The Vast Sea: Free Thinking and Online Learning

Apr 20, 2017

By Melanie Falconer.

When I was fourteen, I began attending a “college prep” charter school. They offered a diverse selection of classes, most of which you would never find at a traditional school: electronic music, creative writing, student film, drumming, African dance, and more. Things got even more interesting when our school started a “concurrent enrollment” program. This program allowed students to enroll in classes at our local community college, other high schools, or online for course credit in place of what our school offered.

Admittedly, the student body was confronted with a “paradox of choice.” We had a list down to our toes of what classes we could choose from each semester. Some students found this overwhelming, but others were excited to find new sources to feed their insatiable sense of adventure and curiosity. I set out to sea and took theater classes at a nearby public high school, Sociology of Poverty at Berkeley City College, online web design classes, and more.

I engaged with an abundance of topics in such a short amount of time, enriched in so many ways by the world and its curiosities. Upon starting college at U.C. Santa Cruz and sharing experiences with other students, I learned that most others barely took classes outside of the obligatory: history, math, english, science, and maybe an art class or two. Not that their chance to explore wouldn’t come; our college provided ample opportunities for that. But then, how do we expand the horizons for younger students?

That became the question that brought me to online teaching platforms such as Outschool.

When I saw how unique the classes were on Outschool, classes like Global Events in Today’s News That Affect Your Family or Pocahontas and Jamestown: The Real Story, I knew I would have the opportunity to hone in on a niche topic that may go otherwise untouched in a traditional academic setting. I scrolled through all these possibilities, courses crafted from fully realized “what-ifs.” What I could teach second grade children about astronomy? What if middle schoolers could learn the nitty-gritty details of the current political climate in the U.S.?

It was in this spirit of endless possibilities that I asked myself: what if I could provide an interesting alternative to a subject commonly taught in a traditional setting? This is why I created Learn Spanish through a Kaleidoscope: Film, Music, Art, and Culture. For this course, I wanted to make sure my class would be surprised at each section. Maybe one week, we’re learning philosophical terms from a reading of Gabriel García Márquez and the next, we’re learning about grammar by listening to a Joan Baez song. The class serves as an alternative to textbooks and practice sheets, which have practical use, but don’t always provide students with the enriched cultural experience that one hopes will accompany learning a foreign language.

And the best part is, it doesn’t matter what the student’s preference is: just that there’s an alternative that will suit their needs somewhere. Online schooling platforms give teachers an unprecedented creative freedom in crafting their course curriculum, to provide the alternatives the students and parents are looking for. The horizons of online educations are expanding and it is the task of the energized, curious, and adventurous student to take charge of the vessel and navigate through this new territory.

We will always be confronted with a “paradox of choice” whenever our options start to expand. But Jean Piaget reminds us that maybe this paradox is a blessing:

“The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things.”

Providing access to cutting edge and diversified content is just one of the ways we can allow a student to become their own, to learn not just “more” but to also look at just one subject in many ways.

The classroom is becoming dynamic and expansive in the technological age. Through online platforms that allow teachers to create classes they have specific knowledge in, we provide the space for a genuine love of knowledge to flourish. We can say farewell to having just one choice, and embrace the so-called paradox of choice rendered by the
ever expanding sea of knowledge.

Melanie Falconer

Melanie Falconer grew up in the vibrant Bay Area, California. She has a B.A. in Language Studies from U.C. Santa Cruz and works as a freelance writer, as well as offering classes on Outschool.