NEWSFLASH: Online Education is Here to Stay.
Okay so tell me something I don’t know. When I start to see articles and stories appearing in the NY Times, NPR, WSJ, on TV and lots of other places I start to think “mainstream”. What every one of you reading this already knows has become The Latest Big News. Online education is here to stay.
So that begs an important question. The more traditional onground version of education has been around since Moby Dick was a minnow. As in forever. And formal education was truly formalized when Teacher’s Colleges were started and teacher’s were taught to teach.
Generally, Teacher Education curricula can be broken down into four major areas:
- Foundational knowledge in education-related aspects of philosophy of education, history of education, educational psychology, and sociology of education.
- Skills in assessing student learning, supporting English Language learners, using technology to improve teaching and learning, and supporting students with special needs.
- Content-area and methods knowledge and skills—often also including ways of teaching and assessing a specific subject, in which case this area may overlap with the first (“foundational”) area. There is increasing debate about this aspect; because it is no longer possible to know in advance what kinds of knowledge and skill pupils will need when they enter adult life, it becomes harder to know what kinds of knowledge and skill teachers should have. Increasingly, emphasis is placed upon ‘transversal’ or ‘horizontal’ skills (such as ‘learning to learn’ or ‘social competences’, which cut across traditional subject boundaries, and therefore call into question traditional ways of designing the Teacher Education curriculum (and traditional school curricula and ways of working in the classroom).
- Practice at classroom teaching or at some other form of educational practice—usually supervised and supported in some way. Practice can take the form of field observations, student teaching, or (U.S.) internship.
All this leads to a certification and ongoing teacher education to make sure the level of quality of the teaching is maintained. We would not let our kids go to a school where the teachers were not certified to teach. We do not go to colleges and universities to learn from from people who are not prepared to teach. Yet we flip on our headphones and sit in front of our [fill in your device here] for hours on end taking online courses, not ever really knowing who is inside the screen, or what training they had that qualifies them to be the instructor.
Traditional onground teachers are highly qualified professionals. I cannot say the same for online teachers. According to the numbers I’m hearing lately, more than 63% of Americans have taken one of more online courses. That means a course with a curriculum and several sessions of teaching and learning, not a one-off webinar. And in many countries the numbers are dramatically higher (South Korea for example at over 85%).
Here’s the question:
Who is training the online teachers to teach online?
Some of the worst ‘teaching’ I have ever tried to learn from has been online. The worst. And I’m not alone. Everyone I know has stories about an online class that was a total waste of time. Poorly organized content. Terrible to no graphics. So many bullet points that the screen ended up being 8pt Arial. A droning voice with no modulation or interest in the subject. Talking bullet points. Less than a modicum of enthusiasm. Hardly any interaction in a medium defined by interaction.
In sum, it was taking the untutored teacher without certification person and putting that so-called teacher in a box, without so much as a nod to the tools afforded by the fantastic digital medium being used. Cheaper perhaps than getting people in a classroom. But what a waste of brainpower and yet another missed opportunity.
There are exceptions that always prove the rule. The free university level courses being taught by outstanding teachers who are first and foremost outstanding teachers and then outstanding online teachers as well. Starting with Khan academy. Great teachers using a new online approach and really working hard to find ways to make online education work online (e.g. Udacity and Coursera). Taking advantage of Communities of Learners, peer-to-peer learning, great interaction, and graduating students into Communities of Practice. Those are the exceptions.
The question again is when do we answer the question? When will we start to take online teaching as seriously as we take onground teaching? I found only one decent online teaching program and it’s from Cisco, where they are certifying their online – virtual – teachers so they know how to teach online. Certified to understand how online teaching – in a virtual classroom – is different than teaching onground – in an actual classroom. Some are still better than others when it come to teaching – the art and science of lighting a fire, not filling a bucket.
At the very least, when they are certified – actually certified after going through a process as rigorous as any other Cisco certification – they know how to correctly use the online classroom to maximize the capabilities of their virtual presence and get learners interacting and, dare I say it, actually learning something. As in those rare and wonderful “Aha!” moments.
So once again I leave you with a question.
Who is training the online teachers to teach online?