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Blended Learning Taxonomy: Not Ready For Prime Time

Blended Learning Model from Clayton Christensen Institute http://www.christenseninstitute.org/
Blended Learning Model from Clayton Christensen Institute http://www.christenseninstitute.org/

Having just returned from iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium, I am confused by the term “Blended Learning.” Not confused in my understanding, but I am confused how to explain this concept to executive administrators and boards of education.  The current definition as illustrated above is too confusing and not specific enough.  Right now the definition works for those studying the field, but it is too fuzzy to explain to executives and boards, whose heads are already spinning from the acronyms of state and local budgets, special education, and other reform movements.

For now my best avenue of explain this opportunity is to apply instructional design concepts to this issue:

  • Who is your audience and what are their needs?
  • What do you want them to learn?
  • How will you know when they learned it?
  • What learning strategies can be used to help the target audience learn?
  • What technologies can be used to support the learning?

I work in a graduate program where students learn in fully online settings and in “hybrid” settings, meaning that we meet with some cohorts in traditional settings for about 40% of the semester.  For the balance of the time we work with a learning management system, email, phone calls, text messages, and group video conferencing software.  Yet, the definition labels this hybrid setting “blended.”

Taxonomy is a challenging endeavor.  Michael Horn and his associates have an incredible body of work studying the effects of computer aided instruction and its impact on school settings.  While at the conference, presentations and conversations were about “blended programs;” the explainers described their setting with multiple sentences.

When we have to explain too much to executive administration and boards that’s a problem.  We should be able to explain our settings in 50 words or less.

Here are some suggestions for the taxonomy:

  • Define the online learning component with sharper terms.  Because the field is pushing competency (mastery) education, this definition should distinguish this as data-rich.  Students, teachers, and parents will have data to show progress.  My graduate program has data, but not at the level possible with “big data” from emerging systems.
  • Stop changing the terms.  The term “Self-blend  ” became “a la carte” earlier this year.  I will continue to call this model “supplemental” as it is descriptive and tells me that this supplements a traditional catalog of subjects and courses.  The “enriched virtual model” is a hybrid model, mixing traditional settings with digital learning outside school.
  • Most administrators have witnessed or taught in rotation models.  A traditional elementary classroom employs the rotation model daily without the computerized instruction.  The association is easy.  Make connections to traditional programs whenever possible.  It helps the understanding of risk-averse leaders.
  • Further decide whether we are using instructional models or learning models.  There is a difference.  Instructional models focus in what teachers do.  Learning models focus on what students do.  Notice the instructional design notes above.  For me it’s about learning not teaching.

The researchers will continue to refine the terminology and sharpen the descriptions.  Thanks to Michael Horn, Heather Staker and associates for their continued efforts to refine their descriptions.  Yet for me, the terminology is not ready for prime time.

Online Learning Reading List

Bush, J. & Wise, B. (2010). Digital learning now. Tallahassee, FL: Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Cavanaugh, C. (2009). Getting students more learning time online: Distance education in support of expanded learning time in K-12 schools. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Creative Commons (n.d.). Creative Commons. Mountainview: CA: author. Retrieved from http://www.creativecommons.org.

Dawley, L., Rice, K. & Hinck, G. (2010). Going virtual! 2010: The status of professional development and unique need of K-12 online teachers. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University.

EdTech Leaders Online program at Education Development Center, Inc. (2012). Discussion board expectations. Retrieved from http://courses.edtechleaders.org/documents/disc_expectations.htm

Gabriel, T. (2011). “More pupils are learning online, fueling debate on quality. New York Times. Retrieved http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/06/education/06online.html?_r=3&hp=&adxnnlx=1302087708-EMsB5jdWPK44Az0g%20r/0Cw&pagewanted=all&.

International Association for K12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online learning, version 2. Vienna, VA: Author.

Illinois General Assembly. Remote educational programs. Public Act 097-0339, 2011.

Flora, J. (2011). Digital curriculum: Instructional and Administrative Strategies. Seattle, WA: Apex Learning.

Mackey, K. (2011). Implementing Aex Learning: A comparison of inline-learning programs in three school districts. Mountainview, CA: Innosight Institute

Maryland Online. (2010). The grades 6-12 edition of the Quality Matters rubric. Annapolis, MD: Author.

