Albemarle School Board candidates on online learning
In advance of Election Day on Nov. 3, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all 25 candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and both local school boards. In the days before the election, we will also feature their responses to several important questions about key quality of life issues so that you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2015 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
ALBEMARLE SCHOOL BOARD, SECOND IN A SERIES
Schools officials have said that graduating students who are literate with technology will benefit the entire community, but many students have said that their teachers often lack the expertise/training to use the technology, and that they don’t want their teachers replaced by computers. Please describe the role you think technology should play in the classroom.
Well certainly it should never replace the teachers, and there are three students, one from Western, one from Albemarle and an eighth grader from I forget which middle school who said to me that they were a little concerned about the technology that was in place because it was somewhat pulling them away from their teachers, and that some of them were having to look online at night to see the videos that their teachers had put online, and then that they did different things during the day in the classroom. I understand that’s called flipped classes, and my daughter’s actually had experiences with that too. As long as the content that they are watching online at night relates to the discussion in the classroom the next day, and the teachers can be as involved as they want to be with the students, I don’t have a problem with that. I would say that the three retired teachers who I’ve talked to about this all hoped that flipped classrooms would die a quick and unpleasant death because they were hands-on teachers, and I don’t think technology can ever replace a good, hands-on teacher.
As an instructional technologist, this is my area. I’ve taught online, I’ve used computers in many ways, and you cannot replace human-to-human interaction, face-to-face interaction. You can use online learning, you can use computer-assisted learning to bring more into the classroom, you can break down boundaries.
Virginia has a great program down in Southwest Virginia where you can have access to the Governor’s School and have access to experiences that they wouldn’t have otherwise. What I’ve seen over the years is that you absolutely have to have a skilled facilitator for that. You can’t just set an eight-year-old or an 18-year-old in front of a computer and expect them to suddenly just have the skills to be completely self-directed.
So I think that technology is amazing, but I also know that that doesn’t replace the teacher in the classroom. I’m pleased to see, as I’ve been visiting the schools, that Albemarle County seems to get that. They have a lot of technology, but it’s not like ‘Oh, we have this nice computer screen over here so we don’t need to have a teacher there anymore.’
The part that is critical is that you can have all of the nice equipment that you want, but if it’s not working, or if it’s not kept up, you know, children are hard on equipment, so you need to be mindful of what equipment you buy, how difficult or easy it is for students and teachers to add things on, both positively and negatively, and you need to keep it up-to-date. We all have computers in our home that were working fine five years ago. You don’t have to install software that will make your computer run slow, the Internet will do that for you, and it’s not even a virus, its added-on features.
Technology is another tool that you really have to have people on board with using correctly. The other thing is that I think sometimes teachers can be, like the general population, conservative about bringing in an unknown factor. I’ve gone in, I’ve found myself to be very fluid in using technology to teach with, and I’ve gone into situations where I have an hour to do something with a kid, and then I spend 30 minutes of it troubleshooting, and that’s not a very good use of anyone’s time. So it’s not just on the teachers, it’s also about the infrastructure that any system uses. To make sure that the teacher has training and the equipment works.
So, as far as the online courses that are part of this new requirement, I’m just going to tell you that I hate it. Point blank, it’s just not something that I like. It puts a burden on the parents to teach children topics and skills that they themselves may not have ever learned. I also do feel it is a burden on localities to fund, train and implement courses that have not been fully vetted and I’m not quite sure the efficacy is really there. It is a hotly contested topic, I would say.
But I didn’t want that to be confused with my own view of using technology in the classrooms. And it’s not going to replace teachers. It’s going to help inform their instruction. I absolutely love what they’ve been doing at the high schools which is using apps and programs in the classroom as instructional tools. I’m definitely in favor of that.
Jason Buyaki * Incumbent
Technology adds to the experience of students. Technology can’t replace teachers. Teachers have vast experience, that human interaction that technology simply can’t grant them. I think one of the challenges that we face is figuring out how to use technology wisely and use it to deliver access to content for students. We can use technology to replace text books if we wish, or have it as an additional curriculum content. One of the thoughts I have always been intrigued with was the idea that if you had one teacher…teaching Chinese in the county and if she was only at one school then only those students could benefit. And I think the solution is to try to do an online course that allows students from other schools to be able to participate in those classes. That broadens that reach out of the content that she can deliver to students.
So it is a challenging topic to figure out the best way to do that. Computers can’t replace teachers, we know that. But we can use computers to add to the experience that students receive, and we are a technological society [thus] to deny students the use of computers and go with traditional methods of education I don’t agree with that methodology. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the old way of preparing students for the workforce. But it is a mix between the two. You have got to get out there and use technology wisely, add it to content, so it’s a mix.
Samuel Miller District
I like how that question is worded because I have heard several students complain about the technology that sits in the classroom that just doesn’t get used because they haven’t figured out how to best use it yet. I think first let’s slow down on administrative purchases of high tech equipment just for the sake of getting it in the classroom. Let’s take a different approach. Let’s wait until we have programs that people want to implement and figure out what equipment they are going to need for those programs and then we will build a program around making that work.
As far as online learning, goodness there is so much to look forward to with that. The first thing is we need to train a lot of our teachers about wealth, building wealth and accumulating property. So online training for them is probably going to be part of that solution and I think that our teachers should be rewarded or provided bonuses for successful completion of these types of programs because they are going to turn around and have to start providing that instruction to our kids. So that is one of the first uses for online learning.
