Guess what I thought I

by francine Hardaway on June 28, 2005

Guess what I thought I was going to do with my life?

Be a college professor!

An intellectual snob educated in New York, I thought the best minds were on the campuses of the American universities (especially those in the Ivy League). So I got my Ph.D. and proceeded to “profess” for ten years. I quit when I realized even I didn’t look forward to my lectures (so how could a student) and that the “best minds” were engaged in minor league politics relating to department chairman elections and employee benefits committees.

But I didn’t lose my interest in and love for education, so for the past twenty years I’ve been working on the sidelines and behind the scenes for all kinds of education reform, most recently involving eLearning.

After all these years, the team of activists with whom I’m working have decided that incremental reform at the margins isn’t enough: what is necessary is complete systemic overhaul.

And that’s NOT the disintermediation of the teacher through technology. Rather, it’s the liberation of the teacher from lecturing, grading, and paperwork to enable him/her to interact on a 1:1 basis with a student to promote learning at the student’s own pace.

It’s our belief that eLearning transforms the teacher into a Socratic tutor, who can help propel students to mastery of whatever the teacher and society deems is the appropriate curriculum.

A little history:

Reading, writing, and education have always been intertwined. When writing was invented seven thousand years ago, it immediately created illiteracy. The ancient Middle Eastern desert dwellers could just as well have called it the �analog divide.�

Forty-five hundred years later, a Roman sergeant shouted instructions to his troops, and the lecture was born. Paper was invented by Ts�ai Lun in 105 BC in China; he profited handsomely. It took Europe another 1,000 years to re-invent papermaking.

In 1450, Gutenberg invented the printing press, and the cost of books dropped by a factor of 400, somewhat closing the analog divide.

During this entire period, most learning took place at the feet of some scholar. Only in the 1890s was the K-12 education system with its current components– lecture, seat work, recitation and books– penned into law.

Let�s blame Alvin Toffler3 for our current K-12 problems. The author of �Future Shock� named the global economic transformation: agricultural age begat industrial age begat information age. The waning of the agricultural age triggered compulsory education. During the recent industrial age our schools taught basic skills to most students and higher-level skills to those going into the professional ranks. With plenty of manual jobs, legacy education met the demand, and continuous marginal improvement adapted to evolving needs. Employers and the public were satisfied.

Unfortunately the information age upset the apple cart.

Since the 1950�s, blue collar jobs have plunged from 50% of the available employment to well under 25%, to be replaced with white collar jobs, while the professional ranks have remained relatively constant at 25%.

While basic literacy skills are mandatory for both manual and white collar jobs, many technicians in the trades now need a higher level of literacy and greater thinking skills than office workers. The rapid growth of this new demand has exceeded legacy education�s ability to deliver. Many leaders and public-private organizations have been working hard for decades to reform K-12 system. Faced with a large and complex system under decentralized governance they have made only limited progress.

Continuous marginal improvement seems no longer effective. So what about addressing legacy education from a systems approach?

Redesigning the K-12 curriculum to use technology correctly — as an enabling tool, not as an artifact or as a replacement for teachers–can be the linchpin of this system redesign.

By using technology correctly, I mean using it the way it is used in the workplace: for basic skills development (for students), for professional development (for teachers), and for specific workforce development skills.

The transformation we’ve been advocating here in Arizona, which is equally relevant to any state, is called eLearning for Students And Teachers (eSATS).

The eSATS design has two steps that emphasize the connection between teacher and student. The first is the transformation of the teaching process from legacy education to eLearning.

Second is the movement of the digital curriculum and the computers out of the lab and into the classroom. A technology-rich classroom is a must. The ultimate transformation is full student access to a computer all day,starting with at least 4 students per computer and within a couple of years expands to a computer for each student. Who would expect a worker to share a computer in today’s world? Why should a student? Laptops have the added advantage of extending learning into the home. There are already pilot programs where this is in effect, and they work.

Classrooms then become work spaces like those we all are familiar with. Why shouldn�t they be? If the grunt work of teaching can be done online � drill, grading, etc �the true work of teaching , which I believe is the training of young minds to solve whatever problems come up in later life, can occur.

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