Patrick, S., Edwards, D. Wicks, M. & Watson, J. (2012). Measuring quality from inputs to outcome: Creating student learning performance metrics and quality assurance for online schools. Vienna, VA: International Association for K12 Online Learning.

Rice, K., Dawley, L., Gasell, C. & Florez, C. (2008). Going virtual!: Unique needs and challenges of K12 online teachers. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University.

Staker, H. & Horn, M. (2012). Classifying K-12 blended learning. Mountainview, CA: Innosight Institute.

Wagner, J. (2012). Pennsylania Cyber Charter School: Performance audit report. Pennsylvania Auditor General.

Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B, & Rapp, C. (2012). Keeping pace with K12 online & Blended Learning: An annual review of policy and practice. Durango, CO: Evergreen Education Group.

Watson, J., Gemin, B. & Coffey, M. (2010). Promising practices in online learning: A parents guide to choosing the right online program. Vienna, VA: International Association for K12 Online Learning.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (2010). Education program: Strategic plan. Menlo Park, CA: author

Wise, B. (2010). The online learning imperative: A solution to three looming crises in education. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Virtual School’s Symposium 2012 Summary

The student panel at the Virtual Schools Symposium 2012

 Over 2,000 conferees assembled in New Orleans, Louisiana for iNACOL’s edition of its Virtual Schools Symposium held October 21-24, 2012. Across the program, presentations looked at research in the field, instructional models, administrative successes, and policy proposals.

This year’s conference focused on the trends in the field that includes blended (hybrid) learning.  In their session iNACOL’s Rob Darrow and Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn clarified that in blended learning models, teachers have the ability to look at student achievement data daily, a feature not available in traditional classrooms.  Blended learning is a mix between traditional instruction and student control and self-pacing.

In the opening general session, iNACOL CEO Susan Patrick and Gates Foundation Stacey Childress discussed the trends in non-traditional learning:

  • Student-centered personalized learning.  In this view, students have the ability to learn at their own rates and choose their own learning paths.
  • Students will receive credit when they learn a major concept, not at the end of the course or semester.
  • Smart learning systems will be developed that learn as students use them.

During his presentation, John White (twitter: @Louisianasupe), Louisiana Superintendent of Education described the tension between traditionalists and reformers.  He asked that both sides come togther and develop a system that meets today’s needs.  The workplace and the family have changed so schools should follow.  He cautioned technologists that schools are not ready to implement technology.  Infrastructure is not ready in many parts of his state and  across the country.  White thinks that control needs to be local, that other forms of schools can be successful (vouchers and charters), and certification stops innovation.

In research provided by the Marzano Research Laboratory and Plato Learning students in online courses have greater success the more time that teachers are in the courses interacting with students and their work.  For teachers who are logged in for over 530 hours, students’ end of semester score averaged 81% compared to 62% for teachers who logged in less than 39 hours.

In a session about quality, Susan Patrick and Evergreen Education Group’s  John Watson outlined the issues.  Quality has been defined as course inputs; that is, quality courses have certain features.  Patrick and Watson described the move to performance metrics, such as portfolios, individual growth, college readiness, career readiness, and others.  They called for pilot programs to test these ideas, and to influence policy and legislation.

In another general session, Karen Cator  of the U.S. Department of Education described the need for high end assessments, multiple measures for success, and multiple proof points specifically calling for policy makers to focus on educational issues that is about individual student learning.

The student panel always highlights valuable statements from students about how they are learning in online and blended models.    In these settings, it appears that nobody speaks for them.  The discussions are usually around adult perceptions and views.

In my all-day preconference session, Judy Bauernschmidt (Colorado Department of Education), John Canuel (Blackboard), Holly Bryzcki (CAIU), and Phil Lacey joined me in taking participants through the process of starting an online program.  Our slides follow.

The field is beginning to mature in its thinking.  Policies, practices, and results will determine the success of this innovative movement.

Next year’s VSS is in Orlando, Florida.

