I was watching network tv this morning and was floored by a WNBC News Channel 4 segment titled Sree Advice (http://video.wnbc.com/player/?id=206064).
Sree is the resident tech expert's name (I guess the title is supposed to be a clever play on words & names...whatever). This particular edition was devoted to online homework help resources. Needless to say red flags appeared quickly on my radar screen.
When it comes to homework, one of those nearly unquestioned instructional practices that dates way back way to the time of repressive schools like the one Twain described in Tom Sawyer, an astute world citizen would likely choose to ponder its purpose, value, form, and place in the evolving order of 21st century learning and knowing. This expert, however, simply sought to share online resources for those who accept the practice blindly.
I took a look at the recommended resources - not from the "Gee whiz, they're on the web!" point of view proffered by the segment's host, but from the standpoint of weighing their actual value for 21st century learners. Some observations:
- · HomeworkSpot.com: A free homework portal for various ages.
Most of what’s on this very extensive list of links is useful but general information that students can read off the screen (or perhaps watch as streamed video) much the same as they would passively ‘absorb’ the content of a text book. The 2 Ask an Expert links given are among the sparse bright spots of potentially life affirming and nourishing resources here. CAVEAT: A real life mentor can be a boon to a young mind IF he encourages genuine inquiry and supports learning by guiding student effort, not simply monitoring for right or wrong answers. However, ‘mentors’ who simply help youngsters cope with the need to satisfy meaningless assignments in order to get teacher off their back, aren’t really adding anything we might truly call ‘educational’ to the mix.
· ChatterbeesHomework.com: Lots of free resources
This one also has links to 'Ask the Experts' sites (as well as the rest of it)...Pretty predictable. But hey, you’ve got to admire the spirit of a homework help site that overtly states “Don't waste your precious after-school hours surfing the web for homework help. Why? Because, we've found the best totally FREE homework help sites for you already!” Are they saying homework is a waste of ‘precious after-school hours’? or do they mean that doing one’s own research to get to the same cookie cutter material that everyone else is going to come up with is pointless?
Most distressing is their proposition “How can you add energy to your upcoming in-class report or presentation? Make it interactive! Here, Chatterbee's presents top-notch interactive web sites that you can add instantly to your report to make your in-class presentation an engaging state-of-the art winner!"
Kind of reminds one of the good old days back in the ‘50s and ‘60s (and obviously, right up to the present – sigh) when teacher would tell you to make a report about blah-blah-blah, and you’d go to the library, photo copy an illustration of an XYZ, and the next day hold up that graphic, now scotch taped to a sheet of tag board, and then Johnny, and then Susie, and then Barry, and then a good many other classmates would get up and show the same graphic and say the same things to accompany it. Gee Chatterbee’s, is this how technology has changed learning, knowing and communicating? Sigh!
· MathGoodies.com: Full of math help, as the name implies
Beyond the offer of lessons and worksheets for sale is the homework help section. This is really a threaded discussion forum - Here, the student posts a word problem (for instance) and his confession about the portion of solving it he just doesn’t get. If he’s lucky he may get a prescription of how someone who is not stymied by the problem would solve it… This figures VERY low down on Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking skills. You know, using the Internet to globally perpetuate a 19th Century approach to math learning is not really much improvement over perpeturating that approach in an isolated one room schoolhouse out on the Prairie!
· NoobsHelp: A free site founded by two Florida high school students
What would you get if you re-purposed the revolutionary social networking functionality of MySpace and Face Book to support the needs of goodie-two-shoes kids who are already doing well in school and whose inner sense of compliance to ‘the system” drives them to seek better ways to go with its flow? Something like NoobsHelp! Not much activity to be seen there. Maybe you need to get a little more edgy, dudes!
· BJPinchbeck.com: A free site that's been around for more than 10 years.
TRUE, there are links to hundreds of resources here, some of them real good - items like: My Virtual Reference Desk Search Engines, The MathPage, and National Geographic Science Homework Helper. Most revealing though is the statement on this site’s masthead “If you can’t find it here, you just can’t find it” Do you suppose Pinchbeck ever wondered whether or not kids could create 'it' for themeselves, though? Clearly, not! :(
· Tutor.com: The leading live, on-demand tutoring service. Sessions can last from 10 minutes to 100 minutes or more. Tutors are available 2 pm - 1 am EST. Prices: $35 for 60 minutes - $150 for 300 minutes; monthly Plans: $32.50 for 60 minutes - $129 for 300 minutes. More than 2 million tutoring sessions have take place.
Not much to say about this one’s orientation… pretty much self evident :(
· Cosmeo: From the Discovery Channel, a $10 a month service (or $99 a year), with 30-day free trial.
Finally, a resource that’s at least on the right track! Entertaining, kid appropriate, high motivation films (well, at least some of them are) taken from Discovery and related docu-education cable tv stations. Your science teacher may not have been a good science teacher, but Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, certainly was!!! Relevant – Engaging – Thought Provoking films used to provide content? Gee – what a concept! what an approach to educating youngsters!