Friday, March 09, 2007

Susan Patrick on Online Learning (School 2.0, Part 9)

"Our biggest barrier is our memory of what schools look like. Those of us running the schools have a very strong memory of 'this is how a school looks, this is how it works.' And the system itself is designed to be very resistant to change. But the innovation and the change is going to come very naturally to our students, and if we are going to keep our students in school--which we have to--...we're going to have to make these jumps and these adaptations. And the thing is, if we don't make them, students will simply go around us. We really need to strengthen our public institutions by being open to new ways of doing things and having them adapt to the School 2.0 model.... I don't think those of us in the U.S. understand how stuck we are in the status quo, and how precarious the situation is for our kids to be successful in the new global economy."

Susan Patrick is the President and CEO of NACOL, the North American Council for Online Learning. She is the former Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, and as such, published the 2004 National Education Technology Plan, Toward a New Golden Age in American Education: How the Internet, the Law and Today’s Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations.
  • Susan came to NACOL about a year ago because she felt that online learning held the most promise and potential for expanding equity and access to high quality education for all students.
  • Countries other than the United States that are taking a more national view of education are able to move forward passionately in what might be called "School 2." She gives examples from Mexico (digitized entire K-12 content and curriculum) and Singapore (100% of high schools and junior colleges using online learning, and close all schools for a week each year to train in online learning). If China just gets 1% of students doing online learning, it will be 100 million kids, she says. "School 2.0" is happening globally, but in the US we're fighting a big fight just to integrate technology into the old models of schooling.
  • Susan thinks that we know what 21st-century skills are, and that there is general agreement on this, but that they are not being taught in schools. She says there is a huge disconnect between what we know we need to do, and what we are actually doing. Only 30% of our third-graders can read at grade level, and we have a huge drop-out rate.
  • Trying to force 21st century digital tools into the traditional model of the classroom is really hard. When you look at moving courses online (virtual schooling), you have to re-think what and how you are teaching, and you have to train/re-train. Therefore, one of the benefits of online learning is that it give you a chance not only to re-design the course, but to re-think the instructional model--which we need to do. You can do more collaboration, bring in students from other countries, and more closely mimic the way that communication actually takes place in the mode.
  • Susan gives the example of Henrico County, Virginia, which has made the decision to give a laptop to every student. But the primary goal was to increase student achievement, with secondary goals to make certain content available to every student. And with those goals, the laptop program ended up being the only solution to do this. For most school districts, she says, only 1 - 2% of the budget is for technology--but it needs to be in the 5% range. They re-designed their entire, system-wide budget, and allocated 5% to technology. They were then able to give every student and teacher a laptop and still spend $500 less per pupil than the state average.
  • In the last 10 years in the US (local, state, and national combined) we've spent $40 billion dollars on computers in schools--and the critics really have something to talk about since it doesn't seem to have improved education. Online learning has the chance to really change this. The number one reason students take online courses is that the material is not offered in their school.
  • We're going to see more and more high-quality online resources (like Curriki).
  • Public schools right now are locked into the design created at the turn of the last century (school bells, classes organized by age). If we think it's a challenge keeping students engaged in schools, it's only going to get worse in the coming years as life outside of schools becomes organized so differently. There will need to be more "blended" or "hybrid" approaches to learning. If we don't re-think our schools, they will become irrelevant.
  • website from the US Department of Education is intended to try and start a conversation about what schools need to look like.
  • The technology infrastructure in ours schools isn't enough, even though we are told that 99% of schools are "hooked up." But the infrastructure isn't nearly robust enough. The 60 - 70% graduation rate in schools should be shocking us into doing more to help our children be successful. In the modern world, 90% of jobs require 2 years of college, and so we need to be doing much more.
  • Online learning is growing at 30% per year. There are an estimated 1 million enrollments in online learning currently. This technology can truly transform education.
  • Online learning is changing the profession of teaching, and it opens up options for teachers, who can teach part-time or from home. And they feel that they are connecting with students in ways they didn't feel in the classroom, since it changes the ways that teacher teach.
  • 90% of the students taking online courses are taking them from within the school environment, and are taking courses that have been approved by the local school system. Going through a state- or district-approved virtual school program allows the students to get credit, and assures that some level of quality has been achieved.
  • Susan talks about how it can be different to teach an online class versus face-to-face instruction. Not only do you get correspondence out of regular class hours, but you also have students who might be quite in physical space be more actively engaged in an e-learning environment. So teaching in an e-learning environment can be more demanding.
  • It's a technology that encourages rigor--online learning can increase access to rigorous classes. She quotes from the The Silent Epidemic report from the Gates Foundation: interview of high-school dropouts. 88% had passing grades when they dropped out. 67% said they would have worked harder if they had been challenged. She really sees online learning helping to solve some of the current problems in education today.
  • Susan describes the experience of online learning management systems. (I was reminded of how the students at Science Leadership Academy described to me how they got to know each other in the summer and before the school year started through the social networking aspects of Moodle.) One of the challenges of education technology is that it's easiest to model new technologies on old ways of doing things. Online learning started with just beaming the image of a teacher in front of a classroom to students in remote areas. In fact, most e-learning is much richer than this, and the teaching and learning are different than they would be in a face-to-face instruction situation. Very student-centered learning, allowing the student to move through the material at their own pace.
  • Second Life? Hasn't done much herself with this. One challenge: Internet safety issue. We are going to see pretty amazing technology advances.
  • We are in an historical period of time that is even more significant than the creation of the printing press. Connecting people in ways that have never happened before. Our biggest barrier is our memory of what schools have been in the past, and the system itself is very resistant to change.
  • This is an incredible period of change--and it means good things for kids if we can manage it the right way.
  • She loves the work being done at the MIT Media Lab. Frustration that the US doesn't have a national view on this new model of education. We don't understand how stuck we are in the status quo, and how precarious the situation is for our kids to be successful in this new global economy. Our old model is going to keep getting more and more expensive and produce less and less of what we need. The current data model for accountability in schools is based on a 1950's-style once-a-year testing of kids. And it's expensive to keep a 1950's jalopy running.
  • Seymour Papert analogy of US investment in the 1952 to re-design the steamship, while instead Europe sent the first cargo airplane across the Atlantic in a fraction of the time. Are we "investing in the steamship" in education right now?

