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  • A Dad Shares How Online Learning Helped His Kids Get Into U.S. Universities

    What can online learning look like? One father shares his kids' experience.
    by Eric Barro .
A Dad Shares How Online Learning Helped His Kids Get Into U.S. Universities
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    Years ago, when I was still with the education industry, I had an idea, considered crazy — do online learning in underprivileged communities.

    It was part of our grassroots marketing endeavors to encourage those we awarded scholarships to enlist without fretting too much about daily costs related to going to school. We had a marketing budget to buy computers and/or tablets. We could also pay for internet connections, pocket wifi, among others. I wanted to do the experiment in one barangay.

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    What online learning can look like

    The idea sprang from the online learning experiences of my kids at that time. They eventually stayed in this learning mode for four to five years — it was great. I thought then that we could pattern my idea (of bringing this to the grassroots) to their school's model and system.

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    How did the school of my kids do it?

    1. There were no video chats, so no zoom-like classes.

    It addresses the issue of an unstable internet connection.

    2. Teachers handle multiple subjects

    They are mostly with M.A.s and PhDs.

    3. Content is key.

    Each subject/course is carefully curated, well-researched, and well written. The objectives are clear. The content is both in written form and podcasts, so students have options.

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    4. There are several units in a module.

    The aim is mastery, so per topic/unit, there are review questions, critical-thinking questions, lab questions, and activity set. These are on top of quizzes and discussions/reflections plus mid-terms and final exams. Rigorous, to say the least.

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    5. The school knows that its system is susceptible to cheating.

    The school does its best to restrain this with a strict honor code signed by both students and parents. Anti-plagiarism software is also installed. The school talks to other online institutions and coordinate efforts. And of course, there is a constant reminder to students and parents. Not full-proof, but it is there.

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    6. Teachers are readily available for consultations.

    There is a scheme on how to schedule. An assigned counselor helps students look for the best college/university for them. He opens up his schedule to attend meetings, discussions, etc.

    7. The school monitors the progress of the students, and quite intently.

    They send reminders — all the time. They ask if they can help in whatever way. They call the attention of the parents. The bottom line: They are determined to make their students finish on time, no matter what.

    8. The kids also have outside school activities. 

    We're talking Virtual Prom and Graduation! Contests! Honor Society! Blogs! Endless pictures!

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    'Online schooling' vs. 'online learning' 

    I have been seeing how schools in the Philippines are adjusting their systems amid COVID 19. They have analyzed the limitations and have provided solutions. Some have potentials for greatness, I think, while others appear to be in limbo.

    But if I may advise them: Differentiate 'online schooling' from 'online learning.' It is easy to fall under the trap of the former. 

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    Online schooling's most basic form is creating virtual classrooms (with curriculum, still), with few tweaks here and there, and then conducting classes with the aid of technology.

    On the other hand, online learning — what my children experienced — is putting a student's personal learning journey first and supporting it with best-in-class curriculum and appropriate instructional support (technology). Best of all, at least in my children's case, it is providing schedule flexibility as well.

    Online learning develops independence, ownership, and self-advocacy. It maintains a clear path to the mainstream future of the students.

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    Does online learning work?

    Was online learning effective? For my kids, yes. Self-discipline intensified, which their sport instilled in them, to begin with. Self-reliance happened since they had "no choice" but to do things on their own. Their self-discovery was enhanced as the world became their classroom. Their online learning got them into good U.S. universities. And now that classes might be online again, they do not need to adjust. (It is a different case for the parents, though. It was stressful! Haha.)

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    I just thought of sharing this as I see educational institutions scrambling for the best approach to learning in this pandemic situation.So what happened to my idea with the barangay, you might wonder? Got a thumbs down, naturally. Crazy nga, eh. Ha. Ha.

    When I brought up the idea, both the school's I.T. and academic infrastructure were not ready. It was also a social marketing concept of bringing the school to the community through I.T.

    I still believe that connectivity, though a concern, should not be the reason for not doing this. All barangays have internet shops in their areas (Piso-net, as what they call it). They can be an excellent partner to do online learning.

    So I could not help wonder: What if that experiment advanced and showed success?

    Eric Barro, a research and education advocate and golf daddy to two teens and one adult, is the president and CEO of Integrative Competitive Intelligence Asia Inc. (ICI Asia). Concurrently, he is vice president of PHINMA Corp. This former senior vice president/chief marketing officer of PHINMA Education (2009 to 2016) is a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Arts and holds a Master in Development Management degree from Asian Institute of Management.

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