I went to Israel to learn about the future of online learning as part of the Center for Educational Technology’s conference, Shaping the Future 2: Innovation, Education and Entrepreneurship. Shaping the Future 2

As a member of the CET Advisory Board, I appreciate the opportunity to interact and share ideas with educational leaders including Gila Ben-Har, Avi Warshavsky, and Guy Levi. One of the most exciting initiatives we learned about was the CET Virtual High School, which builds upon the 40-year tradition of excellence in educational technology of this distinguished organization.

This new pilot program, supported by the Trump Foundation, enabled CET to develop a special program for offering advanced courses in mathematics and physics for Israeli high school students whose schools cannot offer these subjects. The program offers a robust combination of elements:

  • Virtual learning that occurs synchronously, in school, for a group of no more than 20 students, during a regular classroom period, taught by a teacher for 3 hours per week
  • Virtual tutoring where university student mentors provide small-group coaching and additional support for student learning, using a collection of more than 1,200 online lessons that support dialogue and discussion, for 2 hours weekly
  • Self-paced, self-directed drill-and-practice homework  activities

This form of online learning is no MOOC, which is characterized by simply watching videos, reading, interacting with peers, and taking automatically-scored tests. The CET model uses a form of high-quality distance education that preserves many of the important features of face-to-face interaction, as students develop a relationship with their small group of class members and the teacher, and receive personalized coaching using a near-peer mentor. For these reasons, I would bet the farm that this project will be a success!

Right now, more than 1/3 of Israeli students don’t have access to advanced courses in physics, and fewer than 10,000 students matriculate with courses in advanced math. In 2009, only 45 university graduates became Mathematics teachers in high schools across Israel, whereas 300 veteran teachers retired. The CET Virtual High School may be able to increase the number of students who develop the confidence to take university-level math and physics courses. I would bet the farm on the success of this program.

In developing this program, the CET has learned that teacher professional development must occur online so that educators experience what their students do when working in an online environment. They’ve also learned that the professional development needs to be content-specific, using the resources and materials tailored to the subject matter. These are important insights.

I am especially intrigued by the research opportunities embedded in their decision to record every mentoring session. CET is discovering that these dialogues can be a powerful support for student learning.  After all, sometimes it is through a process of questioning that new explanations and new insights occur in ways that create the “aha!” effect.  But it’s also the case that such documentation can help us create new forms of professional development that help current and future educators become more strategic and metacognitive in their thinking about the teaching and learning process.

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