Summer Session in Steamboat Springs

If one goes by the nightly network fare on American television, intellectual engagement by the American public is at an all time low. So when one sees signs of cultural health and well-being, it strangely warms the heart.  That happened to me recently in Steamboat Springs, Colorado–better known for skiers than scholars—when I learned that the community’s Summer Speaker Series routinely attracts 500 people to its events, even when the topic is as esoteric as virtual learning.

I was further heartened by the thoughtfulness of an email sent by Susan Berry, a member of the audience who had listened to thoughts drawn from my book, Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning. Here is what she had to say, word for word:

Driving home last night after being inspired by your lecture in Steamboat Springs, a vision popped into mind of virtual learning reaching the average and below average student in the bricks and mortar setting of traditional high schools.

I pictured mathematics classrooms, equipped with one computer per student, and with one math subject being assigned to each classroom.  A classroom each – for business math, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, advanced algebra, calculus, etc.  The virtual teacher for each subject would be one of those special ones you spoke of with exceptional ability to communicate and teach his subject.  Each student would progress with his virtual coursework at his own pace.  A staff math teacher would be in each classroom to insure that students were working diligently at their computers, and to assist one-on-one when needed.

A talented student might finish a class in 2 months and be able to move on at that point to his next math class.  A less talented student might take up to 4 to 6 months to complete the same coursework.  A traditional full year subject such as algebra could be broken into several segments, one classroom per segment.  Thus, each classroom would have students studying the same course work, but at their own speed and at varying points in the course work.  There would be no need for separate classes in the same subject for quick learners or slow learners.  Quick learners would benefit by not being held back by slower ones, and would be able to complete more subjects during their high school years.  Slow learners could progress at their own pace in mastering the subject without feeling left behind by the rest of the class members.

It would seem that this model could work well with math and science subjects, but probably not as well with the language arts.  Having taken a computerized class in computer programming in the late sixties, I personally know the educational benefits of instant reward for correct answers and the instant redirection for incorrect ones.

Your thoughts on virtual education helped me to see hope for the future of our country’s education system.

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