We have all heard that we need to use technology in the classroom to enhance learning, but the newest buzz seems to be about whether teachers and brick and mortar schools are even needed in the 21st century.
In “Are Schools Irrelevant?” by Deven Black he poses this very question. This is something that I have been pondering over all summer. I have wondered how much longer the career of teacher will last and when will schools convert to a strictly online environment.
These are troubling thoughts for those of us who love our jobs as teachers and want to be able to interact with our students and guide them towards lifelong learning. While I integrate technology as much as I can into my class, I also enjoy the interaction with the students in the classroom. However, with information so readily available online, will teachers be needed at all? The answer, I believe, is yes.
Although the information is out there for those who are willing to find it, not everyone knows where to look or how to determine if what they have found is reliable. This is where the role of the educator will come in to play. It is our job to present students with the fundamental knowledge that they need in each content area as we have always done. We have a new role that we must add to our traditional one and this is to teach our students how to search out information, judge its reliability, and learn from it. So while many are starting to say that the role of a teacher will soon be outdated, I stand firmly that teachers will be needed, but in an evolved role resembling a guide.
As for the brick and mortar schools, The U.S. Department of Education has been looking into that topic and have put a temporary rest to the fears of teachers. They have recently released a new study on this very topic. Having looked at data from online only learning, classroom only learning, and a mix of both online and classroom learning, they have determined that students perform best in a setting where they are engaged in both the classroom and online. This is referred to as “blended instruction”.
The meta analysis showed that “blended” instruction – combining elements of online and face-to-face instruction – had a larger advantage relative to purely face to face instruction or instruction conducted wholly online. The analysis also showed that the instruction conducted wholly on line was more effective in improving student achievement than the purely face to face instruction. In addition, the report noted that the blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions.
The disturbing part of their research is that they point out that when “blended instruction” is taken out of the mix that a purely online environment is more effective than a purely face to face one. This is something that we, as teachers, need to look at more closely. While most of us are incorporating an online portion to our classes these days, we need to think about what the online teachers are doing to accomplish the results that they are getting. What are we missing?
Recent news is showing an increase in the use of social networks and online games being used by online course instructors. The majority of these social networks are blocked by most schools however, and gaming is usually discouraged. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released WaterLife which several schools are looking into adopting into their science programs. While playing WaterLife students will learn about estuaries and their benefits to both ocean life and humans. I believe that games such as these are beneficial to students and help them learn while having fun at the same time.
As teachers in the 21st century we need to be open to new ways of presenting information to students. We also need to be able to present this information to both parents and school administration and encourage them to accept these as valid tools in education.