Friday, March 4, 2016

The Space Where I Currently Stand...

My Statement of Purpose -- Application for PhD Program

Opportunities for online and digital education are vast and continually expanding. This should be a win/win for our students; after all, they now have more variety in course offerings and more freedom to pursue their passions before they graduate high school and enter college or begin careers. And yet—as I watch my students opt out of traditional classrooms in order to take classes online—my heart sinks. One of my senior students, Jill, illustrates the promise and peril of online education. A bright and driven student, she took her junior-level high school English class online last year so that she could be in a business program during the hours that junior English was offered. She was able to take the business courses and get a head start on her future college goals; however, this year, in my Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition class, Jill is struggling. She has said, multiple times, that she “learned nothing” in online English last year. She “doesn’t know how to write.” She “feels so far behind” the other students in the room. She “didn’t have to read a book” during the entirety of her online English class, and she “never got feedback from the instructor.” Jill is right -- she didn’t learn how to become a better writer last year, and she is miles behind her peers this year.

When I was discussing online classes with a colleague during passing time, another student (who also happens to be in my AP class) overheard and blurted out, “online classes are the devil! They’re horrible! I had three last semester and two this semester…I learn nothing, I procrastinate, I get overwhelmed, I do a crappy job on everything. I hate them!”

So, while Michigan’s legislation 21F demands that all students in grades 6-12 are able to take any two classes of their choice online per semester from any education provider they choose, the reality is that students who are taking classes online are struggling. Currently, our district’s pass rate for online courses is 63%. A 2014 study released by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute found a 73% increase in the total number of online course enrollments in the state, but only a 57% pass rate at the time of the study (Watson, 2015).

In our district, in order to compete with the online course offerings, save money, save our own jobs, and raise student engagement, district and building mandates are continually being given by our administration. We have been challenged to “meet the students where they are” and offer them a new, modern format to our traditional seat-time classes. New technologies are presented as “game-changing” -- but the changed game doesn’t seem to be directly benefiting the students. We were encouraged to flip our classrooms as the solution to all of our engagement problems. The subsequent conversations in the teacher’s lounge now included discussions of equity and access for our students…but, ultimately, we had to admit that our students’ levels of engagement didn’t seem to change. Then, “blended learning” was offered as the solution. As more classes moved to a blended format, the workload for teachers increased…but the engagement by students remained stagnant. 

As I watch my colleagues give daily multiple choice formative assessments in order to have data-driven differentiated instruction and provide competency-based education, my heart sinks further. The joy is gone. The student engagement is gone. Teachers, desperate for ideas to pull students back in, try new quiz platforms. They Polleverywhere. They Kahoot. They have data. But are the teaching practices reflective? Are students engaged? And, if students are engaged, is the thinking critical? Life-changing? Are students mastering the content? Can they apply the content to new situations?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But, I do know that this is the direction of education. And something needs to change. 

And this is why I want to pursue the Doctor of Educational Technology program. 

My professional goals as a high school English Language Arts teacher are, simply put, to continue to reflect and grow as an educator, and to remain a part of the professional learning community in K-12 public education. My passion has always been to provoke students and colleagues and myself to think critically, and to push back at the establishment. Although I have, hopefully, grown more tactful in how I have pushed back over the years, my passion and idealism have not changed. I know that technology is the future and the future is now. But I also know that what we are doing isn’t working. 

So, how do we teach students in meaningful ways that are technology rich? And, how do we avoid the siren song of “cool tools?” How do we engage today’s learners? How do we push back at bad politics and policies in order to create content that will truly provoke critical thinking, content mastery, and social change?

This is the space where I currently stand, and I am excited to be a part of meaningful conversations happening within CMU’s Doctor of Educational Technology program. I want to explore the domain of educational technology from tools and policies to content development and delivery. I want to have the conversations that will lead to stronger educational experiences for me, my peers in the program, and our students. I want to create thought-provoking and effective professional development for our colleagues in education. I want us to figure out how to meet our students where they are, and I want to inspire us—and them—to be game-changers.

Watson, John. "Michigan Study Provides Detailed Online Learning Data; Shows Student Attributes and Growth in Online Enrollments « Uncategorized « Keeping Pace." Keeping Pace with K12 Digital Learning. Keeping Pace with K12 Digital Learning, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.

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