Successful Online Courses


Image Credit

The SLATE Conference is October 11-12, 2012 at the Northern Illinois University campus in Naperville, Illinois.  The conference brings together conferees who are interested in non-traditional forms of learning, especially in electronically supplementing traditional courses or implementing online courses.

My presentation is about factors for successful online courses.  They include:

  • issues of curriculum, instruction, and technology
  • the target audience
  • research about successful online students
  • multicontent tracks in courses
  • quality components
  • promising practices

The slide deck is below.


Innovation and Democracy


Image Credit

Is innovation a democratic process?

Innovate:  to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. (reference)

In Disrupting Class, author Clayton Christen informs school boards that introducing digital learning into schools may be hampered by purposeful democratic processes that are part of schools’ cultures.  Cooperative tools like “financial incentives, negotiations, vision statements, training, performance metrics, and even litigation . . . don’t work most of the time. . . . [L]eaders often waste their credibility, energy, and resources when implementing change.  The efficacy of any tools in eliciting the cooperation needed to march in a new direction depends in two variables:  the extent to which the concerned parties agree on what they want, and the extent of their agreement on how to get it.  We have concluded from examining school through this lens that democracy itself — as practiced in most school boards — is a fundamental barrier that will block implementation of many of the changes [needed for successful digital learning] unless leaders deal with it correctly (p. 227).

Reflect on this question:  When was the last time  innovative emerged from a school committee?  I am referencing issues that really improved (changed) learning for kids?  Never seen it happen in a curriculum committee and certainly never in a “technology committee.”  Legislative mandates force certain changes upon schools.  Innovation in schools does not happen from within the established system.

Real innovation occurs with through a visionary leader who gathers like minded supporters that are committed to helping the vision become reality.  Look at the picture at the top of this posting.  Was the light bulb developed by a committee?

Many of us can name innovators  of goods and services from the past two decades.  Can you name a educational leader who really changed learning in schools in the past two decades?   Not one.  Most are historic figures from the early 20th century.  (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have not innovated education.  They provided “tools” that allow teachers to do the same things electronically.  The delivery, the context, and the result are from the early 20th Century.)

As schools consider new ways to bring digital learning opportunities to their students, they need strong leadership and perhaps undemocratic methods to make this a reality.  Otherwise are kids will remain early 20th Century learners.

Deregulation of Education 3: Show Me The Money


Image Credit

Wes Freyer recently reported on a digital learning conference in Oklahoma.  In this report he included a video about the money potential in digital learning that is embedded below.  The presenter outlines the money in Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Schools along with the scope of the money involved in digital learning and executive salaries.

Education is already dealing with big money;

  • School Lunch program cost $10.8 billion in FY10 (reference)
  • In Illinois, school transportation costs approached $1 billion in Fy09 (reference)
  • Putting computers in schools have cost about $20 billion during past twenty years (Disrupting Class, 2011, p. 81)
  • Total annual spending on education in U.S. is $800 billion (reference)
The point is that education is already big business.  To vilify the digital learning movement over executive compensation is a red herring.  Nobody is in the education “market” for altruistic motives.  While teachers pledge to help students, they have mortgages, children’s college tuition, and utilities to pay.    Everybody gets paid.
The video ends with a student staring into a computer screen into a darkened room.  Another red herring.  As has been written here before, learning online is not learning alone.  Interactions with other students and teachers are essential for digital learning.
The challenge for educators is that we need to be engaged.  We have been able to block many movements, but this one has the capacity to change schools as we have known them.  It’s more than “integrating” technology into classrooms.  Digital content a new way for students to learn and a new way for teachers to teach.
Other postings about digital learning:

Notes From the Virtual School Symposium 2011

The Closing Student Panel from VSS 2011

Over 1,900 conferees assembled in Indianapolis for the Virtual  School Symposium November 9-11, 2011.  My notes from the day follow.  A wiki is available for the event.

On Wednesday, I participated in a day long workshop for participants starting online programs.  Holly Brzycki, John Canuel, David Glick, and Phil Lacey presented about their specialties:  curriculum, leadership, technology, policy, and professional development.

The program started with a panel of teachers from across the country.

