A friend of mine sent me links (via Slashdot which I occasionally read for the articles myself) that he thought were an interesting contrast.
- The Internet Generation Prefers the Real World – Which explains that today’s students are not the Digital natives that many seem to think they are.
- Bill Gates: Forget university, the web is the future for education - “Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university”
We are seeing a lot of growth of online education these days. Universities are putting curriculum on the Internet by the terabyte. Virtual schools are becoming options for credit recovery and taking courses that are not offered in local schools. In industry the move to provide education and training in the form of webcasts and videos appears to many to be the answer to supporting customer and employee training easily and inexpensively. It all seems so perfect. But is it?
Talking to friends who are teaching online courses results in tails of high drop out or non-completion rates. Students are not doing the work online just because it’s not in school. Why not? I have some ideas. Students don’t go online to work – they going on line to connect with their peers. They go for fun. Putting school online doesn’t instantly make it fun. And worse still it doesn’t have the same connected feeling that a bricks and mortar schools have for students. Deep down though students are not as good with the Internet as we’d like them to be and are often far less capable than the adults in their life think they are.
Bill Gates blames poor textbooks for much of our US education issues. He thinks that great presentations by great teachers can and will fix that. I think he’s overly optimistic. In theory great video and better text and the chance to work around their own schedules feels like the answer but perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. I think that if good books were the answer we’d be in better shape. While one can easily criticize textbooks libraries are full of great books. Kids have access to these books in town/city, school and university libraries just about everywhere they go. And didn’t Abraham Lincoln well over 100 years ago self-educate himself with books? Of course he did. But believe it or not, not everyone is Abraham Lincoln. Bill Gates is well known for self-educating himself on a wide variety of subjects and for being very well read. He’s pretty exceptional though. Most students don’t go out of their way to read books about things they don’t know or want to learn. No matter how good the books are or how exciting the videos are what is the incentive for a student to dig into them? They don’t have the motivations and intrinsic self-motivation that adults like Bill Gates has. In fact I suspect few adults do either. Great content, online or in paper books, is pretty useless if no one uses it.
One of the things that schools are not horrible at is forcing students to take subjects they don’t know they need or think they are interested in. On the Internet not only does no one know you are a dog, no one knows you are sleeping through class. Well they might wonder when you fail the exams but how do you keep track of students on a shorter term basis? And how do you convince students what to learn? You can lead a student to great sources of information but it is hard to make him learn.
In the long run Internet resources can be very helpful. They make great supplements. They make good entertainment in a good way with people who really love the material sharing that excitement. But as stand alone education making bricks on mortar schools obsolete? Not until the nature of children changes in a big way.