19 July 2009

Seat Time

I've been thinking a lot about "seat time" recently---and whether or not it equates to anything meaningful. Mind you, most of my thoughts have been related to my personal situation with determining whether or not to take the new job. The leadership philosophy that goes along with my current job kinda boils down to seat time. The idea is that the absolute most productive way to get the job done is for me to spend 40 hours/week in one chair at a particular location. I just can't quite buy this. Maybe it's because I'm more of a "learner-centered" educator...maybe it's because I think that accountability should be a higher bar than butts in seats. I may very well be off the mark---I can't deny that in the classroom, students who are habitually missing from class often struggle to meet the standards. But I'm not talking about being absent from a job---just sitting in a different location during the work day. I'm looking for a "blended model" of in person and on-line working environment. From what I've been reading, it would appear that many students are, too---and those who find this situation are successful.

The U.S. Department of Education has released a study finding that good teaching is further enhanced with technology.
A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified over 1,000 empirical studies of online learning. Of these, 46 met the high bar for quality that was required for the studies to be included in the analysis. The meta analysis showed that “blended” instruction – combining elements of online and face-to-face instruction – had a larger advantage relative to purely face to face instruction or instruction conducted wholly online. The analysis also showed that the instruction conducted wholly on line was more effective in improving student achievement than the purely face to face instruction. In addition, the report noted that the blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions...

Few rigorous research studies have been published on the effectiveness of online learning for K-12 students. The systematic search found just five experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies comparing the learning effects of online versus face-to-face instruction for K-12 students. For this reason, caution is required in generalizing the study’s findings to the K-12 population because the results are for the most part based on studies in other settings, such as in medical, career, military training, and higher education.

“Studies of earlier generations of distance and online learning courses have concluded that they are usually as effective as classroom-based instruction,” said Marshall “Mike” Smith, a Senior Counselor to the secretary. “The studies of more recent online instruction included in this meta-analysis found that, on average, online learning, at the post-secondary level, is not just as good as but more effective than conventional face-to-face instruction...”

One of the things I like about this report is that it makes the case that technology is not just stuff. It's not about the Interactive White Boards. This is not about using cell phones and/or "clickers" in the classroom. It's not about how many handhelds you have. It's about extending the classroom in space and time through on-line options. Hardware is awesome---but it cannot necessarily have the universal applications that a blog, wiki, or cloud computing can have.

Meanwhile, over at eSchool News, there is a report that students want more on-line options. (See? I'm not the only one who wants to work from home now and then.)

Despite a growing interest in online learning among students, the availability of online classes in K-12 schools and districts hasn't kept pace with the demand, according to a new report from Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc.

According to the report, more than 40 percent of sixth through 12th graders have researched or demonstrated interest in taking a course online, but only 10 percent have actually taken an online course through their school. Meanwhile, 7 percent of middle school students and 4 percent of high school students instead have pursued opportunities outside their school to take online courses--underscoring the disconnect between the supply and demand for online learning in today's schools...

The report suggests that K-12 students want to pursue online learning to gain more control of their own learning experience, have access to more courses, and work at their own pace. But middle and high school students continue to have different priorities for taking online classes, the report says: Older students were most likely to desire online classes to earn college credit, while younger students would pursue online learning to get extra help in a subject.

There is a lot of talk about "personalizing instruction" these days. I don't know that on-line options are the best for every grade and/or subject, but I do think that this is one way to reach some students.
When asked why learning through an online class might make school more interesting, 47 percent of nine through 12th graders, 39 percent of six through eighth graders, and one in four third through fifth graders said they want to learn online to "be in control of my learning." Students don't expect courses to be easier online, but they do expect the online format to make it easier for them to succeed, because they can review materials when they want and are more comfortable asking teachers for help.
Being in control of one's own learning (or work) doesn't seem like such a terrible idea, does it? If we are after lifelong learning and independent workers, it would seem that we need to broaden our definition of seat time.


jsb16 said...

If you guaranteed that I wouldn't be assigned more than 100 students, I'd offer to teach online or blended classes right now. The worry I've heard from colleagues (and that I share) is that administrators will see online classes as a way to reduce their costs by increasing the number of students each teacher is responsible for. And that's a great way to reduce individualization in any learning environment.

Roger Sweeny said...

A while ago, an old friend came to town for a medical convention. Part of it involved "continuing education." He would go to a booth where there were some materials, written or video, and when he was ready take an online test. If he got high enough scores, he earned CE points and kept his medical license. He's a bright guy with a reasonable short-term memory so he did. But I wondered at the time--and still do--how much he would remember a week later. I suspect not a whole hell of a lot.

How many of these studies measured "learning" this way? If they did, they really aren't worth much.

Of course, it may not much matter. Very little of what students supposedly learn in high school is ever used later in life. Much of high school (elementary is different) is a matter of time in the building. Parents know their kids are safe, not out on the street, not drinking or doing drugs or getting bored and pregnant. Parents WANT this. They don't want their kid home at 11 AM in front of a computer.

The Science Goddess said...

jsb16: You make a very good point. I do think that the number of total students would still have to be figured into the contractual mix of things.

And Roger, I have no doubt that you're right about parents wanting kids at school (as opposed to "working" at home). At elementary, I wonder if if on-line learning will become common among the privileged, while the reverse might happen at upper grades.