Can computers beat snow to deliver education?

Shelly Blake-Plock, writing at TeachPaperless, published an article a year ago predicting that 21 well-known classroom technologies, techniques and policies would be extinct by 2020. They included:

  1. Desks
  2. Language Labs
  3. Computers
  4. Homework
  5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
  6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
  7. Fear of Wikipedia
  8. Paperbacks
  9. Attendance Offices
  10. Lockers
  11. IT Departments
  12. Centralized Institutions
  13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
  14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
  15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development
  16. Current Curricular Norms
  17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night
  18. Typical Cafeteria Food
  19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering
  20. High School Algebra
  21. Paper

Details of his predictions are at the link.

I was reminded of his predictions by an article on The article looked at the replacement of ‘snow days’ by ‘e-days’ to make up for lost classroom time.

Miswsissiawa Valley schools in Ohio are studying replacing snow days with “e-days,” where students can carry out classwork from home on their computers.

Online education is picking up steam at both the K-12 and college levels, several experts told me this month as we looked at evolving educational trends.

While virtual classes make it possible for schools to offer AP and other classes they might not offer otherwise, some districts are discovering other advantages.

Miswsissiawa Valley’s superintendent told McCown that teachers get special training and put together a number of online lessons in the summer, ready to go when bad weather arrives.

. . .

Experts say about a quarter of all students will be enrolled in Internet-based classes within five years, and at least half of all high school classes will be offered through computers before the next decade ends.

That could force a number of changes about what schools are like, including the start and stop times and calendar. Students, in theory, can learn from any where and at any time.

And access might not be an issue for much longer.

North Muskegon Superintendent Curt Babcock told me his district in February is distributing netbook computers to all 320 high school students. All will have Internet access and textbooks downloaded. Students will be able to download course information at any time.

“Only a couple districts are doing this now, but I think in five years this will be considered the norm,” he said.

There’s more at the link.

I’ve written before about the growing availability of high-level education courses on the Internet, free of charge. I think that mediocre, even ‘average’ teachers, will soon face online ‘replacement’ by better presenters, who will tailor their teaching methods to the new medium and engage students far more actively in the learning process. This, more than anything else, might be the decisive factor to break the stranglehold of the teachers unions on the US education system – something that’s long overdue.

It might also accelerate some of Mr. Blake-Plock’s predictions by several years . . .



  1. This can produce marvellous results by making the best instructors available to all students; it can also become a farce if mishandled.

    Role of teachers' unions is critical-more accurately, government and school boards must be willing and able to force positive changes over union objections.

    Only works if combined with a genuine pass / fail exam policy. No credits to Johnny and Suzy just for "attending" online.

    They have to prove they learned the material. *GASP*

    Harder to apply to hands-on areas (science experiments, auto mechanics) but even there, could become the pre-requisite for attending the actual "hands on" in a school.

    Didn't pass the online test for the pre-requisites?

    Fail. Repeat online course.

    No "bricks and mortar" til you prove you did.

  2. And this means that the parents have to provide the necessary supervision and motivation to keep Junior working and doing his assignments.

    And being selfish, I have to add this: I teach best when I have a live classroom with interaction with my students. It is not the same over the Internet or real-time video. A digital school sucks out the pleasure I take from being a teacher.

  3. I actually agree with Anonymous. I had the choice of going to a "satellite" classroom of one of my classes because of the fact that the actual class was all the way at the end of campus, and I decided to make the trek all the way to the end of the campus every Tuesday and Thursday, because I greatly prefer interaction with my teacher. On the other hand, this was a class about dinosaurs with a teacher I enjoy talking/listening to…I wouldn't mind having my Calculus class online, if for the simple fact that the notes would be up all the time and more legible than my crappy handwriting.

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