Sunday, April 10, 2011

Online high school education: what happens when they get to college?

I've been wondering recently what happens in online high school classes, since that seems to be the least expensive and least common denominator solution wave of the future for a lot of cash-strapped states. Here's one example from the NY Times Education section:
Jack London was the subject . . . In a high school classroom packed with computers, [the student] read a brief biography of London with single-paragraph excerpts from the author’s works. But the curriculum did not require him, as it had generations of English students, to wade through a tattered copy of “Call of the Wild” or “To Build a Fire.”

[The student], who had failed English 3 in a conventional classroom and was hoping to earn credit online to graduate, was asked a question about the meaning of social Darwinism. He pasted the question into Google and read a summary of a Wikipedia entry. He copied the language, spell-checked it and e-mailed it to his teacher.

Okey-dokey, then! If your teacher is some kind of automated software, I guess you're good to go with that answer. If this is flagged for plagiarism by a real teacher (as the article suggests), how do you have a conversation with the student that is a learning experience rather than a punitive conversation if you can't meet face to face?

I'm concerned that these students who "learn" in this manner are in for a world of hurt when they get to college. What happens if they haven't been taught already that "copy and paste from Wikipedia" isn't acceptable as a methodology?

What happens when they're asked to analyze a text, construct an argument, compare points of view, write a coherent response to a question, or any of those other pesky critical thinking skills that college instructors insist are important and that are, some say, the reason students go to college in the first place?

I can think of a couple of things that could happen:

1) There'll be an even greater culture shock for first-year college students when their skills meet a college-level set of expectations ("But I got all A's in high school!").

2) There'll be an increase in the number of "readiness" or remedial or whatever the college chooses to call them courses, which research suggests (via Dean Dad) don't help as much as they should--unless the state is strapped for cash and decides that remedial courses or extra programs cannot be offered at all, leaving students without support.

3) There'll be pressure on college teachers to "recalibrate" their expectations to the new normal for what high school graduates can do in terms of writing and reading.

4) The students could step up in as-yet unseen ways that might surprise us now. Since they've already taken responsibility for their education by the self-paced learning online, they might be more amenable to the kinds of instruction that we offer.



Eileen said...

I'm seeing more of the first with my freshman as a grad TA at an R1 selective uni. The number of (English first-language) students I've had who either a. can't write even a comprehensible sentence or b. copy large chunks from wikipedia is mindboggling. As graders, we're also being pressured to recalibrate our standards for plaigerism because the hoops an instructor has to jump through to proove plaigerism multiply every year--the uni has a one-strike you're out rule on the books, but in practice it takes a pattern of three or more strikes in a single class to even give a student an F in the course.

Sorry for the bit of a rant--the majority of my experience is teaching freshmen in required courses they don't want to take, so I feel a bit jaded.

Anonymous said...

We already have events 1, 2, and 3 happenng. There are people who do event 4, but they tend to be over 30 -- people who had a good high school education and are using that as a jumping off point now that they are in college.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to say, about the #4 people -- the online component is, they were fine with books and papers, then in the hiatus between high school and college they acquired good online research skills.

Dr. Crazy said...

My high school best friend is a high school English teacher, and she has taught summer school online. A few things:

1) students in her district were required to have microphones so that they can "meet" with the instructor regularly.

2) Also, remember that high school teachers are in contact with parents as well as with students, and so when a situation like the one you described would come up (or any other performance issue) it's the obligation of the teacher to speak with both the student and the parents.

3) Online instruction in a high school context isn't really self-paced learning. It's actually pretty rigid.

The main problem HSBF had in her experience was that most of the students were ESL, so didn't really have the language skills to understand the assignments, and without in-person interaction, she had a hard time helping them.

This is a sample size of 1, but I do think that there are pretty major differences between online instruction in the high schools vs. what instruction online looks like at the college level.

Anonymous said...

Dr. C, that's interesting. I now realize, my homeschooled students have long done something like this for subjects their parents can't teach them. The results are stellar.

undine said...

Eileen, that's the kind of rule I hate: something that sounds draconian and "no tolerance" that's actually filled with loopholes. It may be true that a person is failed from a class with a 1-strike rule, but I've never seen it happen.

profacero, that's a hopeful sign if people really are using the online resources available effectively.

Dr. Crazy, thanks for telling us this. It's heartening to know that there are such supports available and that the HS version of online education is tailored to a students who need more structure.

Z said...

Qualification: I'd say *some* people are.