 Fostering Quality in Digital Learning.  I wrote a separate review of the session here.  The essence of the presentation was policy development so that market forces can produce new learning platforms.  My thoughts are that the presenters are missing an important factor in their calculations — teacher-student relationships.

Presenters were no-shows at two of the sessions I attended, although audience members rose to lead discussions that were similar to the titles in the program.  This speaks to the interest of the participants, but the program committee, of which I am a member, needs to do a better job ensuring that speakers are in attendance.

In the lunchtime presentation by Steve Midgley (US Dept of Education), he reviewed technology advances with Google, Youtube, and others.  Not much new here.

Mickey Revenaugh from Connections Academy lead a panel discussion about course quality.  This was a different discussion from the policy issues discussed earlier in the day.  While vendors were on the panel, the discussion was about how to develop quality courses.  The participants did not feel “sold.”  The design process includes visual literacy concepts and prototyping new courses sections with students.  Teachers’ loads are determine by the amount of grading effort by the teacher and teacher-student interaction.  Assessments, standards, and such were discussed.  Some measures of quality include end of course exams, mastery learning, and growth models.  Interestingly, one vendor collects student feedback on each lesson with a 5 star rating system and a text box for specific comments.  Ratings and comments are used to make changes in content.

On the evening of the first day of VSS, the planners  provided an exceptional evening of  food and entertainment at the Indiana Roof Ballroom.  Vendors had evening receptions, making it a parade of events for the evening.

On Friday morning, Michael Horn and Paul Peterson had a panel discussion about a world class education.  Peterson quoted PISA scores showing the apparent dismal scores of American students, yet later he stated that he was not an assessment expert.  If you’re unfamiliar with the possible problems with PISA, start here.  Peterson described the idea of co-production — how unpaid labor increases productivity.  They include:

  • Big box stores where customers troll the aisles with carts, moving goods from the stores to their cars.
  • Banks were ATMs serve customers and banks use online statements.

In schools, Peterson stated, students are the most important part of unpaid labor.  We must look for student engagement in courses to get them to learn what they should know.

Like others, including Horn, Peterson stated that we are at the beginning of digital learning and much possible as technology improves, such fully interactive and 3D.

He stated that competition between blended learning and online learning will improve options for students.

Peterson closed with three areas to observe success:

  1. The system must be transparent with standards, curricula.
  2. Student accountability is essential.  The learning must be verified.
  3. The system must be flexible.
  4. There must be a policy framework for competition.

Next I attended a panel discussion led by former West Virgina Governor Bob Wise.  Participants gave specific information about success in their programs.  Some general ideas from the presenters:

  1. Blended learning ensures success for many types of students.
  2. Success in blended learning depends on quality teachers
  3. Professional development is important.
  4. Social networking will become important.

Next I attended a session where Robyn Bagley described the process how Utah Senate Bill 65 was passed to encourage digital learning in that state.  She described a new model for Utah:

  • Funding follows the student.
  • Funding based on successful completion of the course.
  • Students customize their education with blended learning
  • Students provide courses and provider
  • Subject matter mastery replaces seat time
  • Student have access to the best courses and best teachers.

She outlined how she was able to shepard the bill through the Utah legislature.  Robyn was passionate and articulate about the topic.  She has a winning attitude.

My final breakout presentation was about how Hall County, GA is implementing digital learning in its schools.  The program includes curriculum development and sharing, infrastructure design, assessments, and professional development.

The day and conference concluded with a student panel presentation.  Students explained how and why they were in online and blended learning programs.  They talked about their challenges — some of the content is hard to learn — to their triumphs — I can take my school with me when I travel.

It was a great closing to this conference.

The next VSS is  October 21-24, 2012 in New Orleans.

The Deregulation of Education II: The Measures of Quality

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In 1937, F. Dean McClusky was asked to study why there had been a failure of commercial film makers to make successful educational films.  In McClusky’s report:  “Commercial interests have failed to grasp or to study the nature of instruction and the complexity of educational organizations.”  (Paul Saettler, 1990, p. 106).  It appears history will repeat with digital learning.

The “free marketeers” in digital learning must consider student-teacher interaction in their quality learning calculations.  Digital learning is not learning alone or “being taught by a computer,” the traditionalists view of new possibilities.

