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Anniversary Book Project


Modeling the Virtual Classroom:

The Coming Battle Over Outsourced Education (and What Teachers & Schools Can Do To Stay Relevant)

By: Dan Mylotte Creative Commons License: CC BY-NC-ND Author contact: danmylotte@gmail.com

Author Biography: Dan Mylotte is a technology integration specialist, musician/music teacher, and multi-media artist in Buffalo, NY. As part of the IT staff at Oracle Charter School he has been on the front line of an effort to virtualize classrooms for the 24/7 always on digital universe. He is in the early stages of cofounding a consulting group that will train schools in crafting a fully digital branded curriculum with professional-quality student media departments. As a musician he has made music for film, tv, and record labels in addition to performing live throughout the U.S. Dan is a recipient of a John Lennon Songwriting Award and a graduate of the Berklee College of Music. You can hear some of his music at www.soundcloud.com/ mwstudio. Activity Summary
Curriculum revamp to make schools into their own media centers focused on the branded production of their teachers content. Create custom online learning environments that pre-empt efforts to outsource teaching to online content providers. Class or subject area: Online Learning/Media Production Grade level(s): 5-12 Specific learning objectives: Digitizing curriculum Media program development Creation of branded online learning environments

Youre Blockbuster. Im Netflix. You have built-in costs that are non-existent in my business model. We staff and heat/power a few offices, warehouses, servers, and distribution centers while you have a sprawling infrastructure reaching into every corner of the nation with thousands of employees. See where Im going with this? Now transpose this example onto public education. Youre a school district. Im an online educational course content provider - say... Pearsons NovaNet if you need an example. Fill in the blanks. But They Cant... At this point (assuming youre involved with traditional education in some way) youre going to rush to the defensive and start assembling your arguments for why this could never happen. And those arguments are so solid (youre convinced) that you can dismiss this scenario categorically. It simply cant happen. We need schools because _________ and you can never replace those with the internet. But indulge me for a minute and imagine the upper management meetings at Blockbuster when some poor (but far-sighted) employee posed these same questions and was told Itll never happen! You expect people to wait for their movies in the mail?! And so they failed to anticipate the need to shift their product offerings and their position in the market to respond to the pressure of competition. It was easier to ignore the problem and fall back on their established dominance. When they did respond, it was too late. Its Economics, Dummy First question: How long do we have before budget departments realize that the day has come for outsourcing education? This paper is not about posing the arguments for and against such a move. Trust me, those are forthcoming. As tech-centric educators we may find ourselves sitting on the fence in some regards. We may recognize that there are indeed benefits to delivering more of the curriculum in some digital form and, obviously, we have been pioneering these approaches for years. Next question: is the school model really worth saving? This paper is not about that question either but its an important one to ask. And it is being asked. See Seth Godins manifesto entitled Stop Stealing Dreams: What is School For? for a great primer on the questions that the world of education should be discussing over the coming years. What this paper is about, is the ways that we can use technology to brand ourselves and our schools as our own online content providers instead of farming this out to the lowest bidders. In the process we must necessarily discuss efficiency, logistics, new skill sets, and begin to question some of the long-upheld axioms of education. The time to do this work is now, before the specter of budget-cutting looms ever-larger over a system that is already stressed beyond its capacity and possibly even beyond its useful life, thereby forcing the hands of those from whose pens the budgets flow.

Less Training = Lower Wages The concepts of compulsory education and truancy are pretty well-entrenched in our society. My prediction is that attendance at a brick-and-mortar school building will be the last fortress to fall in the battle of outsourcing. I could make the argument that perhaps it should be the first, considering the staggering costs of maintaining facilities. But old habits die hard, and monitoring the progress of students without them being present is going to be enough of a dilemma to foil early attempts at dissolving the school-in-a-building model that has been with us since the beginning. The alternative is to channel some number of students and courses into an online learning environment that is accessed in a classroom. Of course, its likely that this access will be allowed (and encouraged) take place elsewhere in addition to that classroom, but probably not instead of that classroom. What component has been eliminated in this scenario? The teacher. A highly trained teacher and their associated salary is obsolete when really all you need here is a monitor. The monitor may have to be adept with some of the technical aspects of using the system, and they will undoubtedly be charged with maintaining order and discipline in the class. But they certainly do not need to be masters of the content. Is this the same as saying we dont need any teachers at all? No, they arent going to vanish instantly, but you can pack a lot of students into a computer lab and there are plenty of courses that are quite conducive to this model and plenty of schools that are already using it. When those students are plugged into headphones and buried in screens for the bulk of their time you are going to see somewhat fewer discipline issues anyway. Now we have a situation where we can probably eliminate one or two (and maybe considerably more) salaried teaching positions for every hourly-wage monitor hired and roomful of computers purchased. What Still Works? Now you can start your defensive arguments for why schools cant be eliminated. Some of them are undoubtedly valid. Some of them might be biased or even delusional. You dont need me to tell you what they are. School has some value, some of the time, for some portion of students. Other times, not so much. Heres where we can start outlining places that we can use our skills and innovations, take a page from the online competitors, and start making ourselves into our own online providers. We need to figure out what the online model is good at and start using it to plug the holes where we find the things that schools arent good at, or used to be good at but have since become bloated relics. Along the way we need to talk about how this is going to save money (because the bosses like that part) and why this is good for kids, teachers, schools, parents, and pretty much everyone (preferably without making that conversation also about the money because when it comes down to it, money is not a good enough reason). Stretched Thin I try to stay abreast of interesting developments in tech ed and deliver useful innovations to teachers who are interested in trying something new. Time after time, I see ways that they can use some new tool to do something more efficiently, be more engaging, more organized, more dynamic, more collaborative, or more pertinent to the real world. But when it comes to the part where the teacher needs to invest their time in the training and adoption phase for that new technology there is always a huge drop-off in interest and follow-through. Teachers have enough on their plates. New tool = more

