Move to India, Please


Over the next five weeks I’m taking an online class on Blended Learning. Though I vowed when I finished the MFA program at Ole Miss that I would never again take another class, I have a genuine interest in the research and pedagogy of online learning. What an odd interest. I might’ve done better to admit that I’m interested in the treatment intestinal diseases.

But I’ve got kids now and once that happens every brain cell becomes dedicated to making sure they are the most prepared little jelly beans in the world.

Not really.

But I am curious how my children will experience online and/or hybrid classes. 

And—as a complete afterthought—I want to know if what I’m doing/plan to do as an Instructor of English at a secondary institution is helping or hindering the process of student learning, retention, and matriculation.

Over the next five weeks, I’ll be reading short amounts of text. I may post my responses here, I may not. 


In this week's chapter reading I came across this passage which tends to be very telling in terms of what children in India will do with their free time. I thought most children in India were playing the lottery, being sold into slavery and/or prostitution, or learning to be pick-pockets (thank you, American media). Not so:

“Sugata Mitra (2007) details an experiment he conducted in India (now commonly known as the “hole-in-the-wall” experiment) where he placed a computer with an Internet connection in a wall facing a ghetto. Within days children aged 6-12, with minimal education and limited understanding of English, were able to browse the web and perform other tasks – such as drawing – on the computer. The self-taught, minimally-guided nature of the experiment led Mitra to the conclusion that children do not require direct instruction to acquire basic computer literacy skills.” 

Sure, but they require access to a computer and, perhaps, nothing more. Other electronic devices, or distractions such as television and video games, seem to be siphoning American students away from computer-based communication. So really, what needs to happen is that I need to move my kids--and students--to a ghetto in India so they will learn to use a computer on their own.

Recurring problems my colleagues and I face with my college-level students (in the Central Georgia region of the U.S): they don’t have regular access to computer-based learning because they don’t have computers in the home and are not motivated to go to libraries and other facilities to obtain access (their socioeconomic status typically hinders the former); instead, they use their phones (because although they cannot afford computers, they can afford smart phones) to interact, search the net, and perform daily interactions. When they come into my classroom and are expected to use a computer for online instruction, many are baffled by the simple action of word processing. Some of them don’t know how to type. Others don’t know the difference between Word and a browser. Still others don’t know how to save documents to a flash drive. Nearly all of them don’t know how to surf the internet for reliable information (they think Wikipedia is a solution for anything unknown). Many of them don’t know how to attach a document to an email, use proper email etiquette, or remember basic information like their passwords. In short, they fail to gauge the seriousness of using the computer for instruction. I spend a good two weeks of class time doling out these basics with tough love. Essentially weeding out students who are lazy or incapable of following directions. Then the real study in the course begins.

Perhaps instead of a keyboard, if students were given a video game controller they might take online/hybrid instruction more seriously. How ironic. Turn learning into a game and suddenly it becomes important. I wonder what those kids in India would’ve done with a PS3 in-the-wall.


The focus of the reading material this week is Blended Interactions. In short, we're trying to target what might be the best ways to interact with our students in blended (hybrid) classes. At the start of each reading selection our course administrator posts questions to ponder. The one that resonated most with me this week was: 

What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online?

I would never use the word “robust” to describe my teaching or classroom environment in my self-evaluations (“robust” makes me think of a good spaghetti sauce). But I have had very animated, positive, and exceptional discussions in my classes. My students have written award-winning essays. And poems. And stories. I take credit for all of it.

I consider myself technologically ignorant (I still have a landline at home and don’t own a smartphone), so I’m most interested in creating the same experience for my hybrid students as I do for those in courses taught completely face-to-face (f2f).
 
Two more gems from the chapter:

“[S]ome might argue that student interaction with faculty and with other students in the context of learning is an expression of a basic human need”

“[M]inimal guidance is not as effective as guided instruction”

I felt validated when I saw these two phrases in print, with data and research to support them. Not because I want to gloat about having an instinctual “well duh” reaction, but because I’m lazy and have never been able to back-up my “well duh” with data I’ve (never) collected from my successful students. I’ve been too busy facilitating successful classroom interactions to gather data on my successful classroom interactions.

So many people I’ve come across in academia (mostly the ones who dilly-dallied around getting several degrees then didn’t know what else to do so they went into teaching) want to move away from f2f and into a completely online form. They want to replace classroom instruction with tools like D2L or Pearson’s online learning modules. They want to sit at home grading papers at two in the morning, or clock into an office, plop down in front of a computer and collect a paycheck while said computer does all of the work for them.

Then they  bitch about how their jobs are so demanding. That the state of the world is in ruins. How ignorant their students are. They want to move to Europe because America is going to hell.

To them I say: Move to India, instead.

Comments

  1. Ugh, thinking about our little jellybeans going to school is scary. At least we have a home computer and he will know how to use it! ;-) I just don't get online school at all.

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  2. Online teaching is rough. Especially when students think it will be "just like regular school." They don't realize they need to motivate themselves.

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