Now, to be clear, I teach in an online program. That means FTF classes are a thing of the past for me. And I miss them. Not because I fear technology (I have been teaching online for some time now and my evaluations seem to be consistently good; students pass the certification exams; more importantly, most of them are still reading their way through the never-ending stacks of books), but because I do miss the FTF piece where I can connect them to books directly. I still do booktalks in the online forum. I take them on a virtual tour of my office on campus and at home. I have photos of Scout and BH and me on the welcome pages. But I do miss sharing the books in person. Even with students in the graduate program, that time of sharing books in person is a sacred one, and I miss it.
And that is why when I see the online K-12 schools touted here in Texas (and I am sure they exist on other places, too), I cringe. I cannot imagine learning from one dimensional presences when I was younger. How would some of my favorite teachers fared online? Would I have seen the twinkle in the eye? Caught the correcting stare? Seen the smile take over the stern expression? Nope, I would have missed it all. And then I would have been less somehow. As the author of the Washington Post piece puts it, "The biological facts are clear: We primates are adapted for social interaction. Millions of years of evolution have equipped us for the subtleties, dangers, and rewards of face-to-face (FTF) communication. " How can an online K-12 program offer that? It can't, IMHO. It is not much more than lessons-in-a-can, programmed instruction.
Suddenly, I have climbed back into the Wayback Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody.
I am back in the 70s completing modules for some of my college courses. While I love that I am thinner and younger, I know that I learned little to nothing from those modules. I went through the motions. And this is what I worry about when it comes to online courses, even at the graduate level. It is possible to go through the motions and finish, graduate. But what about the new job: will that, too, be a matter of going through the motions? If so, we will have lost something incredibly important: a generation of kids. We will have lost their engagement, their enthusiasm, their dedication, their commitment, their connection to others.