Monday, March 22, 2010

What eLearning Organizations Can Learn from Classroom Teachers

By Mark T. Burke

I walked into my friend's band room the other day and within seconds we're talking about the Smart Board, then about the MACs and then about the KORG digital recorder and so on and so forth. The conversation wasn't focused on the bells and whistles though. For each tech tool, he immediately provided the benefits to the educational process.  Having spent 3/4 of my professional career involved with instructional technology, online course development and virtual school management, I've had numerous conversations just like this one. I guess with passing time, and experience, I now feel I can say this with nothing but good intentions: Classroom teachers can teach us "ed-techy" organizations a thing or two about educational technology.

What I've learned over the years is that just because an organization harnesses online tools to deliver education, that does not mean that organization is at the top of the heap regarding educational technology. I've always found it rather amazing that well educated and innovative teachers in face to face classrooms often integrate technology 10 times as much as virtual programs do. Remember, virtual programs and true hardware and software based technology tools and gadgets are different beasts. Virtual programs excel at providing usable yet powerful options for delivering and supporting quality education. Tech tools on the other hand are tools meant to enhance any teacher's ability to reach and teach kids in the classroom.

But are the two meant to live their lives on their own islands? In the virtual world, many of us have stayed away from integrated tech tools and gadgets because of the expense to the individuals who often take our classes or use or services. We try to simulate as best we can using online applications.  This keeps costs down as much as possible while supplying a close to reality experience all wrapped in an incredibly flexible and accessible environment. 

On the other island, face to face teachers have the advantage of the "1 ed tech tool to many" student relationship.  In other words, my friend can buy 1 digital recorder and impact MANY students.  He can have 1 MAC with GarageBand installed and give a ton of kids a great musical experience.  However, his reach is limited to the classroom.  But in his world, the purpose of education is to impact many while being innovative, motivating and frugal. 

What virtual programs can learn from classroom teachers is that we can never sit back and assume because we deliver online education that that alone makes us cutting edge. In fact, my friend is little impressed with online education as a whole (but very impressed with viaAcademies I must add).  He reminded me that as a virtual school leader, it is our job to stay not only abreast of new ed tech tools and applications, we must have hands-on skills. These skills ensure when we think about integrating ed tech tools, we will thoroughly know how they are used in a variety of situations, including a live classroom. We must also learn how to speak to classroom teachers to ensure we are using the same dialect. As we (virtual) programs continue to see a 40% growth in K-12 online enrollments, we must be aware that many of those enrollments are taking place in hybrid learning situations. In this case, we must have programs that provide resources for teachers to make more efficient use of their "1 ed tech tool to many" relationship.  Also, we must not be blinded by the fact that we provide innovation solutions, so much so that we forget to open our eyes to the many innovations falling outside the world of online delivery.

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