle through which education used to be provided is through the institution of public schooling. You had a building, and that’s where schooling took place. Very slowly over time, that ecosystem of learning started expanding. We had 4H clubs, after school clubs, model rocket clubs, sports (a critical part of education), arts (also a critical part) and band. Over time those experiences and opportunities have grown exponentially. I think we’re more sensitized to it now, because technology is creating an explosion of opportunities in a way we never could in a traditional setting.