8. Collapsing Time and Distance
Video: Pesident and Chief Executive Officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Susan Patrick describes why online distance learning is important.
“This is a new global era of needing to provide a world-class education for all students,” said Patrick, adding that forty percent of American high schools, particularly those afflicted by poverty, offer no advanced placement classes.
Virtual education, practiced now in 32 states, is the only way many students will have access to classes that can prepare them for college. Two million American students are currently enrolled in some form of virtual education program, and hundreds of thousands of them are receiving their entire education virtually, according to Patrick.
Dr. Joseph Morton, Alabama State Superintendent of Education, has overseen the advent of virtual education in the state. CNN featured that program as well, showing teacher Dene Carter broadcasting lessons into multiple classrooms at the same time (LINK). Morton says that rising test scores demonstrate the program’s power.
“Teacher training is a huge issue,” Patrick said. “Teachers with years of experience have to be retrained.” Mostly, she said, teachers have to learn how to use technology, approach collaboration as a mindset, and become familiar with “more authentic forms” of performance assessment.
Digital learning environments can be extremely simple or very complex. The real extent of virtual education, however, has only just begun to be explored and is only limited by imagination.
Interactive media means that students can explore and create environments that transcend physical limitations, including how any object or process works. Instead of reading about abstract visual concepts, even mathematical ones, students can experience them firsthand in a previously impossible way.
It is even possible to bring the living ghost of an entire lost civilization back to life in three dimensions. The Federation of American Scientists constructed a virtual version of ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq, where writing was invented.
Image source: A quest to virtual ancient Mesopotamia is included in this 2009 graphic novel by Rita J. King.
Virtual ancient Mesopotamia was recreated from authentic archeological data and objects collected from the region over time. The environment includes a candlelit archive room, the stone walls of which glow as they protect baskets of cuneiform tablets first created in the mid-4th millennium BC. In the physical world, surviving tablets cannot be handled. In a virtual environment, however, explorers can enlarge the tablets to see the actual texture of a stylus pressed into clay to capture the first written language. The oldest texts come from the temple dedicated to the goddess Inanna at Uruk, which has also been recreated in Virtual Ancient Mesopotamia to demonstrate the history of the cradle of civilization.
Entire Mesopotamian marketplaces have been reconstructed for learner interaction. Visitors can ask questions of ever-present digital docents scripted with extensive knowledge of the environment and its context. This content has been expertly created by builders working closely with subject matter experts including archaeologists and historians.
When such technology is used to foster education, the creativity that emerges can be staggering, turning students from passive consumers of technology to creators, thus preparing them to participate in the 21st century economy while educating them, even in areas of core competency.
The National Science Foundation recently supported a $3m project for disabled students to focus on the development of STEM skills.