Responding to Michael Barbour’s comments about my blog post on NEA’s statement

Recently I posted  in response to Brian Bridges of the California Learning Resources Network. In that post I said that while I usually agree with Brian, in this case we had some disagreements. I always welcome the debate and discussion. More recently, Michael Barbour posted an audio comment on my NEA post, about what he called the “slanted response from the Keeping Pace folks.”

I disagree fairly often with Michael, but in this case his criticism is accurate. I was sloppy in my wording and didn’t fully explain what I meant. His reading of what I wrote is entirely reasonable, and a clarification is in order.

Before I get to the details, I’ll also mention that the NEA blog entry was incorrectly posted as  attributed to the Keeping Pace staff. Our usual practice is to post the entries that I write as attributed to me, because my posts tend to be more opinionated and occasionally controversial than some of the other researchers’ posts. The NEA post should have been in this category. When I write something that reflects my opinion I don’t want to hide behind a general “staff” byline.

In my post I repeated this from the NEA report:

“Optimal learning environments should neither be totally technology free, nor should they be totally online and devoid of educator and peer interaction.”

Then I wrote: “We agree that education should not be devoid of interaction, but totally online courses are not devoid of interaction with teachers and other students. In fact, a good online course has a high level of involvement from the online teacher, and online teachers often tell us that they know their online students better than they knew their students in physical classrooms.”

Michael called me out for suggesting that all online courses have teacher involvement, and says that Keeping Pace researchers should know that plenty of online courses, especially in credit recovery, do not have teachers involved. Sometimes teachers are not involved at all, and sometimes they are minimally involved.

He is right about some online courses being teacher-less, and he is right that we should (and do) know about these teacher-less courses. We also share his concern about the quality of these courses. What I should have said was something likenot all totally online courses are devoid of interaction with teachers.” My subsequent statements about online courses should also have explained that I was writing about good online courses, which have teachers involved, while acknowledging that too many online courses do not have teachers present.

If I had said that, then the rest of the blog post would be accurate. We do see many educators who assume that online courses don’t have teachers involved. I made the mistake of incorrectly suggesting that all online courses have teachers present. The NEA statement makes the opposite mistake, by suggesting that online courses never have teachers involved.

Thanks Michael, for raising this. I much prefer being called out on an issue, and therefore having the opportunity to clarify, than to have my careless wording suggest something that I didn’t intend.