Recently, I attended a session, “ Fostering Quality in Digital Learning,” at the Virtual Schools Symposium.  The presenters were Bryan Hassel (Public Impact) and Seth Reynolds (Parthenon Group).  The premise of the presentation is that new delivery systems are possible in education.  Entrepreneurs are needed in education to organize resources for these new delivery systems that can be scaled to schools.  Further policies will be needed to bring these new systems into education.  However, it seems as though all the designs from the marketeers are based on price, price, and price.

In an earlier posting, I wrote about how the “ed reformers” are attempting to make education a marketplace through the “Common Core.”  Further I noted the entrenchment of the “traditionalists,” stating that we need pragmatic leadership to bring education into today’s realities and opportunities.

When I listen to presenters at meetings, I note their vocabulary.  Words define us, categorize us, show our limitless capacities, yet limit our imagination. Whenever the marketeers speak it seems to be with the language of the market, like “education space” or “product.”

The markeeteers’ most celebrated  example of this is Carpe Diem– a blended learning school with a professional entourage model in Yuma, Arizona.  Its costs are about 10% less than high schools in Yuma County and about equal to the average cost of all K12 education in the county (reference).  Comparison to national averages do not seem appropriate as its costs are not greatly dissimilar from its local peers.  Stop comparing Carpe Diem’s costs to the national average.  It does not help this digital learning movement.

Here are some items from my notes about the presentation:

  • Quality:  quality teachers  + technology. 
  • A teacher only gets 1 year of learning gain. 
  • There’s a limit to the  maximum number of quality teachers.  The number used in their conversation was 25%.  Twenty-five percent of all teachers are quality – outstanding teachers – and we will never be able to get more than that percentage. 
  • Because the number of quality teachers is limited we must find ways for them to interact with more teachers, perhaps up to 4-6 times more students than they now have.
  • Students have a “civil right” to good teachers.

During the session, the presenters appeared to discount the student-teacher relationship.  In my notes, I wrote, “they think the student-teacher relationship is a commodity.”  Later during the question period, a session attendee stated that her experience with online education was that the student-teacher relationship breaks down at a ratio of about 125:1.  The presenters were speechless, as if they have never thought about the teacher-student relationship.

After the session, I asked one of the presenters  whether some of the models they were exploring was like the physician who has several assistants, like a physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, physical therapist, and such.  My thought was confirmed.  I added that I only contact my physician when I need him or at some long term cycle.  He and his crew neither monitor my status daily or weekly nor initiate a conversation or merely send me an email that my daily and weekly stats look good and to “keep up the good work.”  Is the physician’s model of “on demand” service the model these folks are seeking?

This thought is supported by principles they presented:

  • Teacher candidates should be selected from the best high school students.
  • Teachers will be held accountable for students’ successes.
  • Teachers should have the authority to make change in student delivery.
  • There should be rewards.
  • Teacher can be responsible for more students.  (The language here suggests a professional entourage as outlined above with the “teacher” only seeing the most difficult cases and the “paraprofessionals” helping others.)

This is contrary to reports of success and what students are requesting.  In the online program where I previously worked, students gave us feedback that they wanted more contact with their online teachers.  At the closing student panel at VSS, the participants echoed the same:  they want more contact with their teachers.  Students want their teachers to get to know them.  The presenters need to understand the student-teacher relationship is essential to student success.  When relationships are commodities, they have no value.  Hassel and Reynolds don’t appear to factor that the student-teacher relationship is essential for student motivation; to appeal to a student’s better side; and to intervene when necessary.  They were speechless when the relationship statement was made by the session participant noted above.

The vocabulary used in the presentation suggests to me that the main ingredients of quality from these presenters are “productivity” and “lower costs.”  Quality = productivity; Quality = “lower costs.”

This is not to write that technology can’t be used to provide closer tracking of student progress.  At what expense?

