At the same time, Flex Academy will have dances, field trips, and sports–all American high school traditions. It is chronologically synchronous too, normal high schools. Each kid is required to “show up every day to a bricks-and-mortar building” from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The article defines a “hybrid” as “combining self-paced online learning with a structured schedule, significant oversight and face-to-face interaction with peers and teachers.”
Before endorsing it, I’d like to know more about that final piece, the significant “face-to-face” going on in Flex Academy. What does it include? Because in any successful learning community, there must be meaningful human interaction. I of course am talking quality, not quantity of human interaction. [A traditional teacher in my position will tell you that sometimes, getting away from the enforced sociability of classrooms is good. Some classes definitely run too long. With 30 plus kids in a small classroom, stress levels rise, and learning consequently dips.]
I’d want there to be significant frequency of human interaction, too. I do not believe that daily face2face time is unreasonable. We are social animals, after all.
If Mr. Dan Kirshner asked me how to enhance the quality of the face2face, I would suggest gathering the students across age levels and subject area for regular, required discussion. These would be “authentic” discussions, conducted around engaging curricular questions. I would further suggest that there be excellent cross-curricular and cloud-based learning projects among students in small groups and pairs. What wonderful learning opportunities for cooperative and collaborative behaviors his setting affords–the stuff our times demand!
According to Daniel Pink, the three qualities of the ideal workforce of the future (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) could be fostered in a Flex Academy. And training our kids to work out of their right-brains means we’ll have a growing economy into the foreseeable future.
If I could, I’d ask Dan Kirshner about the actual K12 inc. curriculum, and the sorts of learning activities and web 2.0 games it offers. According to the article, “students can choose from 130 courses – including 15 advanced placement classes, five languages, marketing, game design or oceanography.” What sort of supplementary, “real-life” experiences would mix with the online courses to make them relevant? And what sort of guidance, if any, are students given in their selection of courses?
The “first school of its kind in California,” the Flex Academy seems to have no entrance requirements. According to the article, attendance “is open to any high school student who is interested in attending.” [None but the brave so far?] I’d ask Mr. Kirshner whether going large-scale, and serving a general student population is in his business plan, and how a diverse student body can be achieved.
I’d ask him further if certain essential conditions for this school can be guaranteed:
- self-motivated learners: no school-master to tell them what to do, you need teens with strong self-guidance system to learn in this school. or if they don’t have it yet, who are willing to develop one. These people–often intrinsically motivated–are rare among adults, most of whom require laws or incentives to produce. Then again, such schooling might re-produce
- flawless, reliable tech performance: the Internet must be instantaneous, the programs bug-free, and the equipment durable enough to disappear: any technology, sufficiently advanced, is invisible
- sensible student-teacher ratio: the small staff at the Flex Academy needs to be large enough to handle simultaneous learning issues. Beyond a certain point, it gets frustrating to kids who may require more assistance.
Without these, I’m pretty sure the Flex model crashes.
And I’m sure I know what Mr. Kirshner would say but I’d ask him anyway: can the sole supplier of Flex Academy be trusted? Is the school in danger of educational “mono-culture”? What is K12 Incorporated, anyway–why should we trust its curriculum? We are assured that it is the highest quality out there
My final big questions for Mr. Kirshner are whether the solution offered by the Flex Academy is scalable; that is, if it works on the small scale, whether it can be implemented successfully and ubiquitously at a large scale? And would he not agree that the ultimate hybrid any high school aspires to be, traditional or not, is a school that develops into a meaningful community while fostering the flourishing of individual learning? What does that hybrid high school look like?