A Conversation with Brad Rathgeber & Mike Gwaltney
Brad Rathgeber is the Director of Online School for Girls, a consortium of independent girls schools providing online courses. I heard Brad talk at the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools last month, and one of his phrases has stuck with me ever since. To paraphrase, he encourages independent schools to act sooner rather than later with respect to online learning, entering the fray from a position of strength, as opposed to delaying the decision and being forced to take action out of fear due to pressure from students, parents, or outside forces. Brad wrote a blog post about this very idea, which can be read here. Mike Gwaltney is a history and government teacher at both Oregon Episcopal School and Online School for Girls. Mike is a leading voice on Twitter for innovative education and has a great blog discussing online and blended learning, as well as 21st century teaching.
Both Brad and Mike were generous enough to respond to my pesky emails. Here are their responses to my first question, on their vision of a School of the Future.
BR: My hope is that independent schools of the future will remain mission driven and focused on student learning -- to my mind this is the key to our continued success. And, my expectation is that within the near term, schools will not define their academic programs as being limited to their campus. I don't think that there is a question anymore if schools will have some type of "blend" with online and blended coursework. I think that the question now is: what does that blend look like?
MG: I think the school of the future will see students as organic entities and not offer them one, two, or even just three standardized paths to graduation, but instead allow them to truly customize their learning. This can be done in many ways, and will require schools to consider how to leverage online learning to provide resources and connect students to people outside of the individual school community.
Part of seeing students as unique is to recognize that education is about their personal growth. Schools of the Future will focus on skill-development and student passions, allowing young people to realize their own interests and how to apply them creatively in the real world. I see Schools of the Future embracing Inquiry-/Project-based Learning as a way to do this.
BR: "Get in the game." In independent schools, we tend to want to have all of the answers before we jump into any new project or program. This has served us well, as education has been slow to change in significant ways over the last hundred years. Today, the pace of change in education is much faster. If we are not being more experimental and more innovative in our approaches, our models for teaching and learning (much less our financial models) will not be able to keep up. This does not mean that an approach to innovation should brush aside our (excellent) history, but that we must be more comfortable in a world with more ambiguity and unknowns.
MG: Were I to identify just one step independent schools could take to get on the path of creating a School of the Future, I would say to move to inquiry-based learning.