Instead of criticizing the language used by the marketeers, let’s use their language to demonstrate how they are missing an important element of education:

  • In Tom Peters’ book In Search of Excellence, the author writes about a successful car dealer.  “He [the car dealer] doesn’t think statistically, but emphasizes that he has sold ‘one at a time, face-to-face, belly-to-belly’” (p. 158).
  • In former Southwest Airlines CEO’s book, Nuts, Herb Kelleher has a book section entitled, “The Commitment to Service Must Be Personal.”
  • Jack Welch writes, “A huge part of making your customers [loyal] . . . is meeting or exceeding their expectations, . . .” (Winning, p. 247).
  • Michael Dell, in Dell on Dell, writes, “We put a great deal of emphasis on what drove customer satisfaction, . . .” (p. 32).
  • In his book How to Become a Rainmaker, Jeffrey Fox states, “The first commandment of getting and keeping customers is to treat each customer as you would treat yourself” (p. 10).
  • In the recent book EntreLeadership, one of the most famous entrepreneurs of this age – Dave Ramsey, states that there are four steps at making a sale – qualification, rapport, education/information, close (p 167).  Working with students goes through similar steps – a relationship must be established.  Teachers work to “sell” students the importance of learning through their relationships.

Dell further states, “Our best customers are those we learn the most from, who teach us ways to add value beyond our existing products or services, and who challenge us to come up with solutions that ultimately benefit a range of other customers” (p. 158). 

The quotes could go on.  When your quality measures are “productivity” and “lower cost,” then you’ll sacrifice the customers and their views of your “product” in the “education space.” Students have told us what they want – teacher interaction.

It appears that the markeeters are forgetting about the student (customer) experience.  Required weekly, purposeful interaction between teacher or the teacher’s entourage and students won’t lower the costs to the degree they are seeking.  If the marketeers don’t pay attention then we will be back to 1937 — “Commercial interests have failed to grasp or to study the nature of instruction and the complexity of educational organizations.” 

Notes from iNACOL’s Midwestern Regional Professional Development Symposium

iNACOL Midwest Professional Development Symposium.

Random Notes from the meeting, April 4, 2011.  Symposium wiki.

Susan Patrick’s Keynote. 

  • It’s a new landscape with new leadership at the state levels and in state houses.
  • Global trends (from Educause):  mobile learning, cloud computing, 1:1 computing, ubiquitous learning, gaming, personalized learning, redefinition of learning spaces, open content, smart portfolio assessment, teacher managers and mentors.
  • Open Content:  ED — open high school courses and community college courses, $2B.  Open RFP for $500M  (www.learningbeyondtextbooks.org).
  • From 2003-2007, China spent about $1B to implement online learning projects in the rural areas.
  • 39 states have state virtual schools; 27 states have full-time charter schools.
  • Online learning is growing about 30% each year.
  • Harris Survey:  40% of secondary students want to take online courses.

Challenges for states:

  1. Declining state fiscal revenues
  2. Mounting teacher shortages
  3. Demand for skilled workers.

Digital Learning Now

CCSSO — Next Generation Learners

  1. Personalized learning
  2. Systems of Support
  3. World Class Knowledge
  4. Performance based learning
  5. Anytime, Everywhere
  6. Authentic Student Voice

Next Generation (Gates Foundation) — Current conditions (low graduation rates in some schools, college readiness) in education necessitate breakthrough change. (www.nextgenlearning.org)

Rose Fernandez, The National Parent Network for Online Learning

Home schooled children and moved them into cyber charter school.  Advocate for online education to personalize learning for her children.  Allows her  family to focus on outcomes with challenging learning activities.  She sees her school as a different way of public schooling.  School was closed by a lawsuit.  Parents worked to save the school.  Her view is that adults need to serve the students not the system.  She urges that schools seek parent involvement when developing the school.  Parents are the messengers of urgency and options to serve the families.

Interventions to Increase Online Learner Involvement (Phonekeo Siharath & Jan Mitchell)

Instructor works in a blended classroom.  Although students are scheduled to see him each day, about 40% of learning is online.  Uses action research to guide his instruction.  How does instruction impact learning?  He states that this provides immediate feedback.  Research study:  Does requiring students to respond to other students in online discussion post affect the quality of the original posting?  (He states that it does, when a student must respond to all students.)  What happens to responses when students are grouped?  This may not result in positive student engagement.

