Former WV Governor Pushes for ‘Blended Learning’
“Former WV Governor Pushes for ‘Blended Learning'” by Jeff Rhodes was originally published on The Olympia Report.
Why is it, Bob Wise wonders, that people who wouldn’t dream of carrying the same cell phone that seemed so high-tech back in 2001 cling tenaciously to a education model that hasn’t changed noticeably in 100 years?
“We’re living in a transitional time,” the former West Virginia governor told a gathering of about 60 Washington state lawmakers and opinion leaders in Olympia on Wednesday night. “We have to fundamentally reshape the way we deliver education in this country. We have no choice. The world has changed and education has to change with it.”
Specifically, school curricula need to embrace technology in ways many educators either don’t understand or actively resist.
Wise, who currently serves as president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, delivered the keynote address in a digital learning symposium sponsored by The Freedom Foundation.
The theme of his remarks was an educational model known as “blended learning,” in which students get roughly half of their instruction in a traditional brick-and-mortar school setting and the half via online sources.
“I’m not suggesting online learning is the perfect solution,” he said. “You can’t just throw a notebook (computer) over a textbook and, voila, kids start graduating. But the Internet has shaped our world in ways we never could have dreamed of a few short years ago, and it makes perfect sense to use all the new tools we have available to us to improve education.”
Washington state currently offers 60 different online programs in 55 school districts, but relatively few incorporate the majority of students in those districts.
“Up to now, online learning has been an outlier,” Wise said. “It’s used mainly by at-risk students, those needing to make up course work or those whose life situation involves a lot of travel or something else that makes it difficult for them to physically attend school.”
Now it’s time to apply the same tools to mainstream students, as well, he said.
Wise noted that these days if you take any 10 ninth graders at random, you can assume four will drop out before the graduate high school and three more will graduate without the skills necessary to continue their education in college or move directly into the workforce.
“Only three will come out of high school with the kind of education they’re supposed to have,” Wise said.
At the same time, more and more jobs require a higher skill set. In 1973, Wise said, around one-third of all jobs in the U.S. labor force were filled by high school dropouts and another 40 percent were filled by workers with only a high school education.
These days, 60 percent of all jobs require at least some post-secondary education.
“At the same time we need more and more educated workers,” Wise said, “we’re producing fewer of the than ever before.”
Investing in digital learning is a good investment, he said, because it has the potential to reduce the dropout rate. In Washington state alone, cutting the dropout rate in half would yield $144 million in increased earnings.
It could also produce 750 jobs statewide, generate $111 in new spending and bring an additional $12 million in taxes to the state general fund.
“When you see a room full of kids with laptop computers, what’s your reaction?” Wise asked. “Are you concerned because you think they’re wasting time surfing the net or posting on Facebook? Or are you excited because you see that at least they’re engaged in a way they aren’t now?”
The former governor said teachers — and teachers unions — tend to be resistant to the idea of online learning because they fear it will diminish the role of teachers and reduce the number needed.
“I think it’s just the opposite,” Wise said. “Digital learning gives us the tools to tailor the learning experience to the individual student in ways we never could before. In order to do that, teachers will become more important than ever.”
“They’ll be working differently,” he said, “but they’ll still be teaching — and they’ll be getting much better results.”
Wise noted that the first-ever nationwide “Digital Learning Day” is scheduled for Feb. 1 and offers the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about the need to rethink our notions about education.
“I know it sounds counter-intuitive,” he said, “but that day, for at least an hour, we’d love to see students everywhere put down their pencils and pick up their smart phones, their laptops and their iPads, because that’s where the real learning is done.”
The following is an excerpt from my new book, Common Sense: The Missing Link in Education Reform. It demonstrates that customizing the pace of instruction can also be accomplished without technology, but perhaps online learning could make individualizing or customizing the pace of instruction easier for teachers..
It was a Monday morning in March during the early 1970s, my first year in the classroom. I was attempting to prepare the math lesson for the day, introducing multiplication of fractions to a class of
thirty-two fifth graders. It suddenly dawned on me that what I was about to attempt that morning was going to be a problem. It was a revelation that had been festering since September, but for some reason, it leaped out at me that morning.
A number of thoughts suddenly came to mind. First, I thought back to my days in school. There were too many instances where I was bored. The teacher had been going at a snail’s pace. They had spent most of the time trying to catch everyone up to the lesson of the day or week, or even attempting to solidify the previous lesson or lessons from weeks past. However, my memory also came to rest on my physics class where the teacher proceeded at a pace uncomfortable to my liking.
My thoughts reverted to the present and the group I had in front of me for the previous six months. Suddenly it hit me. What was I doing? In the class of thirty-two students, nine students still didn’t know their multiplication tables (to varying degrees) and the four most-challenged math students were still not clear on their addition and subtraction facts. At the opposite end of the class, three of the more aggressive students had taken the initiative to jump ahead a unit in the book and had already learned the new algorithm.
So here I was, less than thirty minutes from an instructional nightmare. Kids were all over the map in terms of background, motivation and readiness for the upcoming lesson, and I was about to deliver one lesson to all thirty-two kids simultaneously.
At that moment I knew I had to consider a change in delivery. I had to create a model to address the individual pace of instruction for each student in the class. If teaching was going to be my profession,
my career, I knew I had to develop a more child-paced model of operation. I had to create a delivery system where the focus was on the various student levels and their respective paces of instruction. I had to attempt to individualize or customize the rate of instruction for each student in each subject.
I spent the remainder of that school year reading and reflecting on what to do, how to change, and ways to develop a manageable alternative to the existing model. A significant change was clearly in order. I was fortunate in the respect that I was allowed to explore such an alternative.
The most challenging aspect was that I was pretty much on my own with no one to advise or mentor me. Administrators had only a vague notion of where I was going and peers had no idea what I was about to attempt. It was exciting and a bit daunting at the same time. Fortunately, the excitement of the freedom to attempt this new model won out in the end.
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