TED Conversations

Megan Summers

Impact Entrepreneurship Group


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Is the internet, not formal education, the new great equalizer?

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. – Horace Mann


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  • Oct 7 2011: This tool we use daily will continue to transform the world! Self education can be organized into communities of learners who make commitments to one another to learn new ways of interacting in the world, inventing things, streamlining processes and solving collective problems. For students age 8 on up, the tool is remarkable. Caring adults will still need to tend to those who must learn to use the internet in order that they may learn to read and write. These adults do not have to be teaching from a brick and mortar building however. Unless we embrace and understand the power of virtual learning environments, we will waste our resources on trying to improve a system that has outlived its usefulness. For those concerned that our students will grow up without social skills, or that teachers are replaced by computers, I suggest you consider teaching the skills needed to work socially through the internet. Teachers are even more important with this type of learning. Your job will simply change. I have been in public schools for the past 25 years as a K-2 teacher, reading specialist, Special Education Director and Principal of a K-8 school. Life happened and I needed o stay home from work this year to support my t3 year old twins. I was able to find a job teaching K-2 grade online through on online charter school. These kids thrive!!!!! Socially and academically. I am so convinced that we need a new instructional model. The students I work with have a Learning Coach in their home with whom they work with daily. I realize, this is not possible for everyone. Yet I am willing to investigate this model deeply. Students in this environment are working at their own pace in a proficiency based model., much like the Khan Academy Human contact with teachers happen minimally two times a week. There has got to be a way to retool our education model and honor all of the teachers out there who work their tails off each day. This is an important discussion!
    • Oct 7 2011: I think we need teachers more than ever, school...not so much.
      • Oct 7 2011: There are a few dimensions on this topic. Tooling aside, I think there is a role for both formal education, the village and the Internet. In a perfect scenario, formal education would teach you how to learn, the Internet would provide the learning material and the village would give you the values and the common sense you need to filter your learning.
    • Oct 7 2011: "I was able to find a job teaching K-2 grade online through on online charter school. These kids thrive!!!!! Socially and academically."

      I am curious as to what you mean by "thrive", especially regarding "socially"... hell, I am curious as to the whole process of teaching young students online.... if it is anything like an online college course, any metrics used to judge "social quality" that I imagine teachers using now (observing behaviors, interactions, etc)... well, how does that happen online for younger students?

      And, not to be offensive, but please consider breaking up your text a bit. You are presenting a wall of text that is difficult to read.
      • Oct 7 2011: No offense taken. The post was not as well composed as it could have been. Thriving in this environment is quantified by formative and summative assessment data with regard to academic learning.

        Judging social quality in the virtual setting is not that much different from teacher observations in the standard classroom. Students are still required to actively participate in class, take turns speaking and follow the directions of the adults, Each child is taught to use formal conventions such as saying" hello" and "good-bye" when coming into or exiting the classroom setting. .

        Additionally, students are encouraged to use the 'chat' feature before class starts and for 5 minutes after class ends. With young students, their learning coach is present and helps with the typing. This dialog is monitored by the teacher and mini lessons in social skills are taught during class when needed.

        Parents and teachers also discuss the need for students to be involved with groups of children in some way (sports, church, clubs. etc..). Finally, monthly outings allow teachers to observe the children interacting with one another in person.

        • Oct 7 2011: To be clear, I am NOT a teacher, and I would not consider myself "well read" on lot of pressing education issues... just wanted to get that out there

          But what you're describing seems like such a drastic shift that, to some degree, makes me very nervous.

          I know that there have been examples here of how this has greatly benefited many students who would have struggled under "traditional" education in a "traditional" school, but we have to keep in mind that there ARE policy makers who are highly supportive of a greater shift to increased technological use in American public education (I've heard some Reps talking about the possibilities of actually reducing the number of days at school, etc, because of the possibilities for children learning from home via computers and the Internet).

          So, while I see that you do emphasize, encourage, and teach some of the basic social behaviors (saying hello, goodbye, etc), I feel these are very, very different online than in real life.

          For example, in a traditional school, a student may greet another, notice they seem "down" a bit, and try to cheer them up.

          Further, how do you know if a student struggles with helping others? Who is shy? Who might be struggling with an issue at home?

          This all depends on the exact format of online learning; I am unaware of the details, but if it is chat-based, then it seems very restrictive. Saying "hello" is very different from learning how to share, how to be truly friendly, etc.

          And while you do observe once a month, that seems like a very limited interaction to truly understand the individual student, help them adjust, see their progress, and all the other things that good teachers SHOULD be doing for our younger students.

          I'm not saying that this can't be done, at all, for anyone... but I have quite a few questions and concerns, particularly regarding how a shift like this may affect the social learning of younger students.
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      Oct 7 2011: Laurie, I would love to hear more about K-2 reading, we have just started homeschooling using a lot of tech, but of course, traditional books, workbooks, and texts as well (we adapt them to our needs, no busy work). My son is 7 ADHD/Aspie and struggling with writing and reading comprehension. He understands beautifully when read to and his decoding skills for reading are at a 7th grade level, but little comprehension when reading himself. He also has trouble with inferential speech/reading and has an especially hard time with writing. I am currently struggling with attempting to push him to keep the skills he's already developed or backing off for a bit and just reading with him a lot to give his brain time to develop a bit as we use other tools. He loves science and knows quite a bit, and is pretty good at math (definitely ahead of grade level), but can't write a paragraph and has trouble coming up with a creative sentence and keeping it in his head long enough to put it down on paper while paying attention to capitalization, grammar, and punctuation. He has had OT for handwriting, but I think it's made him hate it more. I do encourage fine motor activity. I would love to hear any suggestions you have and your opinion. My email is Learning Inspire (at) gmail.

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