Teachers and parents have a role in online/blended education

I recently read this article Titled

Tablets Educate Ethiopian Kids Without Teachers

It was in point of fact fascinating and true.  However, I am concerned about the author’s spin.  The organization who shared this accomplishment, One Laptop Per Child  (OLPC), is not saying that these students learned better than they might have with a teacher to guide the experience and support their learning.  They are saying that in the absence of access to ANY type of education and teaching, the internet has a lot to offer.

However, having been at the forefront of the introduction of technological advances and the internet since day 1 of my teaching career, I have personally witnessed that access without prepared adults can be as detrimental as it is wondrous.  Yes, kids can organically learn at an amazing rate.  They can expand their minds and generate amazing work.

They can also learn how to construct a bomb, synthesize their own drugs, and view people who fornicate in a number of manners which they are likely not emotionally mature enough to process.

I am not a prude, by any means.  But I have serious concerns that OLPC did not make an effort to educate the parents of these village children.  They did not provide any guidelines about sharing of personal information and internet safety.  They did not make any efforts to provide native filtering in the laptops which might have been appropriate for the young children in this modern world.

In addition, the author suggests that the fact that children learned organically without instruction somehow means that their learning would not be enhanced by teachers as well.  Perhaps their definition of teacher needs to expand.

Who among the digitally native has never learned from a helpdesk, a discussion forum, a video tutorial?  All of those items are generated by teachers.  Perhaps not classroom teachers, but teachers.  Beyond that online schools provide chat instruction, video conference instruction and a variety of online distributed teaching models.  Because best practice suggests that even the most independent learners are more successful when they can tag up with expert help.  Call them tutors, mentors, teachers…whatever you like.  It is teaching and it can have a meaningful impact on learning progress.  I conclude with this quote from Bob Wise, Alliance for Excellent Education:

…even with the best technology, in the end you still need a great teacher. And when technology is used properly, the teacher becomes even more important.

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