Category Archives: online learning

Online Learning in Northern Illinois

On October 18, 2011, 35 individuals representing 27 organizations attending a start-up meeting at the DuPage County (Illinois) Regional Office of Education to discuss an online learning initiative in the region.  The presentation is included below.   Participants identified several areas for further discussion:

  • Standards, Practices, Policy
  • Technology for online learning, LMS, teacher technologies, student technologies
  • Professional Development for Teachers
  • Online Curriculum, OER, digital content
  • Reasons for Online, promotion, faculty buy-in
  • Summer School, Curriculum extensions
  • Visit online programs

Subgroups will be forming in early 2012 to explore these issues.

To be included in informational communications, express your interest to idupageonline (at symbol)

In addition an administrator academy course is being developed  by the ROE about online learning.  This will be available later in the year.

Online Learning Initiative in Northern Illinois

The DuPage County Regional Office of Education (ROE) is starting an initiative to assist districts in the region with online learning.  A planning meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on October 18, 2011 at the ROE’s Center for Professional Learning .  The purpose of the initiative is to assist school districts with courses for students, professional development, policy development, and other issues.  The first meeting is to determine the direction of this project.  All districts should participate (elementary districts, high school districts, and unit districts).

Additionally, the ROE is working on an Administrator Academy for principals about online learning.  The first version of the course is expected to be finished by the end of October 2011.

While this program is from the DuPage ROE, school districts from the region (outside DuPage) are invited to attend the meeting and to participate in the project.

Register here.

Online Demographics Report

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David Glick’s report on the demographics of online students and teachers was published this week.  For those involved with online learning, the results are not surprising, but for others they might be illuminating.  Interesting results:

  • Females constitute about 55% of the online student population.
  • White students and Native American students are over represented in the student population.
  • Black students, Hispanic students, and Asian students are under represented.
  • Special students (ELL, IEP, poverty) are under represented.

These results are consistent with the programs I have worked with.  Guidance counselors report that females are ready for new opportunities outside traditional classrooms.  They are likely to graduate from high school early to see other opportunities.

Further I’ve seen the under representation of other groups, especially Hispanic and Asian.  This is a strange fact, especially with the high performance levels of many Asian students.  Perhaps it is the openness and unstructured features of online learning that do not attract some student groups.  Perhaps its just non-interest.  In any case, this makes for some good learning research as well as marketing possibilities.

Illinois Online Learning Legislation Amended

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In mid-August, the Illinois governor signed legislation to amend the state’s Remote Education Act.  The change allows school districts to claim attendance for state aid when a student participates in a class during the weekend, holiday or other non-attendance day.  Districts must keep accurate logs of participation, such as log-in/log-out times.  Still in the law are requirements for a school district policy, approved annually, and a remote education plan for each student.

The Deregulation of Education: From Bubbles to Clicks


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We need leaders who can work with the education community and the “education reformers, proponents of ” the status quo” and the “change agents.” Finances, changing demographics, and performance measures are putting pressure on the current system. We need change, but is it “market-driven” change? Does market-driven change focus on students and their interests or is focus on profits? Does market-driven change focus on creating a market through universal standardization or relationships with students?

The press to “deregulate,” or unbundle education in the current reform language, is wild and wide open. In a recent working paper, Creating Healthy Policy for Digital Learning, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute opens the throttle for the deregulation of education.

Again, I offer that I am a proponent of all kinds of options of learning for students. Some students excel in classrooms, some do not. Some schools are blue-ribbon, but others are broken, in chaos and lawless. Students who do not learn at the rate of the pace of the dictated curriculum can be left behind. Those who can work faster are bored. Virtual schooling and digital learning allow students to take classes not available locally. I will further write that I am now a former school administrator, technology director, and e-learning director in a large suburban school district. I have seen great leadership. I have seen great collaboration. I have seen adults working on behalf of students. Yet, I know that within the constraints of state laws, federal laws, union contracts, time and money, every student is not fully served. There’s just not enough resources to serve every student. While schools address the regulatory constraints of their reality, a small but growing group, harps at change through the market. We need leaders who can press through this, pragmatists who pull the partisans together for the benefit of kids.

