The learning is online but with a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning (note that blended learning need not have any face-to-face component). The content is delivered via pre-recorded asynchronous sessions by teachers, along with a class web page with useful information, reading list, content outlines, course materials and assignments. This is where the students receive and submit their assignments. (Why don’t schools just bite the bullet and get autonomous learning (homework) going in this fashion?)
Online socially superior
Mandatory synchronous discussions with chat, whiteboard and so on, are also part of the blend. I find it interesting that the participation, because it’s structured, ordered and layered (students can contribute, comment, ask questions) can be much more intense and fruitful than real face-to-face discussion, where ion practice only one person, on one level, can speak at a time. You really can have several different interactions going at one time.
Note that the students don’t see any of this as unusual. For them it’s just learning. If anything there’s raised levels of attention and even more social learning than they normally experience in a classroom. “When I'm in Centra, I feel like I'm right there...Amazingly enough, I've had more classroom interaction over Centra than in a regular classroom. Bryan, Class of 2011.This is an oft reported effect of online learning, that the social side of learning is more focused and productive than the messy, difficult to control, social interaction in a classroom (often just chat or even disruptive behaviour). Online social interaction keeps learners on task and only involves people interested in the point or subject. The same software package is used for student clubs, instructor office hours, homeroom sessions, student club meetings, and parent-teacher conferences.
What’s wonderful about this approach is the way it allows students to proceed to their level of ability at the pace they want, even up and into University standard content. Ray Ravaglio, director of the Stanford High School, claims that he could offer the entire maths curriculum for $40 per head (£26). The initial maths trial has been running with 1,500 students, aged 9-12, from schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas of California.
Ravaglio is honest about the barriers, mostly from school Principals, who are locked into old, fixed methods of teaching and learning. For the students, it’s no sweat, even trivial "it is just going to school and coming to class…and not about the technology". But for many teachers and principals it’s a real challenge conceptually. They fail to see the real advantages of personalised learning and continuous feedback. For them it’s all about the technology, and technology is bad.
That’s to be expected, so there’s a real need to build confidence with principals, teachers and parents. There has to be empirical proof that this works. This is why they have gone for trials and have sought accreditation. Indeed, the programme is now accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. This is the main accreditation body in California that currently accredits Stanford University, Berkeley and all state and private schools.
OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría points to soaring student numbers and presents three options:
- Spend more – NOT POSSIBLE
- Make learners pay – MARGINAL EFFECT
- Do more for less – LOGICAL OPTION
We must, as Gurria says, "optimise policy choices", improve the “overall management of education institutions” and "investments in education will need to become much more efficient".
Given the worldwide cuts across the educational sphere and the fact that we need to do more for less, surely this is an option. It gives access, personalised learning, good feedback and progression. In addition it takes the pressure off hard worked teachers.