Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Virtual Socializing

I am very interested in online learning and the affect the adoption of this approach to education will have on the planning and design of schools.  A common reaction to news of how fast online learning is being adopted is something like: "Well, you can't teach social skills online."
The January 12 2011 issue of Education Week in the article: “Cyber Students taught the value of Social Skills”  by Michelle. R. Davis uncovered some interesting findings about the development of social skills for students learning online.

The article cites studies that show that online students were rated significantly higher in various areas of social skills by both parents and the students themselves.  It also says that "problem behaviors" were "either significantly lower or not significantly different when compared with national norms."  I am not sure how this was measured.  Were the students at a regular school taking online classes?  Were they at home?
In any case it is an interesting finding which I think is probably due to the kids being more engaged in what they were learning and so had less need to misbehave.  In addition with texting, Twitter, Facebook, Skype and many other technologies for social connection available to them, its easy for me to believe the kids do have good social skills.  The net is not the object of their socializing it is only the mechanism.
The article goes on to describe how schools are partnering with YMCA's "to create drop-in classrooms outfitted with computers where students can do their work for up to five days a week."
This is a phenomenon we are likely to see more of.  With online learning, students have a choice about where they learn, so why pick school?  The prevailing wisdom says they go to school to socialize and that is probably true, but why does it need to be?  Why not go to the Y or to Starbucks or to the library to socialize and oh yes, to take online classes too?
For me this is another reason why we need to talk to educators and school administrators about making their schools so darn compelling that they will be the first choice for students that for the first time ever really have a choice.
What do you think?

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