Over at The Nation, Lee Fang has a must-read article, "How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools" which details how investors are poised to make billions from public education by using the Trojan horse of "Education Reform" to bring the basic model of Florida's Virtual School program to any state with a willing legislature.
I've already blogged here about The Wall Street Journal's article "My Teacher is an App," and the problems with giving students too much free reign, not enough direct guidance, and too much curricula focused on hunting and pecking the right answer.
Will Richardson has a great response to the Journal's article here in which he asks us to rethink the education model, not merely upload the NCLB approach to the internet and set kids in front of a computer.
[....] if we don’t start writing and advocating for a very different vision of learning in real classrooms, one that is focused not just on doing the things we’ve been doing better but in ways that are truly reinvented, one that prepares kids to be innovators and designers and entrepreneurs and, most importantly, learners, we will quickly find ourselves competing at scale with cheaper, easier alternatives that won’t serve our kids as well.[....] That in this moment, 20th Century rules will not work for 21st Century schools. That direct instruction and standardization will make us less competitive, not more. That those strategies will make our kids less able to create a living for themselves in the worlds they will live in. That as difficult as it may be for some to come to terms with, this moment requires a whole scale “radical rethink” in much different terms from the one Jeb Bush wants, the same type of rethink that newspapers and media and businesses and others are undergoing.
That said, there is also something quite amazing about Stanford's new Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and their potential as extended virtual seminars. Want a direct connection to foremost artificial intelligence experts? Do you live in Iowa? Join a MOOC. Also, every A.I. class across the country could join, using the MOOC as a sort of supplemental classroom or textbook or whatever. Keep all the benefits of your small, in-person class in Michigan, but also expand your classroom online.
Over 58,000 people joined the Standford A.I. MOOC. It's massive, for sure, but the difference between this model and the Florida Virtual School model is obvious. Instead of logging in to click through some curriculum designed to make your complacent and compliant with some federally mandated multiple choice, you are tapping into a larger scholarly community gathered around some topic of your interest. No matter your level of involvement, you are guaranteed to have your horizons expanded, to learn something important, and learn to think bigger.
For you non-robotics types....wouldn't you love to participate in a New Historicist literary MOOC featuring Stephen Greenblatt? You could keep your own local seminar of 15 students, but then use the MOOC as an expanded reading list or as an online discussion board to dip into once a week. Instead of relying on one lone professor to provide information, the field could be expanded to thousands.
This is why the internet should be seen as enhancing and expanding the live classroom, not replacing it. You can't just launch someone into space without a crew, or oxygen for that matter.