There’s an old Pink Floyd song that goes like this:
We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.
Teacher, leave them kids alone.
Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone.
If you don’t know who Pink Floyd is, go text your dad. If he’s old enough to know, then he’s probably of a generation where taking a class meant being in a bricks & mortar school, sitting in an intentionally uncomfortable desk, and listening to a teacher lead a mostly one-way lecture. If the teacher had to step out of the classroom, it would not be unusual for pandemonium to break loose and any semblance of learning to go out the door with her. So it comes as no surprise when some parents are skeptical that students can learn without a teacher being present in the same room. They just can’t imagine how online classes for high school students can work for their child. The reality is that online courses can work really well if you have at least three crucial ingredients:
Experience matters, whether you’re talking about education, medicine, law, or any field where learning through doing makes a huge difference in the quality of outcomes. With online high school courses, as with traditional classes, curriculum experience is key. Remember that curriculum is not just about what topics are covered and in what order. It’s not just a list you can cobble together from Google searches. The best curricula are developed over extended periods with real student feedback and are time tested to have actually worked in physical classroom settings.
A good curriculum is also determined by how the material is presented. Are the lessons designed in an engaging way that invites the student to be part of the learning process? Or is it more like reading a lecture with a few colorful graphics tossed in? Having the experience to know how to pull students in can make the difference between a child who wants to stay focused on the lesson on screen and a child who is willingly distracted by the latest updates to their friend’s Facebook page.
Sophisticated Real-time Feedback
Okay, so now you think you’ve found a program with a good curriculum that has proven over time to be effective with real students. Next question: Can your child access the knowledge in a way that mimics the natural interactive style of humans? Or is he simply being shown a series of multiple choice questions without any catalyst to stimulate critical thinking? A good indicator would be if the technology, whether it’s a Web site or a software program, was developed to anticipate where students might stumble. This is another place where having taught the same curriculum to real students in a real classroom is a huge benefit to program developers.
Naturally, you will also want the technology to be designed with interactive features that provide immediate feedback to students when they need it. It would be like having a teacher right next to you saying, “Not quite, try again,” before you botch the rest of you work with an early mistake. Wouldn’t it have been great if when you were in school, you could find out right away instead of days later if your homework was wrong so that you’d have more time to correct your thinking before the test? (I hear you now, “That could’ve been me at Harvard!”) Speaking of tests, be sure that you have online access to your child’s scores for assignments and tests so that you and your child can monitor his progress.
Live Help Available in a Timely Manner
Sometimes, you just need a human touch. Like when you’ve exhausted the automated telephone menu and you just need to dial ‘0’ to reach the next customer service representative who will be with you shortly. Or in most cases, not so shortly. You’ll want to look for a program where each student is assigned a real instructor who monitors the student’s progress and is available for questions. Make sure that you can contact the teacher by phone or by email. The best programs have instructors and technical support available in some form seven days a week, including evenings. And if you do come upon a new situation that requires live help, program developers will be very thankful that you brought it to their attention because it helps them improve the online experience for you and future students.
Now that I finished writing this blog post, I have no idea how those Pink Floyd lyrics are relevant other than when the topic came up, the song popped into my head and now I can’t get it out!
What other features would you want to see from a provider of online courses?