An exciting educational experiment is happening next door!

Exciting educational experimentation is happening at Chicago Public Schools this year:  it’s blended learning on a district-wide basis! According to the Tribune article, over 4,000 students have already done “credit recovery” via online learning modules. As of this year every high school is offering some degree of online learning. That’s some dramatic change!

The savings is instant: one teacher can supervise 12-18 kids working through their math skills via game-based learning. Similar programs could provide basic language skills. The total yearly cost of ten teachers, taking into account benefits and pension payments–that’s about a million dollars saved in a budget apocalypse. No wonder Ron Huberman is pushing it. Of course, if adopted aggressively, online learning would result in serious staff reductions, and so the Chicago Teachers Union has instantly expressed its opposition.

What isn’t instant is the trustworthy evidence that it is working–yielding learned knowledge over a long term (or at least as long as until the next high-stakes test). The article claims that blended learning (coupling what the online learning with traditional full-class room activities) totally works:  at the college and work level.

My experience as a blended-learning instructor this summer tells me that it can work at least as well as traditional classroom instruction.  It allowed for intensive one-to-one “coaching” of the students at their computer screens. And when we would convene for an all-class discussion, the monitors were turned off, and 30 almost at-risk youngsters interacted well with each other. I believe they may have appreciated each other even more, having interacted with them online, or spent so much time alone with one’s modules.

So the concern expressed in the article,“that online learning robs students of the classroom experience and the social aspects of school” is  a serious one, and should be closely monitored. What good is a successful test-taker if he is un-civilized?

That the data will be so forthcoming (and we, might expect, so transparently, instantly available), and that the change is happening so close to my neighborhood make me eager to see how this goes. I’ll be watching to see how balanced the “blend” in blended learning is, Chicago-style. Also, can the gains of credit-recovered students endure? Has their learning proven long-term?  

Ron Huberman , the people are counting on you!

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