This or That?

Education in America seems to be at one of those tearing points in time. A quick look at recent headlines asks how we can choose between option A or option B. Or can we have both?

This theme seems to emerging in several different areas. For instance:

This article asks:

Can Games and Education Play Nicely?

…and is it worth making them get along?

Another asks:

Can MOOCs and Universities Coexist?

Then there’s the argument about charter schools:

Charters, Public Schools and a Chasm Between

There are apparent easy answers to the first two. Games can have a role in education, as can game elements used in non-game contexts (often called gamification). But games do not replace teachers or other educators. If used as baby-sitters instead of educational aides, they will disappoint.

MOOCs probably will not replace universities, definitely not good ones. Those that recycle content in front of huge lecture halls may take a hit, but for the most part MOOCs will take educational content and provide it to a new, non-university audience.

Charter schools is a bit more difficult, as the answer is often caught up with politics at the local, state, and even federal level. The relationship has become strained as the charter school population has grown dramatically. According to the New York Times:

Charter schools serve about 5 percent of public-school students nationwide, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, up from about 1 percent in 2003.

Now charter schools are being compared to public schools, even though they often have better resources. Charter schools also usually have fewer students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have special needs.

The balance point on all these scenarios is innovation versus stability. Gamification, though it may not be that rigorous a concept, has come to represent a number of types of technological innovation. One of which, in common understanding, is actually letting kids play videogames. The writer of the article is able to balance the two fairly easily, showing that gamification doesn’t need to be a threat, and can be helpful if used properly. If, however, it is adopted willy-nilly just to be innovative, it will probably fail.

The MOOC case is more difficult, as the two sides don’t necessarily gain from cooperating. Those universities that have tried using MOOCs to help with remedial skills have, so far, not been happy with the results. The article itself pulls in a variety of experts to show the range of possibilities. Still, the overlap is small enough that both sides could become relatively successful independent of each other.

The hard case gets back to how we educate our children. The New York Times piece lays out the growing conflict. It’s not just a direct battle for students and resources, it’s also that charter schools are used as a measure against public schools. This particular comparison doesn’t really tell us anything, but it does give fuel to political agendas.

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