work. They have a hard time getting past that part, and understandably so. Add to that the fact that the average teacher has learned something one way - the way they were taught. It takes a real innovator to step outside that experience, to objectify, and ask if there isnt a better or alternative way. Therefore, the best selling point for a teacher (aside from the threat of unemployment, obsolescence, etc.) is that their job is going to be made easier. Eventually. But first there is going to be that training and adoption phase. Its up to schools and parents to support and encourage teachers while they are still figuring out how this whole paradigm shift is going to look for them, in their classrooms, with their kids. The Efficiency of the Broad-Cast Content that is meant for everyone in the course should not be delivered individually or even in groups. Its that simple. If it applies to everyone and it can be digitized then it must be digitized and delivered on the web, universally accessible from any computer or mobile internet device. Digitize your delivery and youve just saved yourself a lot of talking, paper handling, or catching up kids that lost their materials or were absent. The online systems have figured out how to deliver most courses this way. We can, too. If you have a one-to-one computing environment this is wonderfully simple. You just steal the online model for all the content delivery BUT you make sure that the content is YOURS. If theres video, its YOUR face delivering YOUR content in YOUR classroom. All the content should work this way. Its your same assignment, its just not on paper. Youre branding your content. Its the same thing you taught before, but its not on paper and youre not spending as much time talking unless its to engage a dialog. Ultimately you do not want to use class time for anything that isnt engaging, collaborative, dynamic, compelling, or hands-on. Everything else should go to the web to be done anywhere but in the classroom. Now your lecture is on video and your assignment is a Google form or its Socrative responders giving automatic feedback on comprehension to initiate dialog. Do you want a paid, modular platform like Moodle? Can you build the whole system on a free platform? Its not imperative that you have a computer for every student in every class but it would be nice if things started heading that way for more of us. One of the first benefits youll notice is that re-teaching is going to occupy a great deal less time. A kid who mostly understands the topic really just needs to play that video again. A special needs student might need that video twenty times and they can get it, without as much intervention from other teachers. Everything is on the web! So excuses for missed work will be non-existent. Well... maybe not. Kids have no shortage of creativity there. Organization should get easier because managing hard drives (with proper backups!) is a lot easier than managing reams of paper. Have you ever asked the accounting departments how much a copier costs? Instead we can funnel those resources into production equipment for the digital world: not just computers but video and audio equipment, graphics software, web design tools. Yeah But Im a Teacher Not A... Right. Youre not a digital content producer. You dont shoot video and edit it. You dont make

websites. You might, however, have a bunch of Word documents that youve in turn printed and handed out. Well, were you an expert in word processing the first time you typed a paper? And didnt you manage to figure out some pretty tricky stuff deep in those Word menus? You can do the same thing with other media. Its just a question of whether or not you see those skills as being relevant or necessary for your job. You were told that word processing was a fact of life for students and that held true as you became a teacher as well. Were just talking about a different set of competencies now. And those Word docs are a fine place to start. Theyre already digital! Adapt or die. It has already happened in almost every other industry. Just look at any of the other examples of industries that have seen upheaval in the wake of the internet revolution. There are so many cases where local and personal have been replaced by something on the web, something huge and impersonal, but cheap, or even free. So in the short term, you can develop some new skills to get moving in this direction. In the long term there are huge opportunities for schools that are ahead of the curve. Digital Powerhouse Youve got a building full of free labor for your digitization efforts. I cant think of a more far-reaching way to integrate technology while leveraging real-world skills than to create a curriculum where the students are the producers for their teachers content. Create a new department of media. Fill it with enough courses to produce a digital library of course content for your other departments that is constantly evolving. Think of how much extra exposure the student is getting to the course material! If she is sitting in front of an editing screen going back and forth over a splice point for a science lecture she is probably going to have that topic burned into her brain for at least a little while. All this material needs to live on a website. Who is going to build it? Students, of course. Web design is a crucial skill set in the 21st century. WYSIWYG web editors are out there. Free! Google Docs for Education gives you that and free email and tons of other stuff to enhance your digital workplace. If you want to get more involved then teach Dreamweaver, HTML5, or server-side programming and database languages. These are marketable skills. It may not even be a leap to say that these programs would actually be attractive to students. Ill go a step further and say that these skills are likely to do far more to prepare a student for the workplace than the vast majority of their other studies. Fine Print Of course, a change on that scale requires an awful lot of administrative buy-in. The early adopters have to sell an idea like this and they are going to have to back up sales pitches with data. I dont have that data and you probably dont either. But someone needs to get it and it will probably have to come from small pilot programs run by visionary educators - visionary educators who are willing to take on the work of being their own content producers. At Your Fingertips We really do have the world at our fingertips now that the former scarcity of knowledge has been so rapidly supplanted by an abundance of knowledge. As teachers, we need to make sure we are not making ourselves obsolete but instead cement our places as the point of contact between students and learning. A computer is not going to do a good job of this. A computer is not going to instill passion, dreams, and drive. But somewhere along the line that will cease to matter if someone can

demonstrate conclusively that you can replace x number of teachers with computers and test scores will actually go up as a result while costs go down. This argument is waiting right on the horizon. We should be ready for that moment with programs already implemented. Then we can start having the more challenging discussions about what we are really preparing kids for and whether the system and concepts of school have kept up with the demands and needs of the real world. It should be glaringly obvious that they have not. But a computer is not going to fix that problem. In fact, its not even going to put up an argument when curriculum becomes obsolete. And I dont imagine theyll ever unionize. Or take days off. Or ask for a raise...