Is This the Beginning of the End of the Classroom?

The classroom.  It’s been the center of our learned universe for more than a century.

Within the four walls of the classroom, a teacher’s lesson might change a student’s life, a parent’s insight might help a teacher break new ground, and a textbook might help a student discover her life’s passion. But in a world of GoTo meetings and telework are traditional classrooms on their way out?

Across the country, a few school districts are experimenting with the idea of learn-from-home days. Like a hip technology startup with a liberal leave policy, a recent Education Week article describes how schools in at least three states are giving students the option to learn from home.

The idea isn’t exactly new. Virtual education has been around for years. In certain parts of the country, virtual snow days, where students stay home but still engage in discussions and turn in work online, are commonplace.

Now, education leaders are taking that concept a step further. Rather than use virtual or online learning as a substitute or make-good for lost classroom time, the idea is to compliment the traditional classroom experience with online add-ons, or useful alternatives.

During these “learn-from-home” periods, students often log in to an online portal and access assignments or participate in lessons with teachers and classmates. This includes a place online for community members to leave comments and offer feedback about their experiences.

So, why the shift in learning venue?

The changing world of work
For starters, proponents say less structured independent learning helps students prepare for the realities of a changing workforce. Recent reports estimate that 20 percent to 25 percent of U.S. workers telework regularly. With those kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see how students could benefit from the experience of learning outside the traditional classroom.

Meeting different learning needs
Today’s students process information and learn in entirely different ways. Thanks to the evolution of social media and other tools, students can follow a conversation or conduct online research in real time. The technology also gives shy or introverted students an additional outlet for academic participation.

Smarter use of limited resources
In budget-conscious school districts, the costs saved by not opening school buildings a few days a week, or by putting fewer buses on the roads each month adds up. In Farmington, Minn., for example, a series of virtual school days reportedly saved the district nearly $75,000, reports Ed Week.

While these early-stage programs have some upside, critics say there are enough potential drawbacks to warrant further investigation.

For instance, what happens when students are scheduled to learn from home, but their parents have to work? Does learning from home give students an excuse to withdraw socially? Do such programs further underscore the inequalities that exist between the haves and have-nots in American education? Some students still don’t have computers or an Internet connection from home.

These are important questions—and among several of the biggest reasons why the learn-from-home movement is still in its nascent stages.

But that shouldn’t stop school leaders from beginning to think about how these changes might impact teaching and learning down the road. Learn-from-home days could forever change the way that students and teachers communicate.

Instead of face-to-face conversations, some educators might rely more heavily on email and “always-on” listening to meet students online at different times, day or night.

Is your school or district considering the idea of learn-from-home days? If so, has it given any thought to the changing nature of teacher-student communications? What tools are you using to keep those lines of communication open? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for a solution to connect students and teachers 24/7, from anywhere? Here’s one way to ensure that students and teachers stay connected.

Author: Todd Kominiak

Todd Kominiak is Managing Editor of TrustED.

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