By Jason Kane
As a frequent visitor to the Community site as well as a member of the recent group of new MVPs, I felt compelled to write something for the blog. That coupled with Tim Atkin’s recent post, “Is There a Book That Inspired You?” sent me down the literary path.
I expect the recent novel, Ready Player One is not foreign to many of you, given the field we’re all in. Personally, this was one of the coolest books I’ve read in years. It hits the sweet spot between geek-chic and epic adventure. For those of you not familiar, Ready Player One is author Ernest Cline’s story of Wade Watts, a high school student living in Oklahoma City, OK in the year 2044. Energy and environmental crises have rendered the world mostly back to the Stone Age with petroleum-fuel a thing of the past and poverty running rampant. One advancement has managed to proliferate through the classes however, and that’s the online virtual world known as the Oasis. The Oasis is a place where everyone can escape their reality by entering a virtual space where they can be anyone and do nearly anything. All you have to do is log on to the Oasis, invent your avatar, and you’re in.
The Oasis is mostly an entertainment device, but it does serve many practical purposes as well. With the infrastructure of the real world crumbling, the Oasis has become a place of commerce, communication, and most interestingly of education. Cline’s concept of Oasis Public School is singularly brilliant. All schools are monumental cathedrals of learning. No constraints of money or even physics stand in the way of learning in its purest form, and there’s an emphasis on the “safety” of this as opposed to the normal school experience.
So, get to the point. That’s what you’re all thinking right now if you’re still reading this post. You’re also thinking, what’s with the question mark (?) in the title? I’ll start with the latter. A title ending with …and the Future of Online Education, is awfully lofty, and while I have educated opinions on the matter, the slight modicum of modesty I still possess will not permit me to position myself on the mountain top proclaiming, “I, Jason Kane will tell you about the future of online education!” I do enjoy reading, writing, technology, and pop culture, but I can’t say I know the future; I can say, however, “I know the future?” So there’s that, now what’s the point of all of this?
I’m a former English teacher, and here I am burying the thesis. The point is, online education offers real solutions to many problems in education. I found Cline’s philosophy and perspective on online education to be laudable. I think if we all think hard enough, maybe we can scrape together an occurrence or two where online education was unfairly classified as subpar, limited, or inferior to traditional education in some way. I’m not positing to combat the supposed stigma of online learning, but rather shine a spotlight on a very real and prevalent piece of popular fiction that imagines online education as the idyllic, paramount of what education truly can be. In Cline’s own words, “the sort of school every… kid would love to attend. A bully-free learning environment where only your brain goes to class, while your body stays at home. A school where every classroom is a holodeck, and no one ever nails you with a spitball in the back of the head.” In Ready Player One, the main character cherishes his experiences in his virtual class, and in fact takes great strides to ensure his performance in his virtual classes remains in good standing or he will lose the privilege of online education and be placed back in traditional public school. Field trips to the Louvre, the solar system, and even inside the human body are described with vigor in the book, and with the way AR/VR is developing, these experiences will be a reality soon.
On the other side of the coin, Cline also discusses the joy the instructor-experience teaching in the virtual classroom. He says in an interview with Education Week:
“The best teachers, the ones who obviously loved to teach, always seemed to be fighting an uphill battle in their classrooms, because of constant interruptions by a few dim-witted, hormonally imbalanced Neanderthals who had no interest in learning. I could see how much it frustrated the teachers and wore them down. It was also frustrating for the kids who were there to learn.”
I share Cline’s vision of online education as a rare place where the pressures of fitting in are somewhat diminished in favor of the educational experience. However, when it comes to education, whether traditional or online, the emphasis is on education, and the conversation therefore, should never be based on how the merits of one mode outweigh those of the other. Instead, the conversation should be about how each and every educational delivery system can be better than it is now, and it is worth noting circumstances, fictional or otherwise that envision those instances. I offer the novel Ready Player One as one such example.
Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Crown Publishers, 2011. Print.
“Q And A: Imagining a Virtual Education Oasis.” Education Week, 28 Feb. 2018, Web.