Sunday, November 23, 2014

Any Time, Any Place, Any Where

Every five years, we teachers have to accumulate enough continuing education points to renew our teaching certificate for the next five years.  We can get those points by physically attending classes or in-service trainings, but now many classes are offered online and are free. I have to renew soon, so I enrolled in an online class to get the necessary points.

The online class I’m taking sounds so appealing: free, work at your own pace, work at your leisure, interesting topic. I have from October until January 5 to get it all finished. I’ve got this covered, I thought.

Like most people who first get into a project or class, I was super excited to get started. I worked hard for the first couple of weeks and got everything in on time. I was feeling proud of myself because I was making great scores since the assessments are mostly essays, which is a piece of cake for an English teacher.

But then the reality of work deadlines, flu, and just life in general took precedence.  My momentum dropped to nil, and I didn’t work on the online class until I got a friendly reminder from my teacher. At that point, I fooled myself into thinking that I would get busy and finish a majority of the work; however, I collected research papers from my students that I had to grade and return. Now I’m behind again, and I think my Thanksgiving holiday with family will make the assignments even later.

Online learning sounds great. It is convenient and with free wi-fi available most places, you can literally work on the Internet anywhere.  Remember the TV ads for Pajama University? 

Many of the online courses available are free, as well, which makes them attractive. Also, the variety of courses means there is something for everyone, for class credit, for your own information or just for fun. 

One site,, has a very inspirational statement on its home page: 
Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.  We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.
If you have ever dreamed of going to Yale, now’s your chance. Other universities offering classes which are taught by top professors are Emory, Georgia Tech, Duke, Peking University and of course, the University of Florida (“GoGators!” from proud Gator mom) to name a few.

Another well-known free online learning site is Khan Academy. Started by a man wanting to help his niece with math, Khan Academy has grown exponentially to include courses in just about everything. 

The institution has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the White House to provide online academic help to all ages. Khan Academy states that it offers “A free world-class education for anyone anywhere" and:
is an organization on a mission. We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. All of the site's resources are available to anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.

Khan Academy sounds great, and several of my students attest to the program being useful and easy to navigate.

The largest on-line instructor by far is Who hasn’t searched YouTube for tutorials in knitting, making balloon animals, clogging or repairing your 1976 BMW motorcycle? 

I use YouTube several times a week to show my students movie clips or when my granddaughter asks me how to do something. YouTube videos are posted by normal people who have the same issues that you do, which makes them easy to relate. 

Will virtual school take over and be the death of the tangible teacher and traditional classroom? I don’t know. In my 34+ years in the classroom, I’d like to say no; however, more and more classroom instruction is tied to online sites. Our new literature textbooks have online, interactive components which I assume are included to better engage students in learning. It’s the new way of going to the board and writing your answer.

The best/worst point of e-learning is that, for the most part, you have to teach yourself even if there is a teacher sending email reminders or calling once a month for a required phone conversation. Some people work better simply reading the material and answering the questions. Others, like me, enjoy the human, physical interaction in the classroom.

Success in an online class (like the one I should be working on right now instead of writing this post) rests on the student, just like education in the traditional classroom. With young adult and old adult learners, it’s their choice to stick with the program, suck it up and complete the work in the online class.

That’s just what I have to do.