“Student-Centric education is the future. ” Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn really got me thinking. http://www.edutopia.org/student-centric-education-technology 

“Disruptive innovations tend to be simpler and more affordable than existing products.” Online schools certainly fit that description.  I’ve taken a few online graduate level classes and enjoyed the content.  Most people I know, young or old, have taken one or more online graduate level or undergraduate level classes.  In my former school district, teachers were writing curriculum for several online courses when I left the district four years ago. A good friend has created several online advanced level AP courses. Two former students are creating courses and working with teachers of online courses at Capella University http://www.capella.edu/online_learning/elearning_capella_index.aspx  It certainly looks as if the disruptive innovation of online schooling is moving from its infancy phase toward broad accessibility.  How long will it be until current teaching staff at public and private high schools and universities maintain their positions simply because parents want their children at a central location to complete their schooling rather than at home alone?  Five years?  10 years?

With teaching intent declarations for 2011-2012 required by December 1, water cooler chat this month commonly embraces the decision-making process with many teachers recently musing about their next career step: “Should I stay here another year? Should I look into teaching in Europe? What about Africa? What about South America? What do you know about New Delhi? Think I should shift to part time? Should I go for my PhD? Where might I want to work in the future? Should I go back to being school head rather than teacher?”

These are just a few of the comments and questions I’ve overheard in the past three weeks.  Not once did any teacher I know say, “Maybe I’ll look into teaching at a virtual school.”  Everyone I know loves face-to-face interaction with students.  Hmmm.  What does the future hold for the field of teaching?  Will we shift to Skype interviews with our students once a day?  Will we provide feedback via Google docs with students scattered around the globe? 

The more I think about it, the more I see the importance of disruptive innovations in the field of teaching.  The change for teachers is inevitable, just as the major shift to online high schools and universities is inevitable. Both are happening faster than we may care to admit.

I took a gander at an interesting article at http://www.phoenix.edu/uopx-knowledge-network/articles/current-conversations/connection-collaboration-creation.html  “In the college of tomorrow, learning will extend far beyond the classroom. After students leave a lecture on Great Expectations, for example, they’ll turn on their smart phones and find a list of links to websites on Victorian culture, video clips from film adaptations of the novel, and PDFs of journal articles for future reading. They’ll use social networking sites to set up study groups and to seek out experts in the subject matter they’re studying. Their avatars will perform physics experiments in a virtual lab in Second Life. And they’ll go online to listen to a podcast of an econ lecture one more time before the big exam. A 20-minute mini-lesson on art history — perhaps one offered by a college halfway across the country —  is only as far away as the closest Internet connection.

This, according to a gathering of experts interviewed by University of Phoenix’s Knowledge Network, is what education could look like in the near future: Wired, highly customized, social, enhanced by multimedia, and utterly immersive. Social networking, mobile devices, virtual worlds, and customized and adaptive curricula are trends poised to change the face of higher education.”

Several additional ideas grabbed my attention. 

The first was a reference to the quickly falling prices of computer equipment necessary to allow vast growth of online learning: “Computers are one of the few items that get cheaper and cheaper even as performance goes up. For example, the cost of storing one megabyte of information in 1975 was $5,257. In 1999, it was 17 cents. It’s less than 1/10th of a cent today.1”

Amazing.  1975 was just not that long ago. What will the next five years bring?

Another point addressed the loss of face time with peers: “SNSs also provide an invaluable way for students in online classes ― who may never see one another face-to-face ― to get to know one another and their instructors.” 

SNSs are already such an integral part of Net generation students that it seems to be a logical next step to use them in the classroom as workable fits are found with innovative instructors in the online realm and the “real” world realm.

Another point addressed the ability to truly individualize instruction:  “In the future, he envisions that faculty will craft curricula to fit 20- to 30-minute “chunks” of learning that students can easily incorporate into their busy schedules. DiPaolo also sees “bundled curricula” on the horizon. Someday, he believes, students will be able to handcraft their own programs by taking courses from different providers ― and receive full credit for them.”

It makes such good sense.

Last but not least, the power of the virtual world is mentioned: “ Faculty are starting to understand Second Life as a place where “you can do things you can’t in reality,” and it’s on the verge of really catching on. “It’s on the radar at every institution,” he says. “It may still be in the computer science department at this point, but it’s there.”

I admit it; I haven’t heard of Second Life until just this moment. I’m feeling old, but I am also incredibly excited to learn more about it.