Are we prepared for teaching 'digital natives'? - New York News

Are we prepared for teaching 'digital natives'?

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By Hugh Bouchelle. Lucas Reynolds at his "teacher's desk," at home. By Hugh Bouchelle. Lucas Reynolds at his "teacher's desk," at home.

By: Hugh Bouchelle, KSL

It is a tough job market for many of the college graduates walking across the stage and getting their handshake and degree this year. But for one student who just made that walk, the picture is a little rosier. He has already landed a high school teaching job - online.

Lucas Reynolds, a 23-year-old graduate of Southern Virginia University, recently began his new job with the Williamsburg Academy, a traditionally brick-and-mortar school which, four years ago, began an online high school program. Reynolds finished his own degree while teaching from his home in Virginia.

Online teaching is a very exclusive field - right now.

A search of onlineschools.com, a sort of clearinghouse for private education, returned only 282 online high school programs. Conversely, there are nearly 30,000 high schools in the U.S. today. However, few of those schools have classes that extend through grade 12, and the list includes many online high school-level programs such as Brigham Young University's independent study, prep schools and public school programs that allow for online courses as part of their in-house curriculum.

Some, like Reynolds, think this is all about to change.

A wave of change

“There is this tidal wave going on," he says. "I think that a lot of places that want to stick with just the physical classrooms will be capsized by this new educational world we are moving into.”

Michael Horn, co-author of the award-winning book "Disrupting Class," agrees. In a May article appearing in Forbes, he predicted that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school classes will be delivered online in some form or fashion.

Horn admits that studies supporting his prediction are scarce with such a new concept. Yet last month, the California Research Network published a study showing that 73 percent of the high schools in California had or were implementing online programs.

Meanwhile, Reynolds - who has now positioned himself on the crest of this tidal wave - says that at first he was skeptical. “I did not know if I wanted to dive into online education. If it was going to be superficial, and not going to make a difference in these student's lives, I'd rather do something else.”

Now he says online learning is making the classroom more flexible to the needs of students and helps create diversity in the class. In one recent government class, he says, a student from Brazil brought a whole new perspective and experience into the discussion that many of the other students would have missed in a traditional high school.

While Reynolds might sometimes wish to be in the same room with his students, he says the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. “And,” he adds, “as the technology gets better and better, the problems will get smaller and smaller.”

The enhancements of technology

Online classes are similar to brick-and-mortar ones. The teacher can still hear and see all the students and the students can still hear and see the teacher. There, however, the similarity ends.

Technology is king online, as videos and graphics flash across the screen. For teachers like Reynolds, segments from Ted Talks or other educational programs are common, and classroom discussion is constant with text messages from the students scrolling down one side of the screen for everyone to read and contribute.

With advanced classroom technology, the instructor can quickly change class content according to the needs or interests of the students. Mundane or repetitive learning takes place in separate modules that allow the student to learn at their own pace without a mentor hovering nearby. This frees up class time for discussions and deeper explorations of the subject.

Classes are all recorded, so students who missed the class or would like to repeat certain portions can do so at their leisure and as often as they want. Online, teachers can work from hundreds of original texts without depending on textbooks that can sometimes present shallow interpretations of the original works.

Reynolds says online learning makes it easy to connect with the parents and build relationships as they can watch their students actually in class, or perhaps “sit in” on the session. He says the technology makes grading and tracking student progress much easier, which frees up his time for more personal attention to students.

Testing becomes more of a teaching tool as students receive immediate feedback in the form of a “model answer,” which they see after they submit their answer.

James Ure, co-founder and headmaster of the Williamsburg Academy, recently interviewed with Fox News KNZU's Bryan Hyde. He said that online learning helps teachers get into the world of their students and puts the student at the center of the classroom. “Would you rather learn from a mediocre teacher in your local area in person, or would you rather learn from Salman Khan, who is excellent online?”

Khan, another digital education pioneer, has taught math to literally millions of students online through his free Khan Academy website. It all began, according to his website, when he started using YouTube videos to help his cousins with their math homework. Khan says that he was surprised when his cousins liked the YouTube version of Khan better than the real one. He said they liked being able to rewind their virtual cousin, or go back and review previous videos to remind them of difficult concepts. They could do it all at their own pace and on their own time. The Khan Academy now reaches more than 1 million students a month and has more than 4,000 individual lessons.

Kahn says the most effective way for students to learn is to take his lessons into the classroom. Ure agrees and says online classes at the Williamsburg Academy occasionally use Khan Academy and others such as HippoCampus to enhance the online classroom experience with the best resources available.

Greater applications

All this could also mean a lot to the homeschooling market, were many parents choose to homeschool in an effort to better control the quality and content of the curriculum.

Dr. Glenn J. Kimber, an educator, author and founder of the Benjamin Franklin and Kimber Academies, a leading curriculum developer for homeschoolers, recently added online studies. While attending the Home Education Conference at Southern Virginia University this year, he said that many parents are concerned that morality, conventional family and patriotism are no longer taught in most public school systems. He says online schools can make this type of education more available to “like minded” families and students.

All this seems to fit well with Reynolds' philosophy. “What greater generation of educated people do you have than the founders, who were really Renaissance men in agriculture, government," he says. "If you look at their education it was all close, one-on-one mentors. They focused on the classics … they read Cicero, Locke, Montesquieu all from original sources, then they discussed them and talked about them with other great minded people. And through this process of reading, writing, thinking … this rough stone is honed and their mind becomes more acute. … They can then dive into the great debate.”

Ure says it is impossible to know where all of this will lead in five years, but in today’s world, "it’s no longer about knowledge. If you need to know something, Google it. What students really need to be able to do is learn how to learn in the information age. ... Changes are coming."


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Copyright 2013 Deseret Digital Media, Inc.

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