The “Us” in Teaching

Steve Volk, October 31, 2016

"The Night School" (1873). The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1873

“The Night School” (1873). The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1873

The move to “disrupt” education usually focuses on replacing or at least supplementing face-to-face teaching with a remote instructor. Online teaching offers the promise (not the certainty) of a brilliant instructor orchestrating a well-crafted course that can reach thousands of students around the world. It is distance education, and if the reach of distance education has expanded impressively, the idea itself is hardly new. When I was growing up, I “attended” a distance education course via a television program called “Sunrise Semester.” My teacher, standing in a sparsely outfitted classroom studio in New York (I was in L.A.) endeavored to teach me algebra at 6:30 AM. The fact that I became a historian rather than a scientist provides some indication of how that turned out.

There’s a lot that can be said about the potential of distance learning, but much is sacrificed as well. By removing the teacher, what online learning disrupts is the personal interaction that has been at the heart of teaching and learning since, well, the beginning. Socrates and Plato, the Buddha and Trapusa.  Removing the physical presence of the teacher removes a vitality that is often at the core of what we are able to accomplish in the classroom. Continue reading