Introduction to online  learning environment  (All things in moderation — www.atimod.com)

  1. Welcoming environment — be helpful
  2. Socialization — create community for newcomers, tap the excitement, and build bridges.
  3. Information exchange  — provide for interaction with content and others.
  4. Knowledge construction — probe for depth, summarize new understanding.
  5. Development

Best Practices in Online AP Instruction (Dawn Nordine, Dennis Kostac, Karen Kitze,  Jim Kinsella, Eric Lehman)

Help with AP courses:  AP workshops,  Reading AP exams, Experience teaching AP; AP central web site; local training sessions.

Professional development to teach online AP courses:  teaching online, certification for online instruction,  taking an online course.

Challenges:  Discussions, Labs

Recruiting students:  take another course first, meeting prerequisites

Successful AP students: communication, local (technical) help for student, having time during school day.

Student Panel

Why learn online?

  • Focus on courses that are difficult.
  • Take online back at my home school while living out-of-state  for father’s military deployment.
  • Athlete
  • Work at own speed
  • Family Flexibility
  • Prepare or college


  • Flexibility
  • prepare for college
  • Work at own pace, slow or fast
  • Teachers help energize students
  • Develop stronger work ethic

How do you handle multiple inputs (multitasking) and helping you with future?

  • Helps me learn other computer programs
  • Helps me organize my time and priorities.  Uses a binder to help with planning.


  • Easy to procrastinate


  • Faster technology for students
  • Course-long projects
  • Using game theory in courses
  • Use multimedia
  • More tutorials, step-by-step, especially in math
  • Different explanations
  • Getting faster response with teachers
  • Use video conferencing software

Adult Question:  Would you like more structure? 

  •  Preparing for AP Exams; Having intermediate deadlines.

What about socialization? 

  • I can meet people in other places. 
  • I am there to study, not to socialize. 
  • There are other ways to connect with kids. 
  •  It is difficult to make friends, but I don’t have people around with the drama. 
  • My school has social events.

Has the relationship changed with your parents? 

  • Yes, I have good discussions with my parents about what I am learning. 
  • Yes, I have more communication with my parents about my coursework.

What incentives are needed to encourage students to stay on pace charts to complete courses? 

  • Grade-dependent event. 
  • Posting class average to let me know how I am doing compared to the other students. 
  • Having parents off my back is enough incentive. 
  • Give rewards for students who show up to live online sessions.

Ensuring Quality Online Teachers (Sue Steiner, Rick Nettesheim, Kris Keckler, Kelly Pochop)

  • Use iNACOL’s standards to select teachers.
  • Use a consultant to get personalized training.  Consultant can serve as support for teacher.
  • Screen carefully; some teachers trying to escape traditional classroom.
  • Connect new teacher to a mentor, experienced teacher.
  • Meet only when necessary for professional development; communicate routine information by email.
  • Students and Families should use chain of command to resolve issues — teacher first, then program head.
  • Understand and address every concern from student and family.  Use technology to help — such as following email thread.  If organization has a way to track student contact (email, phone call, f2f meetings) use it.
  • Use written document to establish teacher expectations (teacher manual).
  • Focus plans that set high expectations for all teachers that are consistent across courses and post them on web site for all to see.
  • Use non-traditional ways to evaluate teachers.  Have teacher focus on things they can control, such as when and how many phone calls are made.
  • Administrators should take many opportunities to make informal observations — assessments, communication, etc.
  • Use effective and timely communication as keys to online teacher evaluation.
  • PCP — Positive feedback, Constructive direction, Positive direction.

Blended Learning Opportunities (Dawn Nordine, Paula Hagerman, Annette Walaszek, Kaye Lietz)

  • From Keeping Pace 2010:  Blended Learning, Competency based Learning, Mobile Learning are key issues
  • BL — combines face to face with online courses.  Convergence of online and f2f.

In summary, the day’s symposium provided means to reaffirm understandings of online learning constructs and implementations.

Virtual School Symposium 2010

Image Credit: Virtual School Symposium
Spectular Desert Sunsets

Nearly 2,000 conferees assembled in Glendale, Arizona for the 2010 edition of the Virtual School Symposium, the annual conference of the International Association for K-12 online Learning, November 14-16.  The theme of the conference:  Online and Blended Learning:  The Future of Education.

