The state of Idaho is taking an aggressive approach to technology in the classroom. Starting with this year's 8th graders, the class of 2016, students will need to take two classes online instead of in a physical classroom.
It's a move that parents and teachers overwhelmingly opposed, citing concerns over how districts would be funded and the idea of this being a requirement rather than an option. Contributing to the resentment is the fact that the measure is part of a larger educational overhaul that strips teachers of many collective bargaining rights. A referendum to overturn the rule will appear on the ballot next fall. Idahoans were also concerned that an online class would replace the care and attention of a teacher with an impersonal, computerized experience.
Kerry Rice is chair of the department of educational technology at Boise State University. She says online learning actually leads to more one on one attention, not less. "When you have a face-to-face classroom, you have 30 students, a teacher at the center, and you have 55 minutes to teach content," she says. "Online education provides alternative educational opportunities for students who might not be successful in traditional schools. We're finding that it allows for more personalized learning and pacing. In my classes teaching online, I have students who call me every day, I have students I talk to once a week, but it's always me focused on that one student not a group of students and trying to bring everyone up to the same level at the same time."
The shift to online learning will present challenges for both students and teachers, says Mark Browning, who is a spokesperson for the Idaho State Board of Education. "As the move in higher education goes more towards a blended model of traditional in-class, lecture and participation and interaction online and on the web," he says. "Our students have got to be prepared for that because they're seeing that in the workplace once they graduate."
Browning says part of the startup funding for the project will go to teacher training. "It starts with the teacher first, and I think that's the point that gets lost in a lot of this," he says. "Technology is only a tool, and it's only as good as craftsman on other end."
As for why these classes are going to be required instead of merely offered, he says the state believes "the students needs to have these skills. We know teens at high school level can text, Facebook, they can play Angry Birds to their heart's content and do it mostly with their eyes closed. However, navigating through a learning platform is a different animal. And they've got to be able to do this once they're in workplace. The requirement is two classes. They have to complete one synchronous and one asynchronous -- meaning synchronous in time, where they're interacting in real-live time with an instructor and asynchronous being the opposite. They can do history, English, math. Some districts are Looking into physical education online. Which I'm not sure how they do that, but if they can find a way that's great. It's entirely up to local district which classes they choose to do online."
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