Home > Uncategorized > School Support for Family Adventure

School Support for Family Adventure

Today’s News & Observer reprints a Wall Street Journal article by Stephen Yoder and his high-school-aged son, Levi.  In three weeks, they’re leaving for Kampala, Uganda to spend six months on the road.  Their plan is to “…trace the dawn of civilization by vagabonding overland along the Rift Valley, on down the Nile and into the Middle East.”

The article describes the decision to bring this fantasy to reality; “brilliant or insane?” is the question the father (especially) asks.   They talked to lots of people (boss, wife, mortgage broker, etc.) about it.  I’m most interested in the response of Levi’s school counselor, who “assured them” that he “…can take classes online.”  Fascinating!  I wonder if he’s going to participate in his regular school courses using systems that are set up for a blended learning environment (combined face-to-face and distance education).  Or will he take courses that are set up to run entirely online?

I applaud the school’s flexibility, but I also wonder about the practicality on both sides of the equation.  Using blended learning systems to support distance-only learning is no easy task.  I wonder if the school has some guidelines for teachers and students about this.  True distance-learning courses seem more practical to me.  I know of a company called Aventa Learning that is creating such courses at the high school and even middle school level; the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools has a contract with them as part of its “NCAIS Virtual” initiative.  Schools may be reluctant to give credit for courses taken online, but this could be a good solution for a student who is away for an extended period.

On the other side of the “learning on the road” plan, the Yoders and their school counselor seem to be expecting significant access to the internet.  I wonder about that in the Rift Valley and other places they mention on their itinerary.  Cell phone coverage is pretty widespread, but how much coursework can you do on Moodle or Blackboard over the 3G network in Africa?  Wifi access might be available at top quality tourist hotels and internet cafes.  One wonders about issues such as cost, timing, and level of distraction.

I can imagine a school taking a different approach.  Instead of trying to help a student through Precalculus or European history, the school’s efforts could support the learning experiences at hand.  A student and a teacher/advisor could develop a reading list ahead of time; blogging and research could focus on the geography, history, and cultures in which the student is immersed.  If teachers and students back at the school respond to the traveling student’s work by asking questions and doing some research of their own, everyone could benefit from this student’s experience.  What is the “travel equivalent” of a semester’s worth of academic work?  Could the school give credit for it?


Here’s an update on the Yoders’ trip and Levi’s attempts to keep up with school.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Bobbie
    January 20, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Yes, I read this with interest…especially the part about the mother encouraging the adventure…without her. I suspect that a gap year might be a good thing for many students and this new school Kahn Academy is offering a whole school experience for extended time at sites around the world. Right now the practice is rare and not policy driven; “we will find a way” is the policy. If/when online learning becomes an expectation, schools may want to protect their brand and have their own online learning channel that a school person has as a “duty.” I suspect there are a lot of business people that might want to capture this online course idea for both schools and home schoolers.

  2. January 21, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Having been in Uganda twice working with students and teachers as part of the NC Zoo’s UNITE Project, I can affirm that network access where I was non-existent except for our satellite phone. In 2003, I saw almost no cell phones, but in 2004 there were more and the uses were many. Power management will also be an issue as it can be spotty. I think there can be much learned by real life adventures and documenting the experience can certainly be educational. Not all “online” courses are created or delivered equally. Are we to assume that a face to face teacher can easily put a course online and know how to deliver it to a learner 9 hours away? At our middle school, we have a student who is in New Zealand until March that is using FirstClass, Moodle, and Google Apps to be in school while he is on the other side of the planet. He takes pictures of his paper homework and then emails it to his teachers. This works about half the time since some files are too big or his quota is full until he deletes. I have tried to help him, but am doing so post trip and not before he left which would have made it easier. I have listened to the ED Tech Weekly #179 http://edtechtalk.com/taxonomy/term/130 where they discuss Alec Couros’s Ten Reasons Why Networked Learning Matters. Interesting take and wonder how that would help Levi?

  3. Bobbie
    January 24, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Revision on my comment above. I meant to write Think Global School, not Khan Academy. “Khan Academy is a visual textbook.” Here is a link to some interesting comments about Khan Academy from the principal of Science Leadership Academy in Phili.


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