Sunday, October 23, 2011

Online Schools - The Best Ones Have the Best Curriculum

I can remember about 13 years ago, sharing with my then current boss in the technology department, something that I had created using, probably Supercard at that time, that duplicated many of the same software instructional strategies found in an application the elementary schools were paying thousands of dollars to implement. I can remember my boss being impressed but then saying, why would teachers want to learn to create their own software when they could buy it from some a textbook publisher. The fact that I had created, what I’ll call a proof of concept, in little more than a week and incorporated aspects that I thought were more relative to the students in our schools was lost in the belief that most teachers didn’t have the skill, computer knowledge, or creativity to design and develop their own software. I may just caught her a little off guard with my impromptu presentation of what was capable. In either case, her comment bothered me, and 13 years later I’m hearing the same arguments when it comes to online learning. There are many reason why I think just purchasing tools from a large publisher is a bad idea and that as educational professionals, it just strikes me as ridiculous that we would even be thinking about purchasing online learning curriculum from some outside-our-community publisher.

First, teachers have been developing curriculum for their students as long as I can remember. Curriculum is not just a textbook the State has blessed for use in the classroom. Curriculum is not a program that streams over the Internet to some indiscriminate student in front of a LCD screen. Curriculum is the collections of tools that addresses a specific learning concept or goal that we have deemed important for identified unique students. It is a collection of content, strategies, practices, mistakes, and innovations on the part of the teacher and learner to construct meaning in the head of the student, and many times in the head of the teacher.  You will find no better curriculum developers, that are in touch with your community, know your students, and understand what is most important for your students to learn, than the hard working men and women in your local classrooms. These individuals have been doing this work from day one.  We should be taking advantage of these resources to develop curriculum, maximizing the new technology tools, and in the process providing avenues for looking at how school can be done better for our children. So much of what is currently available for sale by large publishers today in the online education arena is the same old classroom content that we have been creating and  using for years just snatched up, repackaged in a shiny new box, and stamped with the words “Online Learning Curriculum.” The worse we could do by developing the online curriculum ourselves is to duplicate what is currently available through the big publishers. Even then, our curriculum would be more targeted to our students and community as opposed to being created to address the widest audience possible. One other point is the fact that when commercial publishers talk about their online learning curriculum, try to pin point what percentage of the instruction is using technology and is online? How much of what they provide is actually different from a traditional face to face classroom and capitalizes and strengths of technology (communication/collaboration/creativity/development/voice/perspective/action) and how much of it is the same thing just viewed through a few thousand pixels.
It should not be surprising that creating curriculum for an online learning environment is not something a school district would do without cost. However, any school district that is seriously thinking about shelling out 75% or more of their ADA to commercial content provider should not be dissuaded from moving in this direction. For schools and districts that go down this road, there will be a learning curve and an initial investment of resources. It would be expected. However, successfully implementing a curriculum development process would provide the institution with advantages leaps beyond those that implement online learning programs with generic curriculum.  The best online schools will be those with the best curriculum, and those that are the most successful will have created their own curriculum.

1 comment:

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