Teaching is challenging work. It’s not enough to have a command of the subject matter, it’s also about how you convey this understanding to students in a way that recognises their pre-existing knowledge and engages and challenges them. The teacher-student relationship is critical in this process; anyone can tell you a story about the teacher they had who ‘knew their stuff’ but couldn’t teach. But content knowledge is a great start and, along with pedagogical understanding, should be central to teacher training. Even then, not every school is likely to find itself with outstanding teachers in all subject areas, and in some instances there will inevitably be teacher shortages. This is quite common in rural schools and small schools and in subject areas like high levels mathematics, sciences, language and technology. In many such schools there will also be low student demand for certain subjects making it even less likely that the school will offer certain subjects.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Our schools are too caught in the traditional teaching model of one teacher standing in front of twenty five students ‘delivering’ knowledge. Imagine if you could put the best teacher in front of every class. Or make every subject available to every students. Wouldn’t that be great?
The obvious answer in the 21st century is to find the best teachers and use technology to share their expertise and passion with students wherever they might be located. As CPG Gray puts it in this neat little five minute animation, make a Digital Aristotle available to every student.
This is a solution closer than many people may think. There are many online and virtual school arrangements in place across the world, particularly in North America. From my observation they have often developed in response to a lack of curriculum access or to allow access to advanced placement courses. The proliferation of commercial providers and the imperative to deliver at low cost often also compromises their quality. But in many cases they are built on sound foundations and there is some exciting innovation at play. Organisations like iNacol provide standards to help guide this work.
Here in Victoria, Australia, we have an opportunity to do something exciting. The previous state government commissioned an analysis of existing ‘distance education’ providers and a consultative process is underway to map the future for online learning
- The Distance Education Centre of Victoria has some sound practice which can be built upon
- John Monash Science School is doing interesting things with delivery of cutting edge science to schools
- Through the Victorian Virtual Learning Network my school has been supporting more than 50 others to access curriculum, mainly in VCE mathematics and sciences.
However there will be no progress unless the new state government accepts responsibility for setting the direction and provides some funding. Being directly involved in this work it’s hard to escape the conclusion that a great deal of innovation stands to be wasted at the moment unless some support for a system led solution (or solutions) is found.
My previous posts on Virtual Schooling are available from my blog dalepearce.net