Friday, March 11, 2011

Is a Hybrid On-Line Learning+Teacher Classroom the Future of Education?

I was watching NBC news last night and they featured a story about Sal Khan.  He's a guy who was trying to help his cousin in another state with math.  He made a video lesson of himself teaching and got her through it and now's she's pre-med at Sarah Lawrence.

He created the Khan Academy which is a warehouse of about 2100 10-20 minute  FREE video lessons from K-12 math (the original one) to biology, chemistry and physics with a little humanities (history and finance).  From the website:

Each problem is randomly generated, so you never run out of practice material. If you need a hint, every single problem can be broken down, step-by-step, with one click. If you need more help, you can always watch a related video. 

You can also get stats on how you are doing.  You can track your progress or, if you are a teacher, your class' progress. 

Sal started doing this while his wife was doing her residency.  He had started to dip into his savings when, you guessed it, Bill Gates gave him a grant.  (THIS is what I wish Bill Gates would do more of for public education.)

It is humbling to see the huge amount of work he has undertaken in this effort.  I looked through some lessons and I think they could be helpful. 

The NBC piece, though, was a little disheartening.  There was lots of "it's fun" and I always get worried about that.   Learning isn't always and won't always be "fun."  It can be made easier to understand or more entertaining but learning takes effort.

The other, maybe darker side of the story, is this from our friends at the Broad Foundation.  (By the way, fyi, MGJ isn't totally erased from that site.)  There's a group of charter schools by a company called Rocketship Education.   They are hoping to create a network of K-5 charter schools with a "hybrid school" model.  Hybrid means classroom instruction combined online learning.   From the press release:

Rocketship schools – which serve more than 1,300 students, nearly 90 percent of whom are
eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 75 percent of whom are English language learners –
are open enrollment public charter schools.  

They also have a longer school day and many of their teachers are current and former TFAers.

Why they say it works:
Because basic skills are reinforced in the learning lab, teachers are able to spend more classroom time on high-level critical thinking skills, project-based learning and social skills.  At the same time, frequent assessments allow Rocketship teachers to monitor student progress and tailor rich individual learning plans to each student’s specific needs, strengths and areas for improvement.

The bottom line, ah, here's where it gets interesting:

In addition to helping students achieve significant academic gains, the learning lab – which is
staffed with non-certified personnel – saves Rocketship the expense of additional teachers and
classrooms.  Rocketship reinvests the resulting savings (about $500,000 per school per year)
back into efforts to raise student achievement, including small group tutoring, attracting the best
teacher talent by paying teacher salaries that are 20 percent higher than surrounding districts,
mentoring and developing teachers to continuously improve, and providing art, music and
physical education.    

Kind of brilliant, huh?  Fewer teachers, cheaper teachers, fewer lesson plans for teachers to prepare (if the majority of it is online).    

What is puzzling to me is that they say at their website that they training principals for one year before they get a school, they have mentor teachers (obviously if they have TFA) and they construct a new building for each school (but the land is leased).  They do save a lot of money because of their heavy use of on-line learning but I'm surprised it would be enough to build a school and pay teachers more (although again, you are paying a lot of first year teachers).

Their Board of Directors is all TFA and other charter company officials.

I really am more interested here in what people think about this idea of fewer teachers and more on-line learning.  I guess you would have to see how it plays out but yes, it might be how states save money on education.  The problem is that you would have many, many beginning teachers (because that's where you save the money - fewer teachers AND cheaper ones).  How this would play out long-term is anyone's guess.  It certainly would change the numbers of teachers in the U.S.


Anonymous said...

Congress has been having hearings re: for profit colleges/universities, many of them on-line and how successful they are financially, but a complete failure at educating their students. It is a multi-billion dollar industry and it is facing a serious free-fall similar to the housing crash as the debt ridden students are failing to pay back their student loans.

Like anything, it all started as a great idea to make college accessible to all, especially to students who fail to get in to traditional colleges or could not cut it in community colleges.

On-line learning has a place. The problem is when we starting talking about large sum of taxpayers' money behind these endeavours. You will also want the best, experienced teacher on-line. Khan got better with time and with his presentation. So it can be cost-effective, but like anything needs good quality control and education in mind before profit.

Also learning on-line requires good study habits to make it work. I've seen 30 5th graders in the computer room playing with math games on-line and after 15 minutes, many of the kids were on other sites that were not assigned or goofing off with the computers.

--not ready to go on-line yet

zb said...

I love that this guy put these clips on a publicly available site.

But, I think that this kind of clip is useful for someone to review something they already know, or to hear it again when they've gotten the gist. Or, to know they don't know something so that they can ask a human being. Or for someone who basically understands math to understand a new concept (or one they've forgotten).

I'm a new knitter. I use online videos extensively to reinforce new skills. But, fundamentally, I know how to knit. The online videos and instruction work as reinforcement and expansion. And, I'm a adult with a strong idea of how I learn and what kind of information is important to me.

So the site has its place. We're deluding ourselves if we think it'll replace a good teacher, though.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess, Khan's software only run on Window 7...


seattle citizen said...

"they construct a new building for each school (but the land is leased)"


Perhaps they get some sort of tax break for building in a distressed neighborhood? Perhaps they are packaging funds or something?

I have no idea, really. I'm just unusually suspicious these days. I mean, a new school costs 40-50 million dollars. Where do they get that? Why only on leased land?


Word Verifier doesn't care: It's Friday and ol' WV is off to the parti

Cap'n Billy Keg said...

"It is the policy and practice of this blog to delete unsigned anonymous comments."

