Online learning isn’t going anywhere. According to the Sloan Consortium/Chronicle of Higher Education Survey, 70% of college presidents say online learning is a critical piece to their university’s long term strategy – this summer, Coursera hit the 1 million student mark, with people participating from 196 countries.
Current online learning opportunities offer access to education for a wide demographic, promote lifetime learning, and allow educators to reach students around the world. The benefits are clear, but a key player is often forgotten in current rhetoric regarding online education: the teacher.
Many discussions focus on the importance of the student as the consumer. People like Daniel Rosenweig, founder and CEO of Chegg, promote important ideas around innovating education by advocating a shift of focus to the practical needs and modern learning styles of the individual student. But regardless of the increasing opportunities students have to shape their own education, the power to drive real change lies with the educators that have shaped students’ formative years in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.
According to this year’s PDK/Gallup Annual Poll, 3 out of 4 Americans have trust and confidence in our public school teachers. But with little attention paid to the trust and confidence public school teachers have in their own profession, we could lose the most promising instructors to professions that garner much more respect from our country’s media and politicians. According to the Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, the percentage of teachers who are considering leaving the field increased by 12 points to a whopping 29 percent in 2011.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, calls the issue the “demonization of teachers.” Online learning should fix that problem – but complex technology creates daunting learning curves for educators and online classes force instructors to relinquish control of the classroom and adopt new learning styles to meet modern demands.
That has to change. From Apple’s distinguished educators to EdChats on Twitter, the internet has the potential to give individual teachers the ability to broaden public view of not only their profession, but of their individual brand as an educator.
Rethinking the concept of the ‘online classroom’ is the first step to taking the power away from technology and putting it back in the hands of the teacher. At GatherEducation, we’ve worked directly with educators like high school Physics teacher Greg Schwanbeck to identify the needs of the instructor and build a product that puts them in control.
We’re big advocates of synchronous online learning, so we set out to create a product that replicated the experience of the physical classroom and allowed teachers to teach exactly as they do in person. Instructors create a class on GatherEducation and stand in front of a Microsoft Kinect. Once they’ve invited students to the class, the instructor and students gather in a 3D virtual classroom, represented by avatars and brought together by seamless voice interaction. The instructor’s movements are translated into fluid motions in the virtual classroom with a 3D avatar.
What Greg Schwanbeck values most is the hands-on time spent working with his students in his Westwood High School Physics classroom. The virtual classroom makes him “able to repurpose 2 weeks of class time” by holding test review sessions at night. Gather Education removes the technological barriers associated with the flipped classroom model, which promotes the idea that lecture-based learning should happen outside of the classroom, and hands-on ‘homework’ should happen during class time.
Gather Education is designed for the needs of the teacher – and as we grow the product to meet those changing needs, we’re looking forward to building out teacher profiles that promote the work of instructors and create a place for teachers to advocate their work online.
Developed by game designers and education hackers in Cambridge, MA, Gather Education takes a new approach to online learning – just because students and instructors aren’t in the same place, shouldn’t mean they don’t feel like they’re sitting in the same room. Right now we’re exploring the many ways a virtual online classroom can impact global education, from Mandarin teaching centers based in China to Swedish MBA programs, to students studying abroad.
Public rhetoric may be “demonizing” teachers, but the solution isn’t to turn the power over to students and the technology that is revolutionizing their learning styles. The technology should be transparent – and we believe it can be a seamless way to collaborate from anywhere, at any time, on any device in a way that empowers teachers to take back the classroom and drive real change in education.
Gather Education is a virtual learning platform that allows teachers to hold classes and review sessions online without having to change the way they teach. Using the Microsoft Kinect to seamlessly translate an instructor’s motions to an avatar in a virtual classroom, Gather Education recreates the experience of a physical classroom online. Gather Education is currently exploring the many ways a virtual online classroom can impact global education from Mandarin teaching centers based in China, Swedish MBA programs, students studying abroad, or innovative high school teachers looking to clear up class time by holding reviews from home. Founded by a team of passionate entrepreneurs focused on disrupting education, Gather Education hopes to make teaching in a secure environment available anywhere, any time, on any device.