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  1. Great article. Thanks.

    I think it stops too short. I think we need to be thinking OUT OF THE BOX. This means using the non-school hours, businesses, community based organizations, colleges, etc. as leaders in innovating ways to connect kids with learning, and with people who mentor kids to careers. I wrote about this at and included a graphic to illustrate my thinking.

  2. So, it's hard for me to see the already busy and overwhelmed teachers and administrators having the time to reach out to do this. Some will, but the larger, systemic change will be much harder. I'm anticipating that the charter and private schools will pick up on this first, and then the value will be seen more generally. Thanks for your good work.

  3. I'm reaching past charter and private schools to volunteers who get involved with kids as tutors/mentors. These people work in a variety of businesses and professions, and many become deeply involved in the lives of kids. Some turn this involvement into leadership of organizations and innovations of new solutions.

    I feel if we can stimulate the growth of programs that get this type of volunteer involved with kids, then connect the volunteers with blogs like yours that show ideas they may never have thought of, we can release the energy, talent and resources of this group.

    The result will be more support for the private and charter schools, and ultimately more influence on what public schools do.

  4. Anonymous12:43 PM

    I think Steve makes an excellent point about schools being too busy as it is. However, there are ways for this technology to be used in schools that may cut down on teacher time...for example using an online learning format in a traditional classroom would allow teachers to record voice narration on power points. Students could then listen at their own pace (and do it at home if they're sick) as well as take comprehension-check activities or quizzes...all while the teacher checks grades, communicates with students one-on-one, or even meets with other teachers in an online environment to discuss new ways to use technology. As we always say in the online environment...we need to be working smarter, not harder. Delivering the same lecture 3-5 times daily is NOT smart....

  5. Amy: great thoughts. I think we're going to be amazed at how these technologies change education, and allow for more individual learning paces and styles.


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