Really...? You've got your work cut out for you, what with deleting all those "off thread" postings, too...

I'll believe it when I see it...

peonypower said...

Indeed a tax break. A tax break started by Clinton and carried forward allows a 39% tax break on investing in communities that are under-served in some way. These investments could be a health clinic, but more often they are schools (because a community only needs one or maybe two clinics but more schools.) Often the investors also have ties to real estate agencies and the charter management organizations and so everyone's pockets are filled.

The charter web of investment in building schools, having cheaper teachers, and buying curriculum in bulk.

As for on-line learning. I have yet to meet a high school student who has enrolled in the online high school in Washington say that it worked for them. I agree with ZB that online instruction is useful for upping your skill set with something you already know how to do or going over a concept you have had some instruction in. I use video in class often to demonstrate in a different way something we are doing in class. I have serious doubts that it will revolutionize learning. I would have to see more but it sounds like this school is more about testing skills, and I wonder how they are testing higher thinking, and how successful those students are at advanced problem solving.

Chris S. said...

It seems to me like the online part of learning is what we used to call "homework."

seattle citizen said...

peonypower, I have heard also that these tax breaks can be sold, traded and what not, providing more fodder for the hedge-funders to play with and profit off of.

Charlie Mas said...

I think there are times when students can work on their own and times when students need the real time, real space presence and attention of a professional teacher who is working creatively and interactively with them, and there are times in-between when students need some help - they can't work entirely independently but they don't need everything a teacher brings.

In those cases they can get the help they need from a book, or a video, or an online resource.

These videos - or any other media - are no different from books in that they do not entirely replace teachers nor are they entirely worthless. Really, I think you could go through the discussion and replace the word "video" with "book" and it would make a lot more sense.

Except for one thing... McLuhan.

The medium is the message. The book, long-term text, is an information media. Things published in books are supposed to be the lasting truth. In addition, we are taught to read actively and critically. We bring a certain mindset to reading. Video is, let's face it, television, which is an entertainment medium. It transmits the ephemeral and we are taught to suspend disbelief as we watch it passively and un-critically.

Of course, that may be a generational thing. The digital generation may see video - and television - in a different context than we do. They are more savvy (cynical) media consumers. They don't watch television the way we did and do. They watch video on demand and YouTube. They watch for information as well as entertainment. The message of the medium may be changing.

I do know that my generation has bias that elevates text and denegrates video as media. One is seen as high brow and the other as low brow. That's a bias, not an objective fact.

Open minded said...

I have a highly gifted nephew supplementing his rather basic education in a small, rural district through Kahn Academy and various Open Course classes (offered by MIT, among others). While he doesn't expect he will get high school or college credit for these, they offer him the challenge he is not getting in schoo. Kahn is also very popular with homeschooling parents of gifted children not fortunate enough to live in Seattle where APP is offered.

I also know parents of gifted kids going the exclusive online route and are VERY pleased. One kid just got into a highly competative college-the "Harvard of Texas".

That's not saying brick and morter schools need to be replaced by computers. But for many people, online is really the best solution. And often, it's entirely free.

And Charlie is right about the generations. My kids will run to a computer to look things up and find the idea of an encyclopedia quaint. One daughter uses Youtube to practice her dances, my son is brushing up on his welding exam online. They don't see books that might be obsolete the day they are printed the way we do. To them learning online is a no-brainer (pun intended).

ConcernedTeacher said...

Online learning works for some, not for others. Students need to have some self-motivation for learning, as well as the self-discipline to sit down and do the work when it's not at a set time or a set place - i.e. be an independent learner. If an online course is not designed well, it can be a disaster, and not every subject lends itself well to online learning. Similarly, not every learner can learn in an online situation; some need the interaction of teachers and students to clarify their thinking and formulate their opinions. If you look at the philosophy behind MIT OpenCourseWare and some of the other respected institutions who offer free online content, they all state that while the content is out there for anyone, the real learning takes place in the classroom, with students working collaboratively and in conjunction with faculty, hearing different perspectives and different ideas, different questions and different responses.

Speaking of perspectives, here's another one. A woman I know who works in East Africa was discussing how kids in her region have limited access to the ONE computer in the town (all run on satellite and solar). They use various online learning tools and courses because that is all they have, but they feel it is inferior to what they want to be doing. They'd prefer to have a regular teacher and a regular school, but they only have a visiting teacher who comes through for a couple of days per month. She cannot understand why here in America we are trying to replace teachers with computers when there they can't get enough teachers and the computer is a poor substitute.

KSG said...

I think this is a great idea. It fundamantal puts the teacher back into the role of interactive teacher rather than lecturer. The lectures are the easy part and the part that can be "automated".

I wish they had been available when I was growing up. With that said, I've gone back and done the Chemistry section, and I can easily say that I've learned more from Khan Academy than I did HS + college chemistry.

Jan said...

A lot of it also depends on the kind of "learner" you have. I have one child who desperately craves "classroom discussion" -- and who would struggle if he had to do very much in a computer environment.

I have another who really REALLY needs to be able to hear things several times -- and several times MORE than his peers. And, it would be best if each time he heard it -- he heard it EXACTLY the same -- no variation (or, the less the better). What little online instruction he has had has been hugely successful. I don't think it should totally replace classroom stuff, but he would clearly be a great candidate for a hybrid system.

Kids' heads are SO different from each other (which is why I liked the old Seattle choice system so well). I would never want my child's need for repetition and continuity to deprive some other child of a "mostly classroom based" education, if that is what works best -- but I am encouraged by Khan and others who are raising the on-line learning bar.

WV says that like classroom teaching, online teaching is "artalso"

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