I was recently contacted by a teacher who was looking for my opinion on the place of online revision in school. My initial response is below.
What do you feel is the role of education in technology?
Actually, I think this question is arranged opposite what I expected. For me, educational objectives always drive the use of technology. Technology itself doesn’t sit “outside” education. One of Mishra and Koehler’s arguments in their chapter on “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge“, a framework for understanding the place of technology in education, is that the word ‘technology’ can be applied to almost any tool used by a teacher to impart knowledge or lead students through the process of understanding.
Given that idea, I think the role of education (or pedagogical content knowledge) in technology is that it informs a few things:
- A clear understanding of the goals of the course and lesson constrain which tools are chosen.
- Time constraints demand that the technology chosen be dependable enough to recede into the background, so that it does not distract from the learning process.
- Cultural goals (the creation of a civil, literate, compassionate society, for example) drive educators to engage students using tech tools and experiences that are familiar to them, not because of the technologies per se, but because teachers have always used relevant examples in order to lead students to more transcendent understandings.
Do you feel that online writing instruction could be as effective as the traditional classroom?
I think we need to decide whether we’re talking about online-only instruction or an augmented, blended writing instruction. The U.S. Department of Education released a report in May of 2010 that was a meta-analysis of online learning studies. These reports tended to view online instruction and face-to-face instruction as equals, but the interesting piece was the marked difference in the achievement of students who had a blended learning experience, where face-to-face work was augmented through online follow-up. I have heard of (though not yet seen), additional studies that support the efficacy of a blended approach and rate online-only solutions below face-to-face. Either way, it seems the growing consensus is that a “traditional” approach alone is not helping students nearly as much as a blended approach to learning.
Do you feel that online revisions can be as helpful as revisions face to face (pen, paper, and conversation?)
Research has shown that it’s difficult to negotiate meaning through text alone. It’s something that most of us know anyway, if we’ve ever hit the send button a bit too quickly, but I don’t think this negates online revisions as helpful. On the contrary, I think posting work online allows more revision opportunities, and Google has even upgraded their commenting features to accommodate negotiation more easily. With on-demand revision opportunities, a creator could see an increase in the number of comments as well as an increase in the depth of those revision suggestions. Since I, as a reviewer, have a longer time to respond to the text, it’s quite possible I’ll think of a better solution a number of hours later than our original face-to-face conversation.
That said, I don’t think online revisions replace face-to-face interactions. There’s just too much about the human experience (especially the adolescent human experience) that needs as many other “referential anchors” as possible.
What are the advantages of online revision?
Addressed to some degree above. Here’s a list:
- Number of possible reviewers increase when a work is published online
- Reviewers can access a work at times convenient to them, which improves the probability that comments will be contributed
- Comments may be more in-depth, given that reviewers have more than one chance to view a work
- Revisions are visible (at least in Google Docs), and accessible for review as the work progresses
What are the disadvantages of online revision?
Also somewhat addressed above. A list:
- Only one channel of communication – text – and it’s without tone, so negotiation of meaning is tough
- The back and forth communication of creator and reviewer often accomplishes clarity in much less time than online revision
For me, the upshot of thinking through this is a deeper commitment to a blended solution for kids. I don’t think we’ll run out of need for physical, face-to-face teaching. But I don’t think we can somehow discount that a portion of all of our lives is now online – for good or ill. Bringing that into the classroom – with all it’s problems as well as its benefits – is just a part of being teachers in the year 2011.