Virtual classes can allow students to progress at their own rates. In a virtual setting, I have seen high-performing middle school students cross math sequences by completing a year of mathematics in six weeks. In their next course, they do as well as students who took a year to learn the prerequisite material. I have also seen students and had private conversations with school personnel about students unsuccessfully recovering credits online. Further, I worked in a program where over 90% of the students recorded “A,” “B,” or “C” in their online courses. Online learning is not for everybody. Even the blended models offer stiff challenges to underperforming students.

The deep thread of the Fordam paper is to make a market out of education through the Common Core. While finding flaws in the separate state assessments under No Child Left Behind, the paper proclaims success in uniform Common Core assessments through electronic learning, moving assessments from bubbles to clicks. While the paper encourages the use of growth models, the core issue is the deregulation of education so that it can be turned into a nationwide market.

The paper is published under the umbrella of three issues:

  • Input and process regulation
  • Outcome-based accountability
  • Market-based quality control

In the first point is criticism of teacher certification. Clearly the paper doesn’t like it. So we’ll let anybody fly a plane, operate a nuclear reactor, or argue a court case? No licensing or examinations required. Not everybody can teach; it takes a special heart on a special mission, yet teaching online is different from in a classroom. Some certification requirement factors are nonsense, but prospective teachers must show appropriate skills. Should the Common Core be mandated along with a national Common Core exam, a national certificate may be appropriate.

Second point, the paper supposes that the Common Core is better than individual state standards. This creates the single market for content providers. It is interesting that this is a move toward more standardization using technology, when we educational technologists proclaim that technology allows diversity and personalization. They are certainly not parallel thoughts. Early in the paper, the notion is expressed that [v]irtual school’s greatest power is that it creates the opportunity to reconsider what is feasible. I ask for whom? Students or the market. No where in the paper is the issue of collaboration, communication, or critical thinking addressed — the issues that a global economy require but cannot be tested in a bubble or through a click. In this proposed market-driven purpose, students would not be asked to demonstrate to solve problems, collaborate on issues, and other issues that technology-based learning can facilitate. The deregulation of education is about more standardization of content, not about what students are learning. After all it’s a market and students can be tested with a click.

The third point above is about quality control, market-based quality control. Let’s use JD Power to measure quality or perhaps Yelp? (Sarcasm intended.)

One of the realities is about a basic premise of the paper, [S]tudents in a given building or district may be taking courses (or just sections of courses) from a variety of providers, each with varying approaches to technology, instruction, mastery, and so forth. The marketplace is about commanding it not sharing it: betamax v vhs; iOS v. Android. Look at SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework). This is an attempt to share data across different technology systems, a system not largely adopted in school districts technology departments. Essentially, SIF is a failure because of its non-adoption, an example that the market cannot solve the simplest issue in education — sharing data among systems produced by that market. The global market is full of non-compliance. There’s no marketplace example that learning objects (sections of courses) from different providers will easily fit in the system the paper proposes. Every company has its own proprietary system. Standardize to their system or go elsewhere. Can I take a water pump from a Ford and put it on a Chevy? That’s what this means for learning objects. The parts won’t mesh. Clearly, the providers won’t build their systems and content around open source or sharing it easily. Then it would not be a market.

Further, the traditionalists who insist that school cannot change; that kids can only learn after they are disgorged from the big bricks of cheese and only between bells are delusional. Technology continues to be integrated into schools to continue to do the same old things. Technology integration is a waste of time and money, with few measurable results. The traditionalists march, tweet, and cry that the reformers want to hurt kids and take teachers’ jobs. The reality is that education is one of the last industries that has not been radically changed by technologies and changing requirements of the world. Every time schools want to start a new initiative or receive a mandate, they rearrange the deck chairs of school based on the ancient notion that kids learn at the same rate and that learning must occur at occasions that adults designate. Does it matter if a student can complete the requirements of 3rd grade in 6 months and those of the 5th grade in 18 months? If a student can complete a math requirement in 6 weeks, that should be encouraged and celebrated. The system needs to change to make this happen.

