Pop quizzes (sorry, I didn’t know we were still hyperactive 2nd graders who need their attention lassoed every 3 days).

Exams (yes, this will be on the test).

Extra credit (none of this matters (probably because it’s not on the test :), but you’ll get extra points if you do it. Even worse: Bonus extra credit for showing up to class. Yes, that’s real. I’ve taken an online course at a college where extra credit was given out just for showing up).

Points (because gamification works so well that we don’t notice it).

And underpaid, “couldn’t care less” teachers (they’re not paying me enough, might as well coast along).

Competency matters. Meritocracy matters. It’s best – for everyone – that our lawyers, therapists, and brain surgeons can do their jobs well. But no adult decides to take courses on something as demanding as law or brain anatomy simply to coast by. And by the time you get to high school, we should expect that you’re capable of paying attention. And if you’re not paying attention, more of the same material, presented in the same old way, should be the last thing we consider shoving in your face.

Of course, interest in law or brain surgery is different than the discipline to learn the craft. If you really care about keeping your brain intact, I doubt you’ll seek out a brain surgeon who’s ‘just really curious about the subject!’ – no, you’ll seek the most competent surgeon around so that you don’t wake up as a character out of an Oliver Sacks book.

If we’re more excited about getting extra credit for doing assignments that mean nothing,

and getting points because numbers matter in a class about literature,

and groaning over pop quizzes because we know we weren’t paying attention,

If we’re merely tolerating the 60 minutes we spend in class, unengaged and uninterested,

then something’s wrong.

What, exactly? I can’t give you an answer without risking oversimplification. But I doubt the answer is not enough pop quizzes, not being clear about what’s on the exam, paying our teachers too much, not handing out enough points, and too few opportunities for extra credit.

Online education fails to deliver on what most of our public school system excels at.

That’s a feature, not a bug.

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