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Sunday, Dec 16 2012 11:00 PM

LOUIS WILDMAN: Shift to online education creates creative opportunities

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    Louis Wildman

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The new Common Core State Curriculum Standards, started by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, require a deeper level of understanding than the simple regurgitation of information would provide. Whereas, previously, elementary students learned merely the procedure for dividing fractions, the Common Core Sixth-Grade State Mathematics Standards ask students to "use the meaning of fractions, the meanings of multiplication and division, and the relationship between multiplication and division to understand and explain why the procedures for dividing fractions make sense." Mindlessly following the "invert and multiply" procedure is no longer acceptable because it was so often applied incorrectly and because so many students never did understand the meaning of division by fractions.

With fewer state standards in the Common Core, publishers can narrow their focus, producing materials of higher quality for a larger student audience, such as programmed instruction which reacts differentially to student responses, available on the internet. Software corporations funded development of the Common Core State Standards because they conceive of education as a business producing test score outcomes with increasing efficiency. They would like outcomes-based pay to providers, but public education is not a business. Public education serves clients, not customers.

Education involves both the learning of specific predefined curriculum standards, and individual student development. We should not forget those two purposes. As John Dewey said, students need both: formal knowledge, and to follow their curiosity, developing their creativity. Now that students can quickly find information on the Internet, teachers must become increasingly better at showing students how to go beyond information. Teaching is no longer just about disseminating course content. It's much more about developing students as individuals and helping them become lifelong learners. Rather than encouraging students to race through the curriculum, students are better advised to take time to read and explore ideas they find interesting.

For the teaching of many predefined standards, computer-assisted instruction can improve educational efficiency and reduce costs. For example, an online computer-assisted course on artificial intelligence was taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig to 150,000 students through a site now called Udacity. Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley have started a free online education program called edX. Coursera is a cooperative arrangement among several major universities likewise offering courses for free.

Some politicians believe we are at the end of an era for teachers, similar to the silent film era, when musicians in every theater were laid off with the advent of sound motion pictures. In November, the first high school massive open online course (MOOC) was launched by the University of Miami Global Academy, the UM's online high school. The course became available for high school students preparing for the SAT subject test in biology, providing access for students from any high school.

Currently, one can find more than 3,600 free short educational videos on the Khan Academy website (www. khanacademy.org/library) teaching numerous objectives. However, after perusing those Khan videos, look at the websites for the expensive private schools, such as the Sidwell Friends School (where President Obama sends his daughters). Notice that in those expensive schools there is a rigorous, predefined curriculum, but the emphasis is on individual student development through projects and investigations, coached by teachers. For example, at Sidwell Friends, even primary school students pose open-ended questions for discussion and engage in community service. Investigatory learning for individual student development is more important now than ever before. Our future as a country depends upon the inventiveness of our young.

We should promote the new education technology to teach many pre-defined objectives. Likewise, we should create schools where much teacher time is spent coaching students to pursue projects and their academic interests. Both sides of education are important.

Louis Wildman is a professor of educational administration at Cal State Bakersfield. He was named Outstanding Professor of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators, and a "Living Legend" by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration.

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