Wagner: Online, Blended Learning A Matter of Balancing Socialization Skills With New Technology

December 5, 2012

TRENTON – State legislators and educators continued examining today how to update old ways of teaching for the new ways in which students learn.

The Joint Committee on Public Schools convened its third session into aspects of online, or blended, learning.

Chair Assemblywoman Connie Wagner said the purpose is clear: “We cannot have New Jersey make any mistakes. With input from everyone we can strike a balance.”

For example, she said lawmakers saw firsthand “genuine enthusiasm’’ when they visited Newark Prep Charter School previously, but additional testimony will help them decide what, if any, legislation is needed moving forward.

A cautionary hand was raised by the N.J. Education Association, which expressed dismay over the speed with which the state Department of Education is pursuing so-called virtual charter schools.

“A computer screen cannot tell if a child is hungry, bored, tired,’’ said NJEA Secretary Treasurer Marie Blistan.  “Learning is not a video game,’’ she said, emphasizing their fear that the teacher-student relationship is going to be sacrificed in the name of technology and profit.

She said that NJEA has sued over approvals of two ‘blended’ charter schools in Newark,  arguing that in reality students will receive 100 percent of their lessons via computer.

“We are not opposed to online learning as a supplement to traditional learning,” she said.

Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce expressed support for the NJEA’s position that no amount of computer time can replace what a teacher brings to the classroom.

General support for the concept of blended learning was expressed by Richard Bozza, executive director of the N.J. Association of School Administrators.

“Kids are engaged and motivated by computer technology,” he said. “Participants are asked to make a decision every second and a half to two seconds,’’ and this is an interactive learning model students are comfortable with today as opposed to sitting and listening to someone lecture to them.

“We have to move away from the factory model of education,’’ he said, because New Jersey needs “world-class schools for a global economy.”

And Sen. Teresa Ruiz said “We are in an age of technology, and we have to embrace it. There has been ‘blended’ learning since we allowed calculators in the classroom. The key is to do it responsibly.”