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Our Fear of Losing Control of Distance Learning


School administrators are accustomed to weathering a constant stream of “innovative” education initiatives that ultimately result in wasted resources. So it came as no surprise to me when, at a recent meeting, a group of vocal principals expressed skepticism at the notion of distance education. The idea of inserting technology between teachers and students through online courses and blended learning horrified these principals.

What shocked me was that this reaction came from knowledgeable and dedicated education leaders — in 2014! One school leader asserted that “Robots will be teaching our kids now,” while another proclaimed, “Machines are taking over the world.” I almost laughed at the use of the words robots and machines, but these educators were totally serious. Their anxiety was palpable.

A Coming Reality

I’ve listened to their visions of a brave new world where students vegetate in front of the screens that have replaced their teachers while struggling students are left behind. I realized that the driving force behind these leaders’ misperceptions of distance learning was fear of the unknown.

The shift to distance learning challenges teachers to not only surrender some autonomy, but to relinquish control over when, where and how students learn. Moving instruction outside the classroom via technology is not just another new initiative. The ground is shifting under the feet of educators.

Learning in a world of endless resources and interactive engagement is a fantastic, yet daunting vision. While technology-centered learning may seem intimidating, it is here whether we like it or not. Today’s students have been surrounded by technological devices their entire lives. Their global connection to a surfeit of data, social media, entertainment, creative ideas, and unbridled images and texts has transformed the way students are wired to think. As a result, they have engaged in multilevel learning and multitasking, with an ease of spatial dexterity of knowledge acquisition unlike any generation before them.

Retool and Refine

Now is the time for education leaders to fortify efforts and rally teachers to accept this transformation. Standing on the sidelines will only widen the technology gap between educators and students. It’s natural for teachers to feel apprehensive about serving as facilitators while they are learning new technologies alongside their students, but it’s time to get out from behind the lectern and swim with students through this new landscape.

Educating 21st-century students requires constant retooling and refining. It’s time to purge ourselves of the instructional methods that have tethered generations to the blackboard and textbook. It’s time for teachers to evolve.

As school leaders, we should remind teachers that everyone is in the same position regarding the new cyber acquisition of knowledge. While the struggle to effectively implement technology beyond the framework of traditional teaching is vital, the key characteristics for educators today are a balance of tenacious fortitude and transformative vision.

Technology is a revolutionary dynamic tool to amplify the learning process. It will not replace teachers, but rather will bring them closer to students through individualized learning experiences. We must convey to teachers that opening the door to instructional technology is not something to fear.

While it may take time to move toward technology-driven distance learning, moving is not negotiable. Pandora’s Box already has been opened.

Keely Coufal is an assistant principal in Pasadena Independent School District in Pasadena, Texas. E-mail: keelycoufal@yahoo.com. Twitter: @keelyintexas


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