We need leaders who will poke through the rhetoric of the marketplace and the traditionalists to show us how to structure schools differently around what’s learned, not around the required days and hours of school.

We need leaders at the national and state levels who will organize, confront the partisans and take learning to new levels that technology provides with many stakeholders supporting a new system. As I wrote a year ago, we need leaders to take us to new levels and that bubbles and clicks won’t do. Forward is not far enough.

Blackboard World 2011 Notes

The Venetian was the site of Blackboard World 2011

I recently attended two days of the Blackboard World conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Below are notes for sessions I attended, my session presentation, and random thoughts.

Session: Seven Best Face to Face Practices for Blended learning, Dan Lim and Jinyuan Tao, Florida College of Health Sciences

The presenters outlined their support for classroom practices in a blended learning environment:

  1. Integrate laptops into classroom.
  2. Design interactive games to mitigate challenging content learning. Use gaming theory to teach the most difficult content.
  3. Administer short quizzes to ensure reading prior to live lectures. Quizzes conducted electronically through personal laptop computers
  4. Conduct additional face to face lectures to review challenging content.
  5. Implement clicker technology to check for understanding.
  6. Divide students into groups to work on case studies and scenarios to reinforce content learning.
  7. Archive key classroom lectures to put into mobile learning environments.

Bb Product Keynote. Michael Chasen & Ray Henderson

The presentation looked at the state of the product, a report card on promises and a look at improvements in the mobile platform. In the state of product, features that were reported to be in or coming to the product, such a copy and paste from MS Word, which should have been in the product ages ago. I am not sure the self-report card was accurate. (Companies and people tend to rate themselves higher than actual performance.) I am not sure one judges success on closed help tickets, but that’s how it’s measured at Bb. My experience with level 1 and sometimes level 2 tech support is that I know more about the product than they do. During the time between ticket submissions and my contact from technical support, I have the issue resolved. The prospects of the mobile app look promising in that schools can use mobile learn to construct their own mobile apps by dragging and dropping icons, then adding their own urls, ports, passwords, etc. No custom programming or scripting.

Video Source

Chinese 1 Online, Arlington, Virginia Schools

In this session, presenters explained how they developed online for 55 students spread across multiple middle schools and high schools. The course was completely instructor developed with audio, video, and internet resources. Students developed videos to demonstrate understanding of language and its application. This was also combined with instructor visits to classroom. Instructor made very good use of many modalities of learning.

Improving Graduation Rate, Memphis, Tennessee Schools

The school district is employing Florida Virtual School content to help improve graduation rates. School district is now requiring an online course for graduation. It also uses online for credit recovery. Graduation rates are improving overall. No correlation offered as to online’s contribution to this success. Questions revealed completion rate and success rate of online students is around 60%.

Breaking down the barriers of Course development, Jefferson County Public Schools

Jeffco’s presentation was about expanding professional development courses using Bb. In 2007, 3 p.d. courses offered online. In 2011, 90 courses will be online. District has developed process for approving professional development courses and developing them to implementation. District has established a uniform course shell and uniform features of courses. P.D. instructors just have to fill in template.

Online Learning ROI

This session announced a framework (The New Math for Justifying Online Learning: Leveraging ROI and VOI Analysis for Ed Tech Investments) for online programs as well as general educational technology initiatives. The frame is built around who, what, when, where, why. Case studies of several school districts are included in the report, although none indicates any financial savings. The studies were VOI and mostly process – Here’s what we did with little evaluation of the results. It’s a nice planning model; it certainly needs an evaluation component that drives toward the ROI aspects of the theme of the booklet.

BbWorld Keynote by Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken’s presentation was a series of personal stories weaved around difficult issues of sustainability, the rigidity of current public organizations, and creativity. This was a delightful, but humbling, presentation. He did it with only a few slides and no silly YouTube videos. He is a master story teller.

Video Source

MyMead: Providing online support for a K-12 Public School System

This report was about how the school district is using Bb for internal communication as well as external communication. The district is using Bb as an intranet, public web site for schools, and course site for students. As in many cases, the issues are political not technical.

As with any conference, there’s great opportunity to speak with vendors, meet new colleagues, and ask many questions about form and substance.

