Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Experience with Online Learning: A Guest Post by A3 Teacher

This is Part 1 of two posts about online learning by A3 Teacher.

Online learning opportunities abound now. How well do they work?

This past spring, Jamey Fitzpatrick, CEO and president of Michigan Virtual University (a not-for-profit corporation), was interviewed on Michigan Radio about online classes for high school students. In a candid interview he talked about the benefits and drawbacks to online learning.  I was struck by the honest statement from Mr. Fitzpatrick when he stated that online learning is currently producing “a mixed set of results."

Mr. Fitzpatrick acknowledged that “lower-achieving kids are being directed to online learning” and as a result many Michigan schools are using online learning as a form of credit recovery (Credit recovery is when a student does not pass a class and must retake it in order to receive credit for graduation).  He further states that 

The concept of allowing high-achieving kids to use online learning as, really, a vehicle to go farther faster, doesn’t appear to be a strategy that Michigan schools are using in large numbers, which really, really surprised us.  We thought this was about how to help young people go farther faster, not necessarily help the kids that are struggling. 

This last quote struck me as I thought about the high achieving students that I have worked with.  While there is a presumption that online learning is a way to learn more at a quicker pace, I would argue that face-to-face learning is very beneficial to all types of learners.

My Own Experience: "Easy to Fake"

This spring I took a class, along with many other AAPS teachers, through the Michigan Virtual University.  The class was called “Teaching in the Online and Blended Classroom.”  I went in trying my best to keep an open mind--I wanted to be convinced that I could get on board with online learning.  Having used Blackboard, Edmodo,, and other online platforms, I consider myself a teacher who embraces technology when it augments student learning and growth.  I wanted to be surprised and perhaps even inspired to delve deeper into teaching through an online or blended option (I should note that I am still interested in blended learning and think that there are some viable options with this model).

"My biggest criticism of online learning is that it
is pretty easy to fake."
My biggest criticism of online learning is that it is pretty easy to fake.  It was easy for me to not do all of the readings, not watch the cheesy videos, and still complete assignments.  The “discussions” required me to post a response to an initial question and then respond to three others.  It was very easy to pull from a bank of canned responses:  
"I agree with your comments about…," 
"I thought it was really interesting when you said…,"  
"I find the same is true in my classroom...."

What About Developing Critical Thinking Skills?

These responses, I found, required little critical thinking on my part.  Often times I felt that I was doing them just to complete the assignment.  At the beginning of the class I would check back to see others’ responses to my posts, but after a few weeks the novelty of it wore off.  I found myself completing the required number of posting and not logging back in (what would be my incentive besides genuine interest?).

I completed the writing assignments as well, and as with the discussions, I stopped reading feedback from the teacher.  I just checked the number score and moved on (perhaps this part isn’t so different from what students can do in the classroom).  I found that the written feedback seemed canned (It felt as if perhaps it was cut and pasted) and impersonal.  Additionally, the feedback was almost exclusively positive with little challenging or constructive criticism.  Some of the writing assignments felt like they were using technology for technology’s sake (like pinning images to a Pinterest page that no one else would look at).  While I received full-credit for the course, I felt like I slid my way through with little interaction or struggle.

While there is potential with online learning, I have yet to be convinced that students--including myself--can develop the deep critical thinking skills that can happen with the combination of a traditional classroom and a highly skilled educator.     

Have you had an experience with online learning? 
How did it work for you? (Comments, please.)

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

No comments:

Post a Comment