Monday, April 16, 2007

"Online learning earns a net gain"

This was the headline for an article that appeared in my local newspaper. An online version of the article can also be found here (Niesha Lofing, McClatchy News Service). I was wondering how long it might be before the reporting of a teacher using the internet in their classroom is no longer "news." To those outside of the classroom, it must look as if we are late to the table of information technology. From the viewpoint of an administrator:
"There is definitely a trend in the educational community at large of using the Internet in the classroom," said Bart O'Brien, superintendent of the Placer Union High School District.
So, how long would it take before things really begin to change? The changes needed seem to be painstakingly slow. Will I see “School 2.0 “ in my lifetime? Is a "trend" going to be enough to affect the changes needed? How long before comments like the one quoted from the principal are no longer newsworthy?

I do believe the reporter is looking in the right place, the classroom. The agent of change will most likely be the classroom teacher. Will there be an evolution to Teacher 2.0?

So, I began to think about it terms of what I teach, biology, and how things evolve. As the saying goes, individuals don’t evolve, populations evolve. Biologists look at the changes in frequency for a particular allele (form of a gene), say a, in a population normally at equilibrium for two alleles, say A and a. If the allele frequency in the population remains stable from generation to generation, then the population is not evolving for that allele. There is a principle known as the Hardy-Weinberg rule, which describes what it takes to maintain a stable allele frequency in a population. The H-W Rule states that the allele frequency will remain stable if ; 1) there are no mutations, 2) the population is infinitely large and is isolated form other populations, 3) if mating is random with respect to alleles and 4) if all individuals survive and reproduce equally.

If we consider our population to be the population of classroom teachers and our allele to be behaviors which include technology in the classroom. Now the question is, will the population of classroom teachers “evolve” into teachers using technology like that which is implied in the term Web 2.0.?

Let’s assess this question In light of the H-W rule,

1) A mutation. A change in the allele (behavior). Assuming, as in nature, mutations don’t start from scratch, they are small changes in established alleles. What could cause a teacher utilizing Web 1.0 to mutate into one to using Web 2.0? How about Did You Know? It has already gone viral! Viruses are known agents of genetic change.

2) An infinitely large, isolated population. The population of teachers is large, but certainly not infinite. The idea of isolation, in digital terms, is beginning to be unfathomable. The world is flat!

3) Random mating. The fact that teachers on the web seek out other teachers on the web suggests that there is selective “mating”. There is a deliberate and directed coupling of individuals and ideas. This is not random.

4) Survival. Well, this one I’m not sure of, yet. If there is no survival advantage to individuals with the mutation, then items one, two and three have no consequential effect on the frequency of the allele. The mutation dies with the individual. The change in behavior, strategy, pedagogy will have to make the teacher better suited to survive in the changing environment of education. What selective pressures are going to be acting on this mutation once it is introduced into the population? The future needs of our students? The school of 2.0? 2020 Vision?

This last item really is driving many discussions. It is also going to exert the greatest selective pressure on our analogous “allele”. As we do now, we will continue to see “Teacher 2.0” pop-up in the population in a generalized form, utilizing a variety of 2.0 tools. Eventually, as “School 2.0” (our environment) establishes itself, it will begin to exert pressures which will probably create new niche species from this original population. The problem is that in biological situations this change takes a long time.

How long? I’m not sure.

Okay. Well at least I remain hopeful

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