My Presentation: What are we learning about learning online.

Online Learning is Upside Down

Online Learning Models are Upside Down

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For those who like to listen or read along, the above audio player reads this posting. (5 minutes, 20 seconds)

Online learning models are upside down.  The proponents of online education state that “credit recovery” is one of the reasons to learn online.  This form of learning occurs when a student fails a high school course and is required to either make up the entire course or pass the units/sections/chapters that were failed.  So the student recovers the credit.

The reasons that student may have “failed” the course are wide, but they likely fall into a few categories, such as:

  1. The student has not learned organization skills.  He may be brilliant, but cannot organize himself.
  2. The student cannot self-regulate.  This means that the student cannot force himself to put down the TV remote, the smart-phone, or video game to study.

Some can argue that the student may not have mastered the previous learning to be successful.  Perhaps the student has a low reading proficiency or he cannot compute well.   Perhaps, the student lacks internal motivation.

I propose here that the idea of putting struggling students in online classes is an enormous mistake.

Margaret Roblyer has a wide research base in this topic for high school students.  She has identified several characteristics of a successful online learner.

  • Academic Achievement — Good students are good students regardless of the learning environment.  Online learning does not suddenly make a poor student a high achiever.
  • Organization — Students learning online must be organized.
  • Technology — Technology must be present where they are learning.
  • Self-regulation — Students must be able to put themselves at the place they want to learn and to drop all distractions.

Dr. Roblyer has developed a survey that predicts the probability of passing (POP) an online course.  The survey is scored on the elements outlined above and heavily weighs on the academic success component.  If a student scores highly on the organization, technology and self-regulation questions, but has a low gpa, the POP score predicts a marginal success possibility.

To the point here:  So we put students who may not have the requisite skills, such as reading, in a course that has large amounts of material that must be read, they are disorganized, and they cannot self regulate.  This is a recipe for more poor results.  These students need help with organization, help with skills, and a disciplined environment.

In our online classes, we ask students to provide advice to the next group of students taking our courses.  Our latest published report is available here.  Our students usually advise future students to be organized and not to procrastinate.  In the report cited here, about 90% of the students responded this way.  One student’s response represented the group’s comments:

I would tell future students who are taking this course that they should plan ahead and get as much of the work done as they can early on before the due date. The course is much less stressful if you plan ahead and get things done whenever you have time to get it done. Also, try not to forget about your online class; always write about the due dates in your assignment notebooks and have many reminders. Don’t forget that there are some assignments that take longer than others, so allow time to finish them. It is also much easier to take the test when you are not rushing to finish it at 10 or 11 at night the night the unit is due.

The students are reporting back and supporting Dr. Roblyer’s research.  The success rate of the program, meaning students that score “A,” “B,” or “C” on their final grades, is 90%.  The students get it; they learn quickly what they need to do to be successful online.  The adults would prefer to work with high achievers and push the low achievers someplace else.

Here’s the model of learning I suggest:

  1. High achieving students should be put into online courses.  They can work at their own rates.  In speaking with my teaching colleagues, these students learn in spite of what happens in the classroom.  They are highly organized and they self-regulate.  Further, my teaching colleagues will claim that I am attempting to “skim off” the good students.  It is important to note that all students need quality teachers, whether online or in traditional classrooms.  The interaction is different online.  Teachers take more of a personal tutor or group mentor role.  They are no longer standing and delivering in front of students daily.  They interact with students through video conferencing technologies.  Our teachers report that they know their online students better than they know their face-to-face students.  Online the teachers “require” each student to participate in discussions and other activities where they might be silent in a regular classroom. Online teachers know every student well, not just the ones who want to talk in a traditional classroom.  Quality online teachers are important; teaching online occurs differently.
  2. Average students can be successful in hybrid (blended) learning environments, where they get the direct instruction they need, yet they can work on their own when possible.
  3. Low achievers need focused help from teachers in small groups.

There it is.  I welcome your feedback and your comments.

