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If you attended a Back to School night recently, you might have been impressed to see the growing use of technology in the classroom. At many schools, teachers have access to interactive "smart boards," laptop carts that move equipment from room to room, and Google Apps for Education that allow students to work seamlessly on projects at school and at home.
Technology is also being used outside of the classroom, where teachers are using online calendars to outline homework and project assignments and linking class notes and study guides. Plus "parent portals" allow moms and dads to check on attendance and school performance records. Students are often receiving online-based homework assignments to further classroom learning. It is clear that the way that kids will learn in elementary though high school and beyond will be greatly supported by the use of technology both in and out of the classroom.
But can online learning be an asset to our kids in other areas, such as after-school tutoring?
The Khan Academy is a free online learning tool that uses You Tube tutorials taught by Salman Kahn to teach new concepts to kids. There are more than 3,400 videos in the video library -- each instructed by Sal Kahn himself as a voice-over while problems are written out and explained on a blackboard doodle pad. The video tutorials start as young as the kindergarten level in math and work up to high school and college levels in course content for math, science, history and even finance.
At our house we've been using Kahn Academy to help us do a little at-home tutoring for one of our children who is struggling in elementary school math. It is a great resource for parents who aren't sure how to teach a math concept to their kids. Kids can replay videos over and over until they feel comfortable that they have mastered the lesson. Tutorials are followed up with exercises to help the student practice what he or she has learned.
But this makes me wonder ... can online learning take a prominent role in higher education?
With the cost of college tuition soaring (according to Forbes, since 1985, the overall consumer price index has risen 115% while the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500%), and student load debt surpassing credit card and auto loan debt in our country, it is impossible to not consider the rising cost of college education as you plan for your child's future. Can online learning help to remedy this situation?
MIT and Harvard have collaborated to create a program called "edX" where students will be able to take online versions of MIT and Harvard courses. And Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton are working together on a new program called "Coursera" which will offer interactive online courses in the humanities, social sciences and engineering.
Now it could certainly be argued that the college experience goes far beyond what is taught in the classroom and whether or not even the classroom part of the college experience can be recreated online. But balanced against the decision to take on a mountain of debt when job prospects are no longer a guaranteed outcome at graduation, the trade-off may well be worth it.
iVoice Sharon Rowley is a mom to six kids who attend public schools, and worries constantly about how she is going to send them all to college! Sharon blogs daily at Momof6.com and you can find her on twitter @sharonmomof6.
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