Can Distance Learning Rescue Teens from Dropping out of High School

I walk into the classroom and am greeted by a mop of greasy hair lying on the desktop. He wasn’t interested in being awake, let alone a motivated learner. The school district had done its part by generously providing a laptop computer to every student. Everyone was now “on a level technological playing field”. The mop of hair didn’t care as long as it had MSN, email, and a healthy collection of downloaded classic rock. The upside is that the student is techno-savvy and therefore, a perfect candidate for distance learning. The downside is that no matter how you spin it, it’s still school. Still “boring”, still “stupid” and still “useless”, his words. Attaching a power cord and fancy graphics to the high school curriculum won’t combat these perceptions.

Our district is progressive in its desire to integrate technology into the traditional curriculum. Teachers take advantage of the fact that each student has their own computer for both school and home use. Grades are posted almost instantaneously for students and their parents to monitor class progress. Unfortunately, the “at risk” student often doesn’t care about progress and their parents are equally apathetic. Getting this type of student to motivate himself to succeed at distance learning seams like a stretch.

The determining factor of “rescuing” a teen may lie in the reason behind their academic struggle. Supposing the teen doesn’t struggle academically but instead suffers from social issues, distance learning may meet their needs successfully. Conversely, if it’s just a matter of self-motivation, distance learning using a traditional curriculum won’t provide the necessary catalyst.
Possibly the better alternative for the high school “mop heads” might be to creatively tweak the curriculum offered via cyberspace. Changing requirements for graduation and incorporating flexibility into the “one size fits all” mentality of secondary education may meet some resistance from the establishment. Skepticism may ebb into optimism if students begin to benefit from.
Luckily, mop heads, like the one in my class, have options. Motivation may come as an inventive and creative cyber-approach is implemented. Skepticism could ebb into optimism, as “at risk” students become successful cyber-learners and complete their education.