by MNOHS Executive Director Elissa Raffa
I’ve served on many education committees and have felt dismayed by how educators and policy makers describe online learning. Very often, they reveal the limits of their imaginations. We’re told that online learning “leaves behind the factory model of schooling, the passing bells and one-size-fits all lectures,”–yet almost everything is defined in terms of courses and content delivery. A student should be able to pull a course off the supermarket shelf anytime and anyplace, take the pretest, do the course work, take the post-test, and move on. Depending on ho
w far the speaker pushes the metaphor, a teacher may or may not be essential to this process, but other students? They are invisible! Irrelevant! In this model, consumption of educational products is individualized; students are “freed from the calendar.”
There are other models of online education, including project-based online schools that have no courses at all–and others that we have not yet imagined.
At MNOHS, we do have courses but our focus is not on content delivery. Our teachers begin by asking what students will create and how they will share it with others. Students enroll and move through their courses in cohorts. Inevitably some get ahead of or behind their classmates. Some need to finish early because this is their last credit before they start college; others get sick and need time to catch up. Because we work to accommodate these needs, bringing online students into meaningful contact with one another isn’t always easy. However, we keep working at it because we know that career readiness includes online collaboration and collaboration often happens on the calendar.
Rather than freeing students from the calendar, online education can teach them to manage choice and obligation, community and self, creation and consumption. Here are just a few ways that MNOHS students come together through web conferencing:
- Annual Show of Gifts and Talents
- Quarterly Kick-Offs
- Weekly class and advisory meetings
- Weekly student council meetings
- Weekly tech labs for sharing info and exploring together
- Daily time to hang out informally
- Occasional Speaking and Listening Workshop sessions to develop confidence, creativity, imagination, listening and speech skills
- Occasional focus groups and planning committees
Most of these are not required, or have a makeup option. Yet when students start to take advantage of these opportunities their learning becomes much richer!