Random Thoughts

You mean the teacher still matters?

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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


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.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. The last quote comparing three hours per day to one hour per week is unfortunate in that it takes away from the point of the importance of a great vs. a mediocre teacher.

  2. Interesting about the texting improving spelling. I always hated “text-speak,” but that’s what happens when you get an English degree. I think that the difference between a great teacher and a mediocre one has always been more than a single word’s worth, and it’s my personal belief that the best teachers are the ones that work to find the level that their students learn best on. It looks like this research points directly to technology and online learning.

    Seemingly without fail, students are drawn to whatever style of learning uses the best technologies to incorporate it. Look at the Confucius Institute. It uses TVs and computers to deliver ‘distance learning’ to schools across the globe. A local school in urban Kansas City, MO is actually having their 1st and 2nd graders learn Mandarin Chinese with this technology! (Note: Many of these children are Latino, so they now actually becoming tri-lingual before their 10th birthdays.) That’s a big step, especially of US schools.

  3. Online classes or traditional classes, the teacher will always matter. It’s the teacher that has to find the best way to highlight each individual student’s learning strengths and to incorporate these strengths in the education process. Furthermore, I’ve learned so much from professors that go beyond the course material – life lessons and character traits that have contributed towards both educational and career success and accomplishments.

  4. I believe that the teacher still matters, even in online courses. Students will always need guidance from a person who is knowledgeable in the subject area. The study is very interesting and is something that all teachers need to remember about today’s students. We must remember that students today learn through different modalities than they have in the past.

  5. Pingback: Robert R. Heinrich » Blog Archive » What I am reading today, 2/21

  6. I really do believe that the teacher does matter in the end. The technology can be abundant and I am sure that the students will be very effective at using the technology. As Lindsay stated, it is still important to have an expert to be there to support the process. Also, teachers do not just teach nowadays, they are responsible for so much more (counceling, conflict management, social skills, etc.) We should be there to support the whole child, not just the curriculum part.

  7. The simple fact that children are spending more and more time in front of screens shows that they are becoming more and more acustomed to technology. If we do not integrate more technology into the classroom, we will lose student interest. With this added technology needs to be the support of a great teacher, there to help students every step of the way.

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