The Digital University: the Problem of Motivation (2)

October 7, 2011

An illustration of the motivation problem?  From The Quick and the Ed today:

Laura Johnson’s Unhappy Online Learning Journey

by Bill Tucker on October 7, 2011

in Accountability, Educational Choice

Amidst all of the reporting in Education News Colorado’s excellent three-part investigative series on Colorado’s largest full-time online learning programs, it was Laura Johnson’s story that struck me:

In the tiny Florence School District outside Pueblo, Johnson was one of 39 students who left Florence High School last year to sign up for online classes with GOAL Academy, one of the largest online schools in Colorado…

Johnson said she signed up for GOAL in July after her former science teacher promised free college classes. But she was back at Florence High School by January with no credits earned.

“I feel like I wasted an entire semester of my life,” said Johnson, now working overtime to boost her grades in hopes the gap in her transcript will be less noticeable to colleges.

So, a trusted former teacher, perhaps at a free BBQ in a local park, told Johnson about a wonderful new way to learn. Good for GOAL, which got a year’s worth of funding. And bummer for Florence High, which lost Johnson’s state dollars.

But the real risk — and real consequences — were borne by Johnson. It may be true that Johnson made a poor decision when she decided to enroll in GOAL in the first place. But, a system that offers little guidance and no safety nets for ill-informed high school students making big educational decisions is almost certain to produce many more stories of seventeen year-olds wasting a semester of school at the worst possible time. If we are going to offer students new options — and we should — policymakers must first do whatever they can to mitigate the risks borne by students.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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