"It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize. “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures," says Dr. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine. As we shall see in the next installment, it is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed – and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed." Prensky 2001We can't keep teaching the same way over and over again. Even Einstein said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results." What we're doing is not working. Students are bored with school and there is no obvious test score gains across the country. In June of 2013 it was reported that "Michigan’s high school students gained almost no ground in the last year on the Michigan Merit Exam and ACT." If we keep teaching the way we were taught things will never progress. Kids just don't think the same way they used to.
Online and/or hybrid courses are one way to bridge some of the gaps we are seeing in achievement. Today's students are born with iPads in their hands and laptops at their desks. They blog by the age of eight and have a facebook at twelve. The Instagram their cell phone pictures by fourteen. They are plugged in from the moment they know what "plugged in" means. Older generations can deny it all they want but the digital age is here...and it isn't going anywhere.
As teachers, we need to embrace it. We need to use it to our advantage. High schools students are motivated enough that Online courses can be an advantage to them. The readily available resources on the web will keep them interested; the short microlectures that can be downloaded and reviewed will help them process information in their own time. Making lessons relevant to students by having them do assignments via Twitter and/or Facebook like sites will engage them in the process. Using the tools to our advantage will only strengthen our instruction.
But we have to be willing to change. To embrace being digital immigrants. To learn new ways of using the digital age to our advantage. Online classes, when done with best practices in mind, are a great way to do this. Everything is on the computer, the place the kids want to be anyway. Everything is easy to use because the kids already know how to use most websites. It's the way in, the way to reach even those that seem unreachable.
Some may argue that it takes away the personal interaction. And it can, if it's not done right. Social presence is an important part of making an Online or hybrid class work. You can't just be a person on the other side of the screen. You have to create the sense of community in your classroom. Show who you are behind the words; show each student who they are so people can see that they are in class with other people, not other computers.
Online classes aren't for everyone. There is a sense of maturity that is needed; one needs to be self directed and disciplined to keep up with an Online course. You have to have the desire to learn something and be self motivated, something that generally comes with age. I think that most older students would benefit from Online classes. I think they are the wave of the future and what is going to keep education current, relevant for the next generation. I think it is important to embrace the new world of technology and work with it to reach our current classroom students. We should try and employ some digital wisdom and instruct students in a way they can understand and relate to, not just the way we were taught when we were little.
Prensky, Marc. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon. Retrieved from: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Zeman, David. (June 2013). Huge Achievement Gaps Remain in Michigan High School Performance. The Education Trust-Midwest. Retrieved from: http://www.edtrust.org/midwest/press-room/press-release/huge-achievement-gaps-remain-in-michigan-high-school-performance