“Blended Learning” Thoughts

Blended Learning
 Here are some thoughts about “Blended Learning:”
Blended Learning is a new catch phrase of online learning enthusiasts, a modification of the term “hybrid courses.”  Essentially part of a student’s learning is a traditional classroom and the other part is in mediated instruction — computer based learning at the student’s own pace and time.
I must write that I am an online educator and researcher, but this is not as big of a deal as it is being portrayed.  The terminology is more  hype than anything else, because technology and the Internet have not “enabled” blended learning.  See this recent article for a blended learning overview.
Blended learning, without computers, has been part of the education mainstream for decades and I can remember learning in a blended classroom in the 1960s when I was in junior high school  in “shop” class.  The instructor gave us direct instruction about how to use a particular shop tool and a technique to go along with it.  It was our task to then apply the learning to the best of our ability within the project times of the class.  The teacher provided individual instruction and feedback.  We made a “recipe holder,” a clothes pin nail to the top of a stand, a magazine rack, and a garden trowel.  Blended learning.
Project-based learning has fit the blended model long before the term was morphed into what it is today.   In our schools, blended learning has been a main stay in art courses,  business education courses and vocational education courses.  Walk into one of these classrooms and you may see a teacher providing direct instruction or see students working individually on their projects that applies their learning.  I have never seen more collaboration and problem solving  in a classroom than I have seen in the auto shop with students standing under a car discussing how to diagnose the issue and repair it.
Today’s technologists think it’s recent and there’s an attempt to generate a strong breeze of support.  The issue is that blended learning is a methodology not a technology.  A  teacher can have a blended-learning classroom without the Internet, although the web provides many resources for project-based learning.  The Internet and online learning are not the enablers of blended learning.  It is a methodology for learning and a motivated teacher who sets the stage for this learning modality.

Written Comments to the Senate Education Committee


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Comments for House Bill 3223 for Senate Education Committee
May 13, 2011

My name is Jeffrey Hunt. I am the director of e-learning at Indian Prairie School District 204 in Aurora, Illinois. I am an educational technology practitioner with practical experience implementing learning technologies in traditional classrooms as well in electronic settings, such as online learning. I am here today to ask you to support House Bill 3223 to amend the existing Remote Education Act.

This proposed revision of the Act will allow school districts to count students’ work in their online classes during weekends, holiday periods, teacher institute days, and other non-attendance days as part of the districts’ General State Aid calculations up to the limits of law.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has existing compliance rules to audit districts’ programs for students’ participation in online courses. So there are no additional costs or efforts outside the existing requirements of the Remote Education Act or ISBE’s compliance rules.

We are not suggesting in this revision of the Act that students be forced to work on weekends or holiday breaks. Rather schools should be allowed to track students’ participation in their online courses outside the approved school calendars for General State Aid purposes. Many students are telling us that they want to learn outside the traditional time and place of school. Online courses provide them the avenues of flexibility, pacing, and place of learning. A revision to the Remote Education Act will make this a reality.

The number of online learning opportunities is increasing for the nation’s students. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning reports that in 2009 approximately 1.5 million students were enrolled in online courses nationwide and that 70% of the nation’s school districts offered at least one online course.

In higher education, the Sloan Consortium reports that during the fall semester 2009, nearly 30% of all students enrolled there participated in online courses.
Learning in non-traditional formats is an emerging trend in education. From the phone calls I receive, Illinois’ schools are beginning to notice the promise of online learning.
In today’s implementations online learning has different meanings, such as hybrid courses where students attend traditional classes for part of the courses and they complete work online for the other fraction of the courses.

In fully online courses, students may never see the inside of a traditional classroom, except for an orientation to the course and to complete the final exam. Yet, students and teachers interact electronically through electronic mail, video conferencing software, and telephone calls, when necessary. Learning online does not mean that a student learns alone. Quality teachers are essential in learning regardless of the learning format.

At Indian Prairie, we offer fully online courses. Consumer Economics and Health are the most popular courses taken online. We also offer astronomy, English courses, and US history online. Our students are successful in our courses, with over 90% of them finishing their courses with an “A,” “B,” or “C” grade. Our students follow the same curriculum plans and take the same examinations as students enrolled in traditional courses. We share the concerns that many have about the quality of online courses, and we focus our attention on those issues.