Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series. Part one can he found here.
The crux of the issue is that teaching is defined by nearly all traditional public schools as a one-to-many construct. And a stage. It’s a normalizing construct that retains its shape even whilst decrying lack of equity because of its shape. It’s not built for equity. Teachers will always quietly triage their students, noting who can’t keep up, and trying, but letting a few fall behind to save the many. Those behind get the low grades, the failing marks. Not because teachers don’t want to catch them up, but they are constricted by time and upcoming testing dates. It’s built for the many, not the one.
Every other industry including retail has perfected one-to-one with extreme personalization, even recommendations engines for what to do/ buy next. Schools just aren’t organized like this for this Age. Or they think in terms of two rails, either the regular bell schedule in buildings or the online kids – but not a new hybridization of both in magical ways, like how FedEx can get a package anywhere in the world in under 24 hours, or how Uber matches you up with a driver and you have a transactional ride somewhere and then move on with your life. Teachers have not been shown or provided systems that precisely use direct instruction skill and student’s progress independently except within subject-specific professional grade courseware. Teachers are going digital much like the old days of assigning textbook chapters. The entire thing is built around teacher distribution rather than teacher-as-premium.
Nationally, only about 30 percent of schools use subject-specific adaptive digital courseware, and then mostly supplementally. Teachers think it replaces them and rarely use it. Most vendors are even afraid to call it core curriculum, yet much of it actually is core. They tip-toe around the real transformation they could bring because of the delicate sensibilities around whole group teaching.
Teachers consider that tech can stay in the shallow end of what its capable of, such as being a scrap of text that is now a digital document, a video, an image, a quiz, a mechanism of display, a communication relay. But it can’t go into the deep end. It can’t possibly automate the lesson sequence, giving each bit of knowledge, assessing along the way, remediating automagically, use active animations and digital manipulatives, then relay the student to the next sequence. That’s going too far. Many can’t even imagine this potential because tech is “just a tool” for them. They’ve usually never seen the good stuff, the fully loaded adaptive digital curriculum. Yet, for increasing numbers of students in the voraciously digital consuming public, it’s not just a tool, it’s the way they bypass the ancient model of human teaching by 3Xing the speed of a YouTube video to learn about gravity and then skip out to play with the other kids in the real world.
Let’s make sure we all get one thing very clear. Tech is replacing the old whole-group model, it’s not replacing true human direct instruction. It’s making direct instruction a premium.
The delicate question is:
Will we let human teachers be human?
Will there ever be a day when human teachers are used precisely and fortuitously only for their human qualities in direct instruction? Never leave any student behind, but work like maestros of direct instruction and unfettered depth of digital accoutrements to pull off any student “getting it” in any subject?
Will teachers and entire schools and districts be subsumed into a myriad of digital functioning bits and pieces until they are veritable megaliths of tools and systems, as teachers still do fairly “flat digital” text-based lessons to remain the center point? If so, the digital EdTech sophistication that is already here will go elsewhere and like water going downhill, seek its least path of resistance to get to its destination. It will build up the consumer markets like it has been doing until public education loses all of its luster. Already several CIOs from districts have mentioned that a forthcoming master system for consumers that uses on-demand tutoring and all sorts of paths and side trails of standards-based and testing aligned adaptive components could not just replace teachers but all schools.
The threat to traditional public and its traditional structure is here, and it is not going away. Leaders are the ones who must lead their schools into a new distribution structure, one that uses teachers for their premium humanity in direct instruction, not in digital lessons and distribution functions to whole groups. The only thing missing is professional-grade logistics and workflow management of schedules, spaces (campus or remote) and student pace logs so that the entire student body is managed despite being on normalized paths at independent points. Not necessarily based on competency, just pace.
It’s a delicate question about how we really help teachers digitally transition, one some leaders never let float through their minds. Some will reject it forcefully because the old way is the only way they know. They are happy with mild change, and put another way, with systemic inequity. One has to imagine how an alternative system would distribute all learning to every student in a personalized way, and not necessarily only competency-based, but follow a similar sequencing that learning has always had, just with a change to using human teachers at precise direct individual instruction intersections and some small or whole group intervals.
What does it means to be ‘human’ anyway?
Most people in education still don’t get this distinction between human teaching and classroom leadership. They think it is “teacher replacement” when speaking of the full capacities and function of software, and that it would be human-less. All service markets have a premium on the human aspect of their services. Doctors do not do everything for all patients, they have an array of nurses and administrators who do the bulk of the heavy lifting, and their software systems are extremely complex for routing, records, and prescriptions. In the news business, the newscasters themselves are in front of the camera but they do not do all of the work of their hour in the spotlight. Whole armies of behind-the-scenes people do that scripting. Yet in an interview style interaction, it’s that newscaster’s style and professionalism that matter. The purpose of a model shift is so that schools and teachers retain relevancy, perhaps even supremacy, over fully consumer models which will be less teacher humanized.
A hybrid logistics interchange is an ingenuity that supposes a fast or slow mutation of current school delivery models. The components are:
• Automated and algorithmically adjusting pacing, schedule and lesson sequencing with live teaching intersects auto-cohorted and auto-calendared. (Doing this with existing learning management systems and some manual work is possible but more difficult.)
• An anchoring organizational principal is the course, not grades or classes and classrooms. This is even true for the youngest students provided there is a lot of time around that for group activities, drilling and learning play.
• “Teaching” is transactional. Students are anywhere.
• Teacher time is a premium mostly leveraged for individual direct instruction.
• Most learning is asynchronous.
• Remodel of physical spaces into House(s) and classrooms-as-meeting spaces, teacher offices, and the rework of flow and oversight. 13
Those are the basics underlying hybrid logistics, the operative terms each having special meaning. Hybrids are for remote and also for physically present students and a flexibility of those two things. Logistics are the management of individuals in association with an institution delivering learning to them individually while ensuring efficient intersection with teachers and meaningful social activities and learning with other students.
About the author
LeiLani Cauthen is the CEO and Publisher of The Learning Counsel. She is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is an author and media personality with twenty years of research, news media publishing and market leadership in the high tech, education and government industries.