SmartBlog on Education is shining a light on education technology innovations during May, exploring the latest products and tools and the hottest trends in ed-tech. In this blog post, English teacher Mike Saenz discusses the benefits of an online curriculum.
Let’s get this straight first; teachers teach, and the curriculum (whether it’s a textbook, or an online package) is a tool the teacher uses to teach. I make this point first because often when discussing the best form of curriculum, the teacher is left out of the equation. The question is essentially, “Does the student learn better out of a textbook or online?” This confuses education with self-education and imagines a student alone in a room with a notepad and a textbook or alone in a room with a laptop.
Fortunately, education properly achieved involves teachers. Among other things, the teacher critically examines the given curriculum, cuts some of the material, replaces it with others and finds supplemental materials to re-emphasize the material he finds most important. This is an essential function of the teacher. In order to ensure that the needs of his specific students are met, each teacher needs to be a mini-curriculum director for his students.
Notice that this essential teacher function remains the same in a “non-traditional” classroom model. If the teacher has a “flipped” classroom, blended-learning model, or any other imaginable model, the teacher must take great pains to make sure the material used consists of appropriate facts that can be properly integrated into the current context of knowledge for his particular students.
Since a role of the teacher is to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of his particular students, the curriculum modality (textbook or online platform) that gives the teacher the most flexibility often wins.
At Falls Career High School, we long ago switched to an online curriculum. We chose it because we have rolling enrollment, and an online curriculum allows our students to accelerate their progress if they are willing and able. It is rare that any two students are on the exact same lesson at the same time. An interactive model can offer instant feedback to the student quickly, solving many challenges. However, there are many other ways an online curriculum can benefit students.
Flexibility. In the past, the teacher would supplement, re-emphasize or replace parts of the textbook with outside materials to meet the needs of his students. The result was that the student was presented with a patchwork of potentially disparate materials. Online curriculum, through teacher authoring tools, allows us to integrate outside sources right into the course. The student is presented with a course that is a uniformly formatted whole. This may seem merely a matter of convenience, but in addition to his role as a mini curriculum director, the teacher is also a salesman. Presenting a product that is a well-integrated whole, every part of which the teacher can stand behind, creates a more confident educational environment for student and teacher both.
Multiple modalities. Our online curriculum offers informative videos, virtual science labs and other interactives, but not all of our students’ time is spent behind a laptop. At our school, students are reading print books, having peer-editing discussions, and doing presentations in front of classmates. These are all lessons we have seamlessly incorporated into our existing online courses. We’ve eliminated textbooks, not novels, plays and student interactions.
Real-time progress monitoring. Every time a student logs into our online system (whether at home or in school), he sees the progress he has achieved in the course, the number of lessons remaining and his grades for the course. This is also visible to his teachers and parents, so everyone is in the loop and working together. Oftentimes, in a textbook-based classroom, students are legitimately unaware of their progress and performance. With everything being graded by the teacher, the feedback loop can become too long. But an online platform can do much of the presenting and grading for educators, allowing us to maximize in-person instruction, focusing on support, feedback and discussion.
Transitioning from a textbook-based curriculum to an online curriculum is a significant change, but properly approached it needn’t be painful. Like with any new tool, educators will need to take the time to fully explore their new options that come with this format so they can adapt it to the needs of their students. For us, the time was well spent, and in the end, created a new and more powerful educational experience.
Mike Saenz is an English teacher and the English Department Head at Falls Career High School in Marble Falls, Texas. FCHS uses online curriculum from Odysseyware.
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