While reading the assigned Moore and Kearsley text for the week, I was reminded of an NPR story I heard last fall. By the time I wrote my initial post for the week, I forgot to include reference to the story. Aleta's post and her comments on my post reminded me, once again, or the NPR piece and prompted me to revisit that story and a related text story on the same topic. While the NPR and Aljazeera coverage of what is happening with e-readers and digital curriculum in Kenya are not necessarily what our assigned reading covered this week, the stories do highlight the power of technology in previously underserved areas. The similarities between the "Bridge International Academies" in Kenya and schools in rural Alaska may be DRAMATICALLY different in some ways, they are startling similar in other ways. The NPR story has a segment focusing on Bridge International's philosophy, where the Bridge spokesperson says that they don't expect teachers to be "content creators." YES! This should be true in rural Alaska, as well. When we hire teachers for our small, rural/remote schools and expect them to create content for multiple grades and multiple content areas, all to be taught simultaneously in the same room by the same person, we are setting that teacher and those students up for failure. Taking the content creation piece out of the picture and asking the teacher to focus on supporting the learning, we may have much greater success than we currently have in our smallest, most rural/remote schools.
This premise is supported by the concept of a design team for online classes. The literature encountered this semester focuses on TEAMS of people who design learning experiences for students that are very intentional, carefully crafted, deliberately designed encounters with content. Then the TEACHER enters the picture to focus on engaging students, providing examples, answering questions, clarifying content, etc. Creating the content and supporting the learning of the content are two distinct tasks. In a traditional classroom, it's all rolled into one big ball of wax, and the teacher is responsible for EVERYTHING. Most of the time ends up being spent on creating the content by pulling together a zillion different resources, writing assessment, grading, etc., with the least amount of time spent on what most teachers enjoy the most: actually working with the students.
So, are there lessons to be learned in rural Alaskan schools from online course design and projects like the Bridge International Academies' efforts? I think so. If we provided our rural/remote districts and schools with high quality digital learning platforms and courses, and provided teachers with training and guidance on how to support learners in f2f settings when they are learning with/from digital content, wouldn't we be combining two powerful forces that may very well result in greater student learning? I think so. But...that's just my opinion.
My opinion is based on what I have observed in a small school in my district this year (K-12, two teachers, 13 students)...and the combination of a digital learning platform with high-quality online content and a highly engaged teacher focused on supporting each individual learner has been absolutely unbelievable. Student learning gains have been through the roof; students' perceptions of their own learning nearly make me cry they are so encouraging; and the VETERAN teacher's satisfaction with "packaged" curriculum that allows her to spend her time supporting learning instead of creating content could sell even the most reluctant buyer.
I wonder what might happen if we slowed down enough, and stepped far enough back from "what we have always known," to consider a new way of doing things. Presenting families in rural Alaska with a story about schools in Kenya would probably insult them...yet look at what is possible in a place with far less in resources than Alaska. Consider what would happen if the young, inexperienced teachers who take positions as the sole teachers in remote K-8 or K-12 schools wouldn't have to worry about creating content but could instead focus on supporting learning for each individual student. For me, the possibilities are encouraging and exciting. Yet I know that not all agree.
The lessons we have to learn from each other are huge...but the school year continues to churn on, day after day, week after week. What will it take for us to pause long enough and consider the possibilities to try something new in farthest reaches of North America? Will it happen in my professional life time? I certainly hope so. Surely, the technology is here, the bandwidth exists where I live, and the quality content is at hand. It is the fear we must overcome, and the willingness to try that we must embrace.
Click on audio control bar ---> to listen to the NPR story.
Beaubien, J. (2013). Do for-profit schools give poor Kenyans a real choice? NPR Parallels. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/11/12/243730652/do-for-profit-schools-give-poor-kenyans-a-real-choice.
Stewart, P. (2013). A technology revolution in Kenya's schools. Aljazeera. Retrieved from