Thoughts and Tools

Considering Growth at MCS

Education as a whole is on the verge of dramatic change. Christensen, Clayton & Johnson predict that “about 80 percent of courses taken in 2024 will have been taught online in a student-centric way” (2011, p. 102).  This prediction is based on their theories of Disruptive Innovations and their research in the way online and distributed learning is growing over time. 

 

Indeed, whether we see the full extent of Christensen, et al.’s predictions or not, change is coming to Madison Christian Schools (MCS).  In a recent address to our school district, Superintendent Diann Cook shared her initial vision to begin actively seeking to enroll students that are at risk in our community.  We’re on a road headed towards a marked increase in cultural diversity, socioeconomic difference, and technological integration.  How should we prepare for these changes?

 

In considering this question, it may be helpful to consider the strengths and weaknesses of our current resources.  Taken without much hard data, but with over a decade of personal experience and observation, allow me to over-simplify MCS into five areas of consideration: Teaching Capacity Utilization; Amount of Technology Integration into classrooms; Financial Strength; Spiritual Health of the Entire District (both faculty and students); and Administrative Capacity Utilization.  Based on a scale from zero to five, where zero is low, under-utilized, or unhealthy and five is high, at full capacity, or very healthy, I would rate our district in the following way (see Figure 1):

 

In brief summary, the following observations can be made:

  1. MCS is operating with a teaching staff teaching at full capacity (many teachers have five or six subjects to prepare for).  While not all classrooms are full, faculty are highly utilized.
  2. We have successfully added modern technology in significant ways to almost all classrooms.
  3. We continue to need significant fiscal support from other organizations in order to stay operationally viable.
  4. While there is good Spiritual vigor among the faculty and staff, the overall atmosphere of our school is positive but not fully healthy.
  5. MCS administrators operate at full-tilt speed all the time.

 

From these observations, several opportunities for growth are automatically ruled out.

 

  1. Without significant increases in fully-funded students to create additional faculty positions, we have zero capacity to add new courses to our district.
  2. There is little room to add more technology.  The only viable expansion would be to aim for a 1:1 laptop policy.  But this would require such extraordinary expenditure it seems foolhardy at best, considering our current teaching loads and financial liabilities.
  3. Adding additional programming or HR intensive structures seems to invite almost certain burn-out for our already highly utilized administration.

 

This would leave us, it seems, in a bit of a quandary.  Where are the areas of potential growth?  Christensen, et al, suggest a surprising answer: in areas of non-consumption or non-delivery in our schools.  According to the paradigm of Disruptive Innovations, if we can identify areas where we offer no product at all, we may be able to use technology to offer some new services in highly accessible ways that enhance our services.  Moreover, if we begin to innovate with technology now, before major change happens in a larger context, it will position MCS to achieve greater growth later as changes do come.

 

There are at least three areas of non-consumption that could be leveraged in our district without adding large burdens to our faculty, staff or finances: online courses, online tutoring, and mobile technology in the classroom.

 

Our district has already begun searching for and offering online courses.  In lieu of having no way to take a class, even a poor quality online class has a positive value to students and their parents.  We should consider locating and securing an online Anatomy and Physiology course as soon as possible, since many students have inquired into this specific course over several years.  Or perhaps we can consider hiring a faculty member to create content for a home-grown online course we offer in-house. We will not be in the position to offer this class in a traditional setting by our own faculty in the near foreseeable future, but having even a low quality solution may be better than none at all.

 

In recent e-mail correspondence with the East Campus of MCS (Abundant Life Christian School, or ALCS), it became disturbingly clear that there are virtually no tutoring or after-school support structures for our students.  Currently, if a student is struggling with content in a class, there are only four options available: 1) try to connect with other students, either informally or through a moderately successful tutoring program via the Honor Society; 2) meet with the teacher directly (often an unfavorable or untimely alternative); 3) to try to coordinate with the only private tutor other students have worked with; or 4) hire the services of expensive tutoring companies.  When it comes to choosing between meeting with a teacher, a single unknown tutor, or an expensive program, many families just choose nothing.  This is not ideal.

 

We absolutely must bolster our support structures in any way possible.  This will be especially important if we anticipate bringing in students with even more needs than we have capacity for at the moment.  Developing a robust mentoring program filled with eager parents and community members sounds ideal.  But, unfortunately, the burden of organizing such additional programming will overwhelm an already at-capacity administration.  We must find cheap, affordable (free), simple-to access tutoring services.  We must begin to identify and facilitate connections with internet-based tutoring services for our students. 

 

This brings the third point to the focus.  If we can begin identifying online tutoring or content delivery networks, then there may be ways to begin porting that extra support into the classroom itself.  Currently, the vast majority of students in the East Campus High School already own smart phones or other smart technologies.  Why spend money to purchase 1:1 laptop technologies when we already have such a high percentage of computers in our students’ back pockets?  We may be able to identify video lessons, practice sessions, alternative teaching paradigms, and other interactive modules to enhance our teaching.  And then we can let the students access them whenever they would like, whether in the classroom or at home.

 

To conclude, there are three main areas of change that are well within MCS’s reach given our current structure, strengths and constraints.  They are:

 

  1. The expansion of in-demand course offerings in online delivery formats to support desires we cannot meet in-house through traditional classes.
  2. The identification and employment of online tutoring services that are more widely available, more affordable, and easier to use than the few services we currently provide.
  3. The leverage of mobile-technology devices to access a wider variety of teaching tools and content delivery methods.  These tools will find use both in the classroom and in the home (and may pair directly with number two, above).

Change is coming and we can start preparing now for its arrival!

 

Reference:

Christensen, Clayton M., Horn, Michael B., & Johnson, Curtis W. (2011). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: McGraw Hill.

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Curtis White, M.S., M.C.E.
High School Faculty
Math, Science, Bible & Computers
Abundant Life Christian School
A Madison Christian School
608.221.1520
Curtis_White@limtw.net