Education funding – how distance education could work

Our old friend Ivan Smith, retired teacher and citizen Internet pioneer, takes up the suggestion that distance education could play a big part in reforming Nova Scotia’s unaffordable education system:

  1. Identify a topic in grade 4 math (or grade 3 or 5) that currently is particularly troublesome for students. (This topic should be something that can be covered properly in not more than three or four class periods.)
  2. Identify four teachers, two male and two female, who have substantial experience in teaching this topic, and who have had results significantly better than average.
  3. Arrange for each teacher to teach this topic in front of a class while a camera crew (three cameras? four?) records audio and video. Each teacher covers the same material, preferably with no knowledge of how the others will present it.
  4. Do the post-production work to finish the four lesson sequences. (Maybe add a few graphics. Make sure that each lesson sequence will display properly on any browser…)
  5. Release all four simultaneously on the WWW — not restricted in any way, but available 24/7/365 for anyone anywhere to view at any time.
  6. Await test scores in following years.

How come we never hear ideas like this from school boards or the teachers’ union? Why can’t they get beyond ringing declarations of the sanctity of their budgets? Smith observes:

Of course, this is not a complete proposal; there are lots of details that need to be filled in, but the essential outline is as above. I choose this IT experiment because it is the core test. The other IT experiments are variations on this. If this is successful, the others will work. If this fails, that’s all folks.

However, the results of this experiment are already known. It was performed in the 1960s, as part of the U.S. response to Sputnik in 1957. It wasn’t “IT” then, but the main idea is the same. It was successful then, and it will be even more successful now with much better distribution system.

It can fail only if the project is assigned to someone who is unwilling or unable to understand the possibilities of the new IT world.

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