Teacher Shortages Bring To Mind The Saying ‘Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention’
Don't Just Do Zoom-in-a-Room; Treat It as an Opportunity to Innovate
“Fueled by teacher shortages,” we’re told in a recent article in The74, “Zoom-in-a-Room” is making a comeback.
If this is the case, although it’s better than the alternative—no teacher at all—it’s also a missed opportunity for deeper innovation.
As reporter Linda Jacobson noted in the article, online learning has long been used in schools for subjects they couldn’t otherwise offer. She cited A.P. Calculus and Latin as examples. But even courses we think of as fundamental—physics, for example—have long been glaring areas where schools haven’t had qualified teachers. As I wrote nearly a decade ago, “less than two-thirds of high schools–63%–offer physics. Only about half of high schools offer calculus. Among high schools that serve large percentages of African-American and Latino students, one in four don’t offer Algebra II, and one in three don’t offer chemistry.”
According to Jacobsen, “as districts struggle to fill teaching vacancies, they are increasingly turning to companies like Proximity to teach core subjects.” The practice is one in which the teacher of record delivers whole-class learning virtually, and an in-person monitor—often a substitute teacher—tracks behavior and ensures students do their work.
In some ways, this use of online learning could be a classic case of a disruptive innovation, which begins as a primitive innovation. As a result, disruptive innovations typically start by serving areas of nonconsumption—where the alternative is nothing at all. By outperforming this alternative, disruptive innovations can take root and improve over time until they take over.
Back in 2008 when we published Disrupting Class, we suggested that teacher shortages could represent a significant area of nonconsumption into which online learning could make its mark and begin to transform classrooms from monolithic, one-size-fits-none environments to student-centered ones that customized for the individual needs of each and every learner.
But for this to occur, the use of online learning shouldn’t just be to pipe in a virtual teacher that delivers more one-size-fits-none, whole-group instruction. It would seem that there’s not a lot of room for improvement in that model.