Some of our students are ready for it, they are mature enough, they can probably stay at home and take courses online, and then perhaps just come in for testing in the classroom or at the school. That will certainly free up some space in some of our schools. We need to explore that and see how that’s going to work and we need to use students that are capable of handling that type of scenario. So we have to be careful in that respect.
But other classes, of course, we have the capability of instead of bussing students all across Albemarle of having students in one school doing online learning with a class that’s going on in another one of our Albemarle schools or certainly other schools across the country. That still uses the classroom time but now it cuts down on transportation problems and some of the others. There’s so many different ideas and ways to do this and so many of them are going to be successful. I don’t have the answers, but we’ve got some great educators and staff who are going to be able to figure out how they want to attempt to use these. Let them figure it out, let them take the initiative, let them figure out which ones are working the best and we will go with it.
I don’t think it should replace the teachers, I think it should really help to assist and enhance the instruction that the teachers are providing. The main thing that I think we would have to do would be to provide more resources…I think the main benefit, rather, of that type of training we’ll be able to give the students more experience in using the internet. A lot of them will really already know this, but to provide more practice in using the internet as a resource, and really just help them to just expand the curriculum. Some of the schools might not have all of the resources or all of the equipment that the internet could provide, so that would be another real benefit of using technology.
I agree that it’s important for students to learn about technology and to become familiar with it, because we live in an age where computers are so present in our lives, and I also agree with the point that teachers should not be replaced by online courses, because there just haven’t been enough studies to determine the benefit of that type of education. I do think online learning can be a good tool to have in the classroom because it can allow students to learn at their own pace, so it can assist students in that regard, and I think we ought to welcome opportunities to bring technology into the classroom for that use, but certainly there is no replacement for a teacher, and I think that technology is simply just an aid that can be used to the benefit of student learning.
Steve Koleszar * Incumbent
Well, I remember a number of years back that the board was eager to go to one-to-one [computers to students] because Henrico County had just gone to one-to-one. And [Superintendent Kevin] Castner wisely said, ‘Our teachers don’t know how to teach in that environment. We have to teach our teachers how to teach using that technology before we get the technology.’
We’ve moved a long way. We now do have one-to-one technology [in grades] six through twelve. I think some of our teachers take to it like a duck to water. Others need a little more help and we always need to be working on improving that. One of the big things that has changed in education is that it used to be that to be educated was to know. To be able to pull out of your head certain key facts and understandings and be able to go. Now those key understandings and facts are online. Our kids now have to be able to do rather than just know. So one of the key skills that we need to be able training our students is how to do research on the internet. How to decide what is a good source and what is a bad source. Where do you really go to get the best information? So that’s part of teaching our kids how to do so that when they run up to something they don’t know, they can quickly gain that knowledge.
White Hall District
Caroll “CJ” Hatcher
Gosh, in the 21st century, technology really is everything, and I think we need that online learning both in the classroom and in a situation of virtual education. Those are two areas, I divide online learning or technical learning into these two areas: virtual education, which is kind of a wave of the future, where the students are off-campus, and that would relieve some of the problems of overcrowding in some of our buildings. As you know the Albemarle senior high school is busting at the seams. So that’s one use. The other of course is the technology in the classroom as the question states. Should we replace teachers? No. The teacher is very necessary for the classroom, however we do need teachers who are professionally trained, so this would be, we would have to target a program for professional development to get those teachers on target. But it’s just the wave of the future. We absolutely need technology in the classroom, in all classrooms, because as you pointed out, the student could be much more literate than the teacher, however there’s never a situation where we should remove the teacher from the classroom. In my opinion.
Technology is a tool. It’s the same as it has always been. Fifty years ago technology was a tool, and 100 years from now technology will be a tool. I remember when I was in high school, we got our first Apple II Plus computers, and they were state of the art. And the reality is that the kids knew how to use them and the teachers didn’t. And that’s because they weren’t provided the training and they didn’t understand the full power of those devices.
My daughter, and I hate to admit it, knows far more about our computer and my phone system and my iPad than I do, and I used to be at the cutting edge of technology. I was the one who told people how things worked. And the reality is that now my sixth grader is educating me. There’s always going to be that aspect because young people are going to adapt to the technology quicker than people over the age of 24. That’s just biological.
I think we have to integrate technology into our classrooms, and I think that Albemarle County is actually doing that very well. By the same token, technology can’t replace educators, it just can’t. One of my concerns is that there is a move to have distance learning. At the college level I think that makes a certain level of sense, but on the local level, what you’re risking is the effect of having large lecture classes, okay, and the reality is that there is a cost-efficiency to it. You can save a lot of money doing that. Especially classes like AP US history. If you have schools where you might have two or three students who qualify to take that, does it make sense to have a teacher assigned full-time, you know a partial FTE, to teach that class. Is there not a cost efficiency to say you know what ‘Albemarle County, Western Albemarle High School and Monticello and Charlottesville High School and Fluvanna County can pay one teacher and they can all learn over the internet?’ I think at some point that is going to happen, but we need to make sure that that doesn’t replace the one-on-one, hands-on instruction that our kids need, especially in tenth grade and lower. The social interaction with the teachers is essential, and if we allow technology to replace that, it’s going to detriment us in the future.