In December the Michigan State board of Education approved a plan to require all high school students to take at least one online course before they graduate in order to prepare them for online courses they might take on the college level.

Right now students would be able to use online non-credit ACT and SAT preparation courses to fulfill that requirement but one day the plan is to require students to actually take a real for-credit course online in order to graduate.

I have mixed feelings about online courses because while they can help bridge gaps in economic and social inequities — providing there is equal access to allow everyone to technologically tap into the courses — we are also cleaved from each other from the safety of our homes.

With the rise of video relay systems that allow real-time video conversation between groups of people, online courses will rise in popularity. You can login and watch lectures any time you wish and you can interact with all sorts of students beyond the physical limits of your school’s neighborhood. In many ways online courses are the great equalizer. Poor students in the urban core can interact with and learn from and teach fellow coursemates living afar who plan to attend Harvard or Stanford or the University of Michigan.

Students will quickly learn how their experiences and expertise stacks up in the grander scale of An American Education and that can only be a good thing because deficits will immediately be obvious and rectifiable. In other ways online courses make us less human and more technical.

We lose the warm touch. We lose the ability to see eyes and judge faces and whole-body language in person. We socialize ourselves and makes mistakes and create bonds during our mandatory schooling years and when the day comes when all schooling is done online — and it will happen on the elementary, high school and university levels — the testing of behavior against expectation is wholly diminished.

Total online schooling makes the most sense on the most precious community level: Money. Local school boards will no longer have to pay for school buildings or more than one teacher teaching a subject. If you can have one math teacher teaching all students in a district instead of 10, common sense and the bottom line mandates you will use one teacher — the best teacher — for all students.

The money-saving salve online education provides will dissolve school districts, cities and state borders as a common interest in a blanket education becomes the promise of the land. Why have one math teacher for 500 students when you could have one math teacher for the entire country? Federalization of all online schooling will become mandatory, homeschooling will be outlawed, curricula will be scrubbed and watered-down to serve the lowest common denominator, and students across the nation will have one instructor for one topic.

The nation will then finally have the means to truly standardize tests and pit child against child for national evaluation and the idea of “no child left behind” will begin to start making sense as something plausible and not political. Mandatory national online public education might just make the idea of “separate but equal” a good idea because all students will ultimately be exposed to access the same lessons.

14 Comments

  1. I’ve never experienced an online course, so this might be a good thing in this age of teleconferencing and distance learning.
    One good thing about the online courses is that the learning is asynchronous, so you can fit the class into spare time during the day or in the evening. No worrying about finding parking or getting from one building (or work) to attend class. If education wasn’t so expensive, I’d be tempted to sign up for some of the online classes I see advertised. I’d be nice to get a MBA in my spare time.
    As far as online courses replacing teachers, I doubt that one teacher would be able to replace many teachers throughout the nation — someone will need to be in the classroom for crowd control and to operate the distance learning equipment. But, I could see school administrators calculating that one math teacher would be cheaper than 50. There might be pressure to hire proctors/classroom monitors and leave the heavy teaching work to a couple of online instructors.
    I wonder what teachers’ unions think about distance learning since it threatens to reduce the need for teachers?

  2. Hi Chris!
    Online courses are only effective when they are truly “Work at Your Own Pace” — many online courses make the mistake of requiring attendance like an in-person class at a certain time and that takes away all the power and poetry of working online: You want to work when you wish to work.
    I see all schooling in American being from home connected to a computer for teaching and interaction. Students would communicate through video conferencing. No more students massed in classrooms. One instructor will serve all students with assistants doing standardized grading. It will robotic and a bit monotonous but we would much better guarantee a base level of learning across all of America.
    Teachers will HATE federalized mandatory online schooling and will fight it to the death and lose. It saves too much money, it offers the protection of true “equal access to information” and they will become the “assistants” that do the online grading. Their federal benefits will close down the need for a union and the teachers will take on their new role with happiness because they will be in the federal system and be able to work when they wish without being a slave to the class bell.

  3. I wonder if society will embrace having children at home during the day and instead of safely locked in their classrooms?
    I suspect that we’ll always have to have schools because there is too much demand for the daycare service schools provide for working families.

  4. Hi Chris —
    Well, I think this mandatory online schooling only makes sense if the children are in the home. Housing them in schools that are tombs with internet connections doesn’t make sense. I can imagine mom and dad working from home in the next room as their 9-5 job and if there’s any trouble or confusion a parent is right there and available to tutor or correct behavior. The world is going high-tech virtual and the real time human is dying.

  5. I can see telecommuting becoming more popular, especially with high gas prices.
    It might make sense to have people stay in their homes and do work (and students stay home), instead of spending more and more money for roads, refineries, alternative fuels, etc.
    When I’ve been able to do things telephonically, I’ve always jumped at the chance because it saves time and money. Courts are using video conferencing so they don’t have to transport prisoners to and from jail. Businesses are using the internet for meetings, instead of flying people to various places. It only makes sense, especially when it seems that gas will be $5.00/gallon in the not so distant future.

