Sunday, January 28, 2007

Schools v. Internet

I still remember my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Kellerher, who excited us all by letting us in on a secret of the future...someday, she said, we'll have computers in the classroom. What she didn't realize, however, was that we were less excited about computers being in the classroom, and more excited because we thought it meant that teachers would go away completely. So, I missed the boat on using computers in the classroom, let alone the Internet. But, knowing what I know about both traditional classroom learning and the Internet, I think they can truly compliment each other in providing a more satisfying learning experience.

Both teachers and the Internet can provide learning experiences that are interactive. According to the National Learning Institute (2001) we learn and retain information better if we are actively involved in the learning process. Only 5% of learning is retained when learning from lecture alone, but we retain 75% when we practice by doing. But, as we have all either experienced or heard about, teachers are stretched to the limit. They're asked to provide a meaningful educational experience for upwards of 30 kids at a time in 30 minute increments. How much can they realistically accomplish with those restrictions? Well, from what I remember, this meant that the teachers were more focused on getting the information "out there" than they were about getting it into our heads effectively. Even in a corporate setting, this is what happens. How many times have I taught new employees everything they needed to know about every computer system they'll ever need to use, in a matter of 6 hours? They walked out of my classroom as near to comatose as one can get without having to be hooked up to a machine and a hospital bed. But, once we brought in self-paced learning that they could do both in the classroom with a mentor and at their desks over a longer period of time, their retention and satisfaction shot way up. This, is where the Internet comes in - self-paced lessons with immediate feedback is the most major difference between its capabilities and traditional classroom learning.

Because the Internet is interactive in nature, and many learning sites are designed with interactivity in mind, it is an ideal method for learning. Because feedback mechanisms can be built into the learning, kids can get immediate feedback as well, which is something that teachers don't always get a chance to do. Does all learning have to be on the Internet? No, it doesn't. But take for example, the lessons on this site, Internet4Classrooms, The second grade lessons on counting coins, for example, aren't any more interactive than digging into your pocket and bringing out a few coins to count, but it certainly is more fun than a workbook with pictures of coins that you circle the answers in. Same thing goes for the later grade level lesson on the Periodic Table - the online lessons offer a quiz and a flash version of the table (I still find the subject matter boring, but I can tell you I would have used this to supplement my learning in what I found to be a difficult subject to learn).

Realistically, I don't see teachers having more time in the classroom to teach more effectively just because they use the online tools and the Internet, but with the Internet tools, they can focus more on the style of the learner to enable them to learn more effectively. This is the major point -- teachers can focus on nurturing their students ability to learn more effectively, by using the Internet to teach more effectively by using more active learning tools on the Internet that provide feedback in a way that often gets neglected in the classroom. This doesn't make teachers ineffective, but they can help each student identify what kind of learner they are, help provide different methods of learning to satisfy each type and help the student with what will help them retain the information better by understanding how they learn. Traditional classrooms don't encourage different kinds of learning - they work with the limitations of manpower and time. But, the Internet doesn't have those kind of restrictions in what it is able to offer.

So, what can Teachers and the Internet do for each other? I think the Internet enables teachers to become coaches and facilitators, rather than merely the "source" of information. Years ago, the encyclopedia was our Internet. Now, the information found on the Internet is endless. Here's what teachers can do for the Internet - help their students understand the difference in the quality of information that is out there and how to use the various Internet resources to learn in a style that is appropriate for each individual. Teachers should take advantage of the interactivity the internet offers that they don't necessarily have time to provide in the classroom.

1 comment:

Poets Online said...

Yes - I think these 2 can work cooperatively in a beneficial way, but they the Net cannot be a substitute for school - unless, of course, it is a good interactive online course ;- )