Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Virtual Learning Environments

Here's a news flash: I work for a company that supports virtual learning environments. On the surface, I would question this. We manage curriculum. But we also support learners, adult learners, in the process of managing their curriculum. How much and to what extent depends on the desire of the learners.

Wonderfully, I have the opportunity to learn of other associations that are providing these tools to educators. For instance, the ever (in)f amous College Board of AP course fame has an incredible system called SpringBoard through which teachers receive curricululm, instructional strategies correlated to that curriculum, can design tests, and have those tests graded. On one hand, I wish I had known about it during my teaching days, even though it targests the "core" subjects. On the other hand, I enjoyed the creativity of designing my own learning environment and adding the virtual aspects to it.

Virtual learning environments aren't restricted to the internet. Some are site-managed, for commercial reasons. Immediately, I think of Sylvan learning centers and test preparation centers. I appreciate how the tests are sensitive to areas of digitally perceived weaknesses and the tests/exercises modified to lower or raise the bar according to the responsiveness of the student. Isn't this what strong educators do instinctively?

The most important factor of a real-time or virtual learning environment is that a student learns under the facilitation of a qualified and knowledgable educator. As George Siemens says, "Our tools are extensions of ourselves. We desire to extend our competence by creating tools that cover our weaker attributes" (Knowing Knowledge, pg. 110). Embedded technology then should be an extension of a teacher who realizes s/he doesn't have all the knowledge, but a key competency is understanding what teaching and learning is all about.

What is admirable about the SpringBoard program is that they piloted with school districts in real need, took their suggestions and implementations under strong consideration and merged it with their years of knowledge through data collected on various tests. The result is a virtual learning environment built on best practices from people in the field. It uses technology as a tool for both teacher and student learning, but not as the focal point of instruction or learning.

I hope that others who have been working with Atlas Rubicon feel the same way, because I can see a similar behind-the-scenes process, but have lost the perspective from in the field.

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