You mean the teacher still matters?

Four great articles have come to light lately that point to research being done and what many of us in the Ed Tech community have been saying for a long time might just be on the horizon. That is that this technology stuff can improve education.

So let’s start at Mashable one of my favorite Web 2.0 blogs to read. Back in August they posted a fantastic article titled What is the Future of Teaching?

Until recently, online learning has mainly been of the expository sort,
essentially a traditional lecture format adapted for the web. But
newer, social and multimedia technologies are allowing online tools to
evolve to offer more active and interactive lessons. No longer is
online learning just reading a module and answering questions — it can
now include synchronous or asynchronous discussions and peer-to-peer
learning exercises. As a result, online learning is becoming a more
useful tool as both a replacement for and enhancement to traditional
face-to-face learning.

Ah…..yes….we’re starting to get the hang of this online learning stuff. We’re starting to understand that you can’t take the old model and apply it to a new medium….you need a whole new model of learning.

In the Mashable article they point to research done by the US Department of Education (PDF) and link to this New York Times Post which talks about the findings of the study.

A recent 93-page
report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the
Department of Education,
has a starchy academic title, but a most
intriguing conclusion: “On average, students in online learning
conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face
instruction.”

and

Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were
quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the
same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that,
on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank
in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average
classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile. That is a modest but
statistically meaningful difference.

Yep…we might just be getting the hang of this online teaching thing. But wait! There’s even more news about learning with technology that broke last week in a BBC article titled “Phone texting ‘helps pupils to spell’

A study of eight- to 12-year-olds found that rather than damaging reading and writing, “text speak” is associated with strong literacy skills.

Researchers say text language uses word play and requires an awareness of how sounds relate to written English.

This link between texting and literacy has proved a surprise, say researchers.

Cell PhoneFantastic! So through away those cursive books (really kids you won’t use it after elementary school anyway) and let’s give ever 2nd – 5th grader a cell phone to practice their spelling on. Oh..wait…they all already have one (well at my school anyway).

Really a surprise? It’s surprising that teenagers today who send something like 2,000+ text messages a month (as reported by the New York Times) are actually learning how to spell? Text writing is all about phonetic spelling which we’ve been teaching in schools for…..well…..longer than I’ve been around.

Then there’s just the shear number of hours kids are spending in front of screens which according to the latest research is closing in on 11 hours a day (See my previous post on Active vs Inactive Screen Time).

Now we return to the Mashable article with the biggest shocker of them all:

…all things are not equal. Students spending three hours per day in an
online environment under the guidance of a great professor are likely,
and not surprisingly, going to be better prepared than those spending an
hour per week in a classroom with a mediocre one.
And because the study’s results were correlational and not causal,
it is impossible to say for certain whether it was actually the online
learning environment that caused better tested performance. We can
conclude that those in online learning environments tested better, but
not necessarily why.

You mean the teacher still matters? You mean after all of this we still can’t say whether it is actually the online learning that is creating these changes? Maybe it’s the best teachers taking the best approach, which incorporates the use of online tools to enhance the learning. In the end a good teacher is still needed. Will there ever be away to compare two “great” teachers? Who says what is “great”? A great teacher for me might not be one for you. So I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the bottom of this…..but you better bet we’re gonna spend a lot of money trying. 😉

But I’m not giving up! I believe that using tools/methods that engage students in the learning process is what leads to learning…and I believe that for this generation many of those tools/methods have technology embedded in them.