Wednesday, January 19, 2011

At this school, when it comes to class, there's no teacher required

Recently I participated in a conversation on an unschooling discussion board and learned from one of the members that her son takes MIT's online courses. I believe he began taking these classes when he was of the age of a middle school student. I was curious and asked if it was a problem that there was no teacher. She shared there was not. In fact her son also watched Yale lectures and many of the Anneberg media videos when studying areas of interest. She explained, to learn, what was necessary was not a teacher, but rather a desire to learn. (Note: I hope to have more insights from her in a future post)

With this in mind, and with my recent post about where I shared that Bill Gates Says Tech Is The Key to Driving Down College Costs, I was not all that surprised to learn that this year, in Florida, there were virtual classrooms with no teacher. In these classes there were computers and a facilitator who basically is in the room to troubleshoot any technical issues. I don't believe this person needs to be a certified teacher. This begs the question, why are we making the students all come to a particular space to learn if it's not place-based, but that's a topic for another post.

Many of the students were not expecting to encounter such a set up and they and their parents did not view this as a pleasant surprise. So now the question becomes, if students have a desire to learn the content, do they really need a teacher? If they don't have a desire to learn the content, would it matter if they did?


  1. Hi Lisa - I think that when a student is self-motivated to learn, help provide the resources and let the kid go at it. A prime example is the learning necessary for complex online video games; it is fascinating how kids learn the games without being taught. When the self-motivation is there, great things happen.

    Part of the resources, of course, should be people to whom the learner can turn when they need to.

  2. Check out John Abbott and The 21st Century Learning Initiative at to see support for many of your ideas.

  3. How nice to see that college is catching on. It isn't vital that one be spoon-fed. To have access to someone more knowledgeable is always preferable, whatever the setting.

    It sounds just like some homeschooling and most unschooling scenarios.

  4. I teach all of my classes on line, so this kind of situation is normal for me!

    However, one of the formative books I read was In Search of the Virtual Class (Tiffin and Rajasingham, RKP, 1996), where there's a wonderful story about a distance learning set-up in Mexico in the mid-1980s Tiffin went along to evaluate.

    In those days Mexico couldn't afford to provide schools and teachers for all the children in the country, so they set up a system of distributing TVs and rather boring textbooks to villages all over the country and trying to teach the pupils via TV lessons. At the end of the courses, all the pupils in Mexico took the same exams, whether they went to conventional schools or did their learning via TV.

    There was one group of pupils who consistently scored the highest grades in the country - one of these 'TV' groups. What made things most interesting was that these pupils lived in the shadow of a volcano, so the TV signal was so weak that they could only receive the audio - not the video too. The combination of audio and the boring textbooks was enough for them to succeed!

    Tiffin and Rajasingham make some interesting comments about how we teachers may overestimate the amount of stimulation pupils need in order to learn …

    Here's the link to the book on Amazon, btw: