Friday morning I was eating breakfast and I noticed on TV a McDonalds advertisement – advertising “MathsOnline”. If you have not seen this, MathsOnline is a comprehensive virtual maths tutor for Australian secondary students. McDonalds is providing it free of charge to any and all families and schools.
I signed up, and created accounts for my two teenaged sons and had them test it out for me. A teacher explains by screencast how to solve a particular type of equation, and then there is a series of exercises that allow a student to test his ability. Once finished he is told what his score was, and is able to go back and review any questions he got wrong. The site also sends me a weekly report to show me how my sons are progressing.
Just because its McDonalds, I think, part of me wants to report that its not very good… but actually, my cursory look at it says that it actually IS good. Ok, maybe its not as exciting as playing online games, but if you want to learn how to do a particular type of maths, it sure beats textbook exercises! And here is the point I want to make: while the screencasts have been recorded by an experienced maths teacher, the project has neither been funded nor commissioned by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), or any other Education Department, nor by any school. No, it is the initiative of McDonalds.
I discussed in an earlier post my prediction that technology will democratize and is already democratizing education. This is a prima facie example! Here the responsibility for education is being assumed by a non-government body.
I think it raises real questions about the future role of schools and education departments. Its not that we won’t need schools or teachers, just that their roles will have to change, if they are to be relevant.
I think anything taught in school that can be automated or recorded in a podcast or screencast or vodcast should be recorded as such (and will be recorded as such) over the next few years, by teachers like me and community organizations like McDonalds. I also think that accounts for a large proportion of what is taught in schools.
What then will the role of teachers in the classroom be? Good question! One that bears thinking about.