  6. Chris —
    Right! It will be the cost factor that places us in our homes for work and play and schooling.
    In California you can talk to a doctor virtually in some communities without going to an office — you still get billed the in-person rate and you still get a prescription and all your x-rays and other “paper” are digitized — and with remote robotic surgery becoming more and more real you can get the best guy in the country to fix your leg or do you transplant even if you live in the middle of nowhere.
    Taxes will be spent on redundant wiring for free internet access in all homes instead of paying teachers and buying school buildings. We can then spend money as needed instead of worrying about ongoing fixed infrastructure costs tied to inflationary influences we cannot directly control.

  7. Your questions, while provocative, assume one thing: Technology and people and the common needs will remain the same as they are today.
    Taking into account changes in miniaturization and food needs and work patterns, the future American schooling and workforce is hard to image. Labor-intensive jobs would be handled by machines while people are freed to think to pay their way in society.
    The family unit would be stronger and remain intact with parents unable to dump their children into daycare or the school house to work in a separate space.
    Connectivity would be federalized in all respects and the idea of working and schooling from “home” would likely need to change as computers and connections become smaller and thinner.
    In the Newer Age of Multi-tasking, and Time Shifting, one could have high-schoolers preparing fast food meals — if we’re still traditionally eating and not just swallowing a pill for nourishment — with one eye while “attending school” with the other.

  8. I never called it a Utopia. I don’t think it’s a Utopia at all if you closely read my article, but if one made certain decisions based on current technology, tax and schooling trends it isn’t unreasonable to see what I’m fearing will happen could become the everyday within 50 years.
    I don’t think the home will be a house as we know it today. I think the home will consist of wherever the family united is located. The home will consist of people once again and not a structure that binds them under one roof. The true power of technology is to allow people the freedom to roam as they wish while still being in the same shared constant frame-of-reference.
    I find it sad parents currently tire of their children and the aged are warehoused in nursing homes instead of living with the family. The dissolution of the connection between family members in favor of friends and acquaintances is one of the prices of industrialization that has not brought better things to the living.
    Children always take a lot of time and dedication. That’s the promise of their birth. As a parent your life no longer belongs to you. It belongs to your children.

  9. I’ve completed one online course, my job paid for a web design course. I enjoyed doing it at home fitting it in at times that were convienent [sic] for me. I would’ve prefered doing the same course in a classroom with other people to interact with and exchange ideas with.
    But to do that I would have had to work all day then go off to an evening class then commute back home, it would have tired me out.
    The other day on the radio (I thought it was NPR but cannot see any mention of the piece on their web site) I caught a bit of a piece they were doing on a bill allowing schools to offer over 50-60% of their courses online.
    With Congress lifting the rule that limits the number of students who would qualify for federal financial aid this could allow the institutions chance of making a much higher revenue than they normally would.

  10. Hi Mik!
    Thanks for sharing your online learning experiences! It sounds like it was set up in a good way. You do the work when you can and you hit your deadlines in any way you wish.
    You are quite right money — first a lack thereof and then a bountiful lot of — will drive the students out of the classroom and into the online learning arena. The Big Name Brands like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton and USC, Stanford, Berkeley and UCLA will all make out like bandits as students are not longer limited by geography for matriculation.

  11. Hello All!
    Online learning courses can be effective only if the students are really interested in learning. So, online courses can never really substitute the conventional form of education, when you are a kid. Kids need teachers to guide them into the way of learning.
    Ok, I am going with the premise that most of the kids do not study by themselves. So, they would need the guidance and the warmth of teachers. [assuming that you have a good, warm teacher :-D].
    Yes, parents can be of excellent help and they could probably substitute quite a lot of teachers as well.
    Once you are into a practice of learning by yourself and you are indeed interested in learning more of something [the interest, I stress being generated by you], online courses will be highly effective.
    Yet another thing that I’d like to point out maybe the inherent health hazards associated. If you are studying from home, in your own time, it would drastically affect the capacity of young students. They might become the couch potatoes that schools generally discourage.
    Your social skills might reduce. Come what may, you also learn to handle people of various types in school.

  12. I can see online courses as a way of addressing what is presently a pressing need in Illinois schools – outdated textbooks. A recent study showed that many of the textbooks in use today are up to 15 years old – a lifetime in this fast-moving digital age. The cost of getting updated textbooks into Illinois schools will be staggering.

  13. GP —
    I’m not sure if most students are “really interested in learning” be it online or in person.
    The fears you express assume the future will be identical to today. The structure of schooling and education will change and the infrastructure and thinking will be blended in the future creating a whole new frame of reference.