School Candidates Discuss Online Learning (Patch)

An interesting interview with the three School Committee candidates on online learning models like Khan Academy.

Long and short: we’ve got one strong “Yes” one “Maybe” and one “I need to think about it.”

First: the “maybe.” Candidate Anne Lougee is intrigued by the idea of online learning models such as the Khan Academy (which combines at home lessons online with in class “modules” that teachers supervise. But wonders about how it might be practically and fairly implemented in Belmont. All good questions.

As for the “Yes!!” Pascha Griffiths is a strong proponent of Khan and notes  that it offers some real advantages over the tried and true (and worn out): lecture in school, practice at home, while also giving students information in a format (YouTube videos) that they can relate to and work at their own pace to master. School time is then about honing what they’ve learned at home. She’s also the only candidate to note (thank you) that online models offer some relief to cash strapped districts like Belmont, which has already phased out the use of substitute teachers at the High School level for lack of funds. Pascha, like Anne, recognizes that the devil is in the details with any program like this – but thinks a pilot program offers lots of upside to Belmont with very little downside.

Matt Sullivan appears concerned with equal access: how will kids without computers at home use such a model. Its a fair question, but more or less a moot one in Belmont. According to Steve Mazzola, IT Director of the BPS, the percentage of students with access to a computer at home is well over 90%. (Steve and I discussed a “free laptop” type program 18 months ago). That’s not 100%, but shouldn’t be an obstacle to looking at online learning and more tech-centric education. After all, the District could easily provide refurbished/donated laptops to the small number of students who don’t have them should it decide to go with a model like Khan. Matt notes (correctly) that “nothing can replace teachers in the classroom.” True, of course, but Khan doesn’t suggest that. Rather, as Pascha noted, it merely allows teachers to stop acting like talking heads at the front of the class and start working like mentors and tutors – helping students on an individual basis to master what they can’t learn on their own. Great question, Patch!

Check all the responses in their entirety here:  Question of the Week: School Candidates Discuss Khan Academy – Belmont, MA Patch.