Isolated Learning


Some years ago I needed to take two academic courses in order to be a certified teacher in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth did not regard my forty years of varied levels and positions in education as adequate. So, to advance my career, I signed up for a course on curriculum with Phoenix University. After all, one of the assistant principals I worked under displayed his graduate degree diploma from Phoenix in his office. I paid my $600 and bookmarked the course site on my home computer.

The teacher was in Georgia, some students lived in Virginia, some in New Jersey, and others across the country.  I purchased the on-line books, did the required reading and learned how to do a web search, and wrote the required assignments. On a few occasions I would discuss teaching issues with a classmate, remark about another student’s post, or read a post about one of my comments. Every dialogue was over the computer. No human contact. Each of us, even the teacher, was locked in our individual sphere.

Learning is a social experience. It is best when dialogue occurs in a personal space that is shared with other learners and a teacher or a facilitator. To be isolated at a machine surrounded by others at their machine impedes a vein of learning. Too many schools are giving too much work via the computer and isolating their students from the teacher and each other. In my mind, they are missing out on a fine resource—peers and teacher.

I am not suggesting that schools return to the days of Professor Gradgrind, but I suggest that the computer is being granted too much power in the learning of our children. The computer should be treated as what it is—a tool like books, paper, pencils, and so on, but I fear it has become a tool of convenience. In the graduate course from Phoenix University that I participated in, we were required to do web searches on various topics. How much easier that was than when I was a student in graduate school years before. Then, I had to search for information by talking with a research librarian, look through books, and read. And sometimes, I discovered that what I had read was not accurate, so I began again. It was work that took time that I could not schedule at my convenience because the classes met at particular times, and the library had scheduled hours. With the Phoenix course, I could work at 2am if I wanted to, and, yes, that has some advantages for people who are single parents or work full time. I applaud those people and admire their spunk to earn three credits.  However, a full degree earned in this manner is less than one earned by having to take a class at an inconvenient time or schedule visits to a library during its hours or sit with a teacher and other students to give and gain in a discussion.

We have made, or attempt to make, so much of our modern lives a convenience. But life, like work, is a four-letter word that we have, I fear, marginalized by our attempts to make better. So much of modern life is easier than before, and I do not, on the surface, object to that. After all, I am writing this by a computer, not a quill. However, I suggest that we have gone too  much to one side in many facets of our lives, and we have given our children the impression that they can have  anything they desire. I think my friend Mark gives his wrestlers good advice when he says about life and work, “When’s the last time you go to fun?” He then uses drill and practice and, yes, videos, to teach that success comes through honest work.

Paul writes that we should “Be anxious for nothing….”, and I think his words to the Philippians are as true today as when he penned his letter. By isolating our students or ourselves behind too many screens, we shut out the world, becoming anxious, and locked in our own heads. Anxiety can only follow our aloneness.

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