New frontiers conjures up images of pioneers, making their arduous journey over rough terrain through unexplored territory, landing in a place where they endure various challenges as they become accustomed to their new environment and, eventually, grow and thrive. This scenario is not very different from what we face in the exploration of digital teaching and learning and the adapting of the community affected to the new educational frontier.
Big box stores and the choices they offer have attracted customers away from the neighborhood groceries, but even small shops can find, acquire, and provide specialty items to meet customer demand and have cash registers that link them to a credit card network with a global reach.
Blazing the trail
Taming the territory requires paradigm shifts, especially for teachers. Appropriate, innovative use of educational programs and media can prompt increases in teacher productivity, giving teachers time to personalize the one-on-one and small group learning environment in a way the technology can’t. Building deep relationships with students, coaching soft skills, identifying missing support resources, and responding to students’ personal needs more quickly should be the norm.
Michigan attorney, Richard McLellan, has received criticism for suggesting new types of learning systems. He has introduced a new approach to an old icon: the one room schoolhouse. The Digitally Optimized One Room Schoolhouse – or DOORS – a model for testing digital learning concepts and strategies in a smaller environment, an alternative strategy to the overlaying of technology on the systems inherent to the current traditional school structure. The proposed model exemplifies personalized learning as it was in the original one room school, but it looks a lot different. It could be a possible settlement option of 21st century reform.
Cultivating the land
We often see that pioneers in online and blended learning need support in conquering this digital territory. How is school different when the opportunity is highly personalized for each individual student? When does the day start for students? When does it end? How long does the student spend on a subject or task? Who decides what the ‘school year’ is?
The role of the teacher is a different in the digital frontier. Imagine an approach that personalizes the teacher/student relationship the way a doctor considers a patient and a coach works with an athlete. Instead of assigning academics based on an age or ability group, teachers could be diagnosing the areas and requirements that challenge a student and prescribing a personalized solution. Once the students are off and running, they benefit from the coaching behavior of motivating each according to their need to reach their potential. While these strategies are not new to teachers, the technology territory allows more opportunity to scale deeper student-teacher relationships.
Investing in the future
Every day we see the human, social, and economic impact an undereducated populace has on our communities. The current delivery model works well for approximately 60-70% of the U.S. student population, but not well enough for nearly 30% of the students who are not engaged and do not graduate for variety of issues. This population needs access to new delivery models that are hyper-personalized and make much more effective use of technology to modify traditional barriers of time and place.
The one-room schoolhouse used to be the anchor of the community and continued to be used well into the 1950s. To this day, it is a universally popular iconic image. What we know works is naturally a part of the one-room school environment: personalized learning, focused areas of study, and relationships that offer as-needed support and prompt intervention. A perceived weakness of the one-room schoolhouse was the limited skills of a single educator in a remote isolated location. Today, a one-room schoolhouse with a well trained professional educator, robust technology tools and access to the Internet could offer most students access to a highly personalized learning environment that could be globally competitive with any school, regardless of size and location. Perhaps the pioneers of the one room school concept will show us another trail to thriving in the digital frontier.