The focus of this chapter was on the demand and growth of online courses and programs being offered by a range of educational institutions. I found the history and statistics about the soaring number of students of all ages taking online classes interesting. I had the opportunity to attend a session on OpenCourseWare while at the technology institute. There is a huge push for free online education. Universities are putting their materials and lectures online for the public which has also opened opportunities for completely free online classes. Huge numbers of students have signed up for these free classes, and this is what I find to be the truly neat consequence of all of this, students began organizing themselves into online study communities on their own. The pursuit of life-long learning in its finest hour. Students pursuing knowledge without anything to gain besides the knowledge itself. The goal of every teacher to instill a love of learning realized.
The themes that the students and teachers credit the online learning experience with are self-initiative, communication, organization, empowerment, creativity, self-expression, meaningfulness, and individuality. Not to mention all of the benefits of crossing the country and the world to a variety of cultural and geographic perspectives. Looking at that list makes me think of the qualities I would want any of my students to walk away from my classroom with to continue learning for the rest of their lives.
Bonk writes, "There is no one best technology and no one best instructional approach." I feel that education often latches on to the newest fad, the program with the best promises, the newest catch phrases, and of course anything with an acronym. I think that it's easy to become blinded by the next shiny thing that emerges. It's easy to use technology as a replacement, rather than a tool. Instead of handwriting that paper type it. Instead of using the dictionary, look it up on your computer. One of the teachers that Bonk talks about, Yong says, "When we start something new, we should try innovation instead of fixing the old." I'm not sure that we can fully imagine the scope of what we are capable with through online education. Bonk shares the story of the young girl who goes on a sailing trip with her family and how she is able to incorporate authentic learning experiences with her online course work. How many times have we modified our curriculum work when our students approach us with those life experience opportunities? How valuable is it for our students to be able to reach for those materials and courses with just a couple clicks of a mouse?
The chapter discusses many successful schools that have implemented extensive online opportunities for their students. The Florida Virtual School is one such instance offering K-12 online education. The president and CEO, Julie Young, had a fantastic quote about the role of the educator in the online world. "Part of my passion as an educator is to help other educators understand how vital it is that we be willing to pioneer within this new "open" world on behalf of our children... We have to be willing to provide the maps and the compass so that when they get out into this new world of instant access, they will have guideposts, warning signs, and even a moral compass to keep them on a productive path." As Bonk also says later "Online, a teacher is a teacher is a teacher."
Also a quick plug for FreeRice.com since it was mentioned in this chapter. My students love the format and concept of this website. I encourage them to use it in their free time and they love answering the questions while knowing they're contributing to a cause. Education, entertainment, and a way to change the world all rolled into one :)