I had a horrible nightmare this week. It was the future, and I was in an abandoned building, which had been converted into a kind of work camp run by an oppressive regime that had taken over the country. In every room there were people with their arms tied behind their backs, forced to work on computers, only using their noses to push the keys and move the mouse. Somehow, I was able to escape, by realizing that I had the ability to fly, and I made it to the top floor where the evil CEO was waiting for me with a gun. I managed to not get shot and made my way to the upper story window where I was about to jump toward my freedom, when I awoke, completely terrified and shaken.
I think this dream may have been spurred on by the series I’ve been working on for TC Daily Planet about online learning. I’ve been immersed in it for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve had the chance to speak with a number of different students and parents who have chosen online education as an option to employ either part of the time or full time.
Everyone I’ve talked to seemed very positive about online learning. When done right, it can offer flexibility, and actually provide more opportunities for interaction with the instructor than a regular classroom. I also had the impression, though, that it seemed rather lonely, especially for full-time online students. When I visited MPS online, there were only a few students in the lab. Maybe that would change as the program gets more popular, but to me it seemed those kids were missing a huge part of being in high school — interacting with other kids.
As one parent pointed out to me, being around other kids isn’t always a good thing. If you’re not “popular,” school can be a place where you don’t have anyone to eat lunch with, where you might get bullied, or harassed. On the other hand, it seems like it would be better for schools to try to eliminate bullying (is that even possible) rather than isolate those students that experience it.
We live in the age of the internet. It’s how the modern world communicates and accesses information. While I can’t imagine going to high school without the highs and lows of learning to be around other kids, today I have a “virtual” job, where I work from home and do all my writing online. Not every job in the world is an online job, but there are many that are, and the number is growing.
Beth Hawkins, from MinnPost, wrote an article about how ALEC and corporations had their “fingerprints” all over the current push for online learning in the Minnesota legislature, and she makes some very valid points. However, it seems to me that is smart to be mindful about how online learning can be used effectively for today’s young generation. Being able to navigate the internet and use it wisely does seem like an essential part of education, especially for students who come from families that don’t have the internet, and wouldn’t be learning it at home on their own.
It seems to me that online learning, at least in part, is inevitable. We can succumb to it kicking and screaming, or we can make good decisions about it, using it ways that will help students grow, based on good research.