If There isn’t a Teacher, Can There Be Teaching?

In order to meet the requirements and financial restraints, the state of Florida is experimenting with replacing teachers with computers.  Over 7,000 students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools are  enrolled in a program in which core subjects are taken using computers in a classroom with no teacher.  A “facilitator” is in the room to make sure students progress. That person also deals with any technical problems.  Fifty-four schools are participating in the Miami-Dade project.  There are six middle and K-8 schools using virtual labs in Miami.

These virtual classrooms, called e-learning labs, were put in place as a result of Florida’s Class Size Reduction Amendment, passed in 2002. The amendment limits the number of students allowed in classrooms, but not in virtual labs.

The online courses are provided by Florida Virtual School, which has been an option in the state’s public schools. The virtual school has provided online classes for home-schooled and traditional students who want to take extra courses. Students log on to a Web site to gain access to lessons, which consist mostly of text with some graphics, and they can call, e-mail or text online instructors for help.

In Chicago Public Schools, high schools have “credit recovery” programs that let students take online classes they previously failed so they can graduate. Omaha Public Schools also have similar programs that require physical attendance at certain locations.

Will the program work?  Some teachers are skeptical of how well the program can help students learn.  Computer-based learning frequently depends on students being self motivating as well as having the sophistication to focusing on the material being taught.  Using this teaching technique as the sole source of instruction is just another example of a “one size fits all approach” that will ultimately fail.  If the main reason it is being implemented is to save money, than the Miami-Dade School System may find the money it saves is not producing high enough student test scores.  The technique is so new that research on results have not been produced.