As education becomes more and more virtual, will students be able to keep up with the times? Or does online schooling have a few glaring flaws in its quest to become the future of education?
As I watch my nephew sitting at the kitchen table on his laptop, I can’t help but marvel at what I see. It’s not because he knows more than I do about the internal hard drive capacity of my MacBook. It’s because he’s at school. My nephew is a home-schooled student and in class while I’m trying to be extra quiet as I sit next to him and eat my breakfast. As I quietly munch on a bowl full of Golden Grahams, he’s learning about Napoleon Bonaparte via a virtual history teacher on his computer screen. Between six to eight hours every day, he’s on his laptop receiving what’s believed to be the same education I received when I was his age. The only difference is that I received my education in a prehistoric building us old folks call … a school. But is that the only difference between our educations?
As home schooling education for children races toward becoming a normal option for more and more K-12 students, online colleges have become more viable and commonplace in recent years among students looking to earn their college education sans the college campus. Some of the student habits and questions faced by online K-12 education advocates may come back to haunt – or help – the online higher education growing process. The attendance of students enrolled in public schools today is at an all-time low, which would be a cause for concern when calling upon them to pursue their education online and independently. Also, in light of the many single-parent households today, who will be present to monitor the studies of children? What if many households can’t afford the laptops and program equipment necessary to receive the online education available? Will the state be providing these tools? There are many hurdles to overcome before online education becomes the norm for students, but could online schooling replace the traditional classroom as the standard in the near future?
This is my nephew’s first year being home-schooled. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last year in Newport, Conn., my sister decided to take my nephew out of public schools, stay home with him while her husband worked, and allow him to receive his education from the comfort and safety of their residence. Many parents have decided to try home schooling in the wake of recent and not-so-recent events occurring at public schools, beginning with the tragic shootings in Littleton, Colo., in 1999. Since then, there has been a 75 percent increase in the number of students receiving their education from home according to Home-School.com. Today, there are many certified school programs and systems that allow children to receive their education on their computers. Many statistics support the case that home-schooled students actually outperform students who receive a traditional education.
When I was a child, skipping class was an art form. In high school, we had a fixed number of days we could be absent from a class without word getting back home to our parents. So, we would monitor and choose the days we cut classes very closely. Fast-forward 10 years to my experience as a mentor for high school children, and I’ve heard every excuse in the book as it pertains to students missing class (many of which I used myself as a student). Trusting students to be independent gatekeepers of their own education is questionable at the very least. Looking ahead, higher education is not only moving toward fostering more student independence, but schools are studying ways to emancipate students even further.
A March report from InsideHigherEd.com suggests that the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging the experimentation of independent, competency-based education. Many accredited courses and colleges built around performance rather than attendance could be options for students receiving financial aid. In simpler terms, the college credit hour could be dying.
For example, students at College of America can do course work at their leisure through online assessments with no professors or traditional course times and functions. The college has faculty reviewers who oversee the students and ensure assigned assessments are met – without the traditional credit hour, a yardstick used by college education for more than a century. It is debatable whether or not ridding higher education of credit hours is a healthy step forward to increase the quality of education for students. But the influence of online education is one of the biggest reasons why these experiments and innovations are present today.
The times are changing. As mentioned earlier, my nephew knows more about my laptop than I do. Children and young adults today live their lives on their computers and mobile devices, so it was only a matter of time before innovative educational tools would be used to teach students online. But are students ready to take their education online full time? We shall see. In a future edition, I will explore the sociological advantages and disadvantages online students have in different economic environments.