Weekly column by Loretta Redd
Assemblyman Das Williams may find himself if a squeeze as both a life-long friend to unions and a champion of improving education.
There is a cyber revolution coming to the classroom, though not everyone is joyful about the change. In the world of K-12, we have children who have grown up using a Smart phone as a pacifier, who look to computers for information like we looked to Big Bird on Sesame Street, and for whom the internet is a source of worldwide multicultural connection.
Public education, once the sacred ground of democrats, has been suffering greatly in the hands of political budget cutbacks, while teacher unions blame anything but themselves for some abysmally performing public schools. While the revolution in online learning allows classrooms to customize coursework and frees instructors to spend time with individuals rather than teaching to the masses, some union representatives perceive this potential as a threat .
The Wall Street Journal says that the wave of cyber education “…will bring about a massive and cost-saving substitution of technology for traditional labor. That means fewer teachers per student…it’ll be far more difficult for unions to organize…and much more diversity in educational offerings where money and jobs will flow out of the regular schools and into new providers of online options.”
Much of education in the early school years is memorization of content. Why not do all that we can to individualize that process while making it both interesting and entertaining? Used wisely, technology can enhance the educational experience. Socrates once declared that writing would be the downfall of education, insisting that memorization was the only valid form of learning.
If we’d stopped with the Socratic method, we wouldn’t even have wax tablets, much less Wikipedia at our fingertips.
With on-line instruction, children can advance at their own pace, repeating challenging concepts without delaying the whole class, and homework either becomes irrelevant or an extension of online instruction where parents can assist. Teacher of the Year, Dos Pueblos math instructor, Kelly Choi has “flipped ” standard instruction methods. She has students watch online videos as homework, then in class, where they apply the video to the math assignments, she can work with them individually
From high school to college, the benefits and savings grow even greater. While the socialization in K-12 remains an important a factor for development of such social skills like cooperation, sharing, fairness, and working in groups, the campus based experience in college is less so. Many urban universities have thousands of students; it is a rarity to have two classes with the same person. Massive lecture halls are common and no one checks your homework, so self-motivation becomes a necessity of performance.
Santa Barbara City College, whose required lecture courses fill up in the first hours of open enrollment, create a bottleneck of opportunity, sometimes delaying graduation or transfer to a four-year institutions. According to Assemblyman Williams, now Chair of the Higher Education Committee, less than 54 percent of California degree seekers complete their Bachelor’s in six years.
While enrollment in our State community colleges dropped to a 20-year low due to budget slashing of classes and professors, the University of California chapter of the American Federation of Teachers remains resistant to online education. According to union president, Bob Samuels, they prefer to “use our collective bargaining power to make sure that this move to distance education is done in a fair and just way for our members.”
Samuels fears losing “classes taught by lecturers.” That’s almost funny, because most auditorium-sized lecture halls I’ve ever been in rarely have the brightest and the best of educators at the podium. By lectures’ end, the majority look like giant bedrooms with students either on their phones, or covered in sleep-drool.
According to Inside Higher Education, Samuels wants a provision barring campuses from creating online courses that would result in “a change to a term or condition of employment ” of any lecturer without first dealing with the union. “We feel that we could stop almost any online program through this contract.”
And he’s proud of that?