Preconference sessions looked at starting programs, free or nearly free content sources, diversity and other topics.

Breakout conference sessions focused on 10 tracks, such as Learning Models, Administration, Advocacy, Teaching Methods and others.

Monday morning’s Keynote started with a provoking delivery from Tommy Bice, the Deputy State Superintendent of Education in Alabama.  In that capacity he has opened doors to remove time as course requirement.  He thinks that policy and red tape get in the way for all students to be successful.  He stressed the urgency to act now and not in “the future.”  He stated that we know what we have to do for all students to learn, but that the system gets in the way.  He proposes that in a 21st century school, we should be looking at competencies rather than other standards; that is, students move to new content levels they are proficient in their current topics.  Learning should be the constant and time the variable.

At lunch a cast of presenters outlined the status of their programs.  Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute and co-author of Disrupting Class summarized the state of technology and online learning in schools:

  • Technology improves faster than our lives change, but it needs to be upwardly scalable to affect our lives.
  • Online learning is becoming increasingly blended or hybrid.
  • Students need a supervised place to learn, whether in a classroom or online.
  • Communication and interaction is improved between teachers and students with video conferencing.
  • Hybrid courses consider how we will look at the teacher’s role.
  • Content is changing in different ways:  gaming and modularization
  • Schools should be using Data differently, not punitive, but informing.  What learning happens next?
  • What is the role of mobile learning?  It will open doors to students who had nothing.  The content and courses will be low quality at first.

The Keeping Pace Report breakout session outlined the state of online learning across the U.S.  The highlights from the session:

  • Policy is the enabler.  State legislation  in Florida has allowed online education to explode in that state.  During the past year, course enrolments have grown rom 154,000 to 214,000. Every student has a right to attend FL Virtual. Only one-third of Florida’s schools offer AP courses.  Policy is more significant than budget.  During tight budget, programs are reduced or cut .  With supportive state policy, system must work for students.  Florida is performance based.  The state pays when student passes course.  School district does not write check.
  • In fulltime statewide virtual schools, AZ, OH, PA have the most enrollments, with approximately 200,000 students and approximately 1 million course enrollments.
  • With district online programs, the number is unknown but the best guess is the 1.5 million students are taking courses in those programs.
  • Emerging issues:
    • Blended learning
    • School turnarounds
    • Competency-based learning
    • Mobile Learning

On Monday evening, conferees were treated to a networking dinner on the floor of the University of Phoenix stadium (the home field of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals).

On Tuesday morning, Bob Wise, former governor of West Virgina, and Jim Shelton , Assistant Deputy Secretary at the US Department of Education, delivered the morning’s Keynote address.

Wise, along with co-chair Jeb Bush — former governor of Florida — lead the Alliance for Excellence in Education.  Gov. Wise is a strong advocate of addressing the needs of all students.  He sees three issues challenging schools:

  • Shrinking state revenues
  • Teacher shortages
  • Increase global demands

He proposed that these issues can be addressed with online learning and that they address further educational challenges:

  • access for all students
  • funding
  • high quality digital content and instruction
  • how to issue course credit
  • accountability for results of learning

Gov Wise left the conferees with one resounding challenge:  Be boldy innovative or badly irrelevant!

Shelton stated that the half-life of skills is now shorter than ever. 

While education is a state responsibility, the federal department can watch innovations in schools, pull them out, and develop them to scale.  The federal department is the single largest source of educational funding.

With the Elementary and Secondary Act, the legislation recognizes that the answers are in the communities  The federal government must be prescriptive in some cases, but it can attach money to results and give financial incentives to spread those results.  Yet, the politicians realize that their aspirations stronger than  the resources

For online learning, he stated:

  • Technology has ability to extend power of teaching to personalize learning.
  • In education 0.1% spent on research — power of analytics to understand what’s happening is essential to improvement
  • Online movement is fledgling and not assured to succeed.  Barriers to success are political.

As with any conference, some breakout sessions were not up to the level of their abstracts and vendors stepped outside their roles of informers to sellers.

VSS planned and executed another conference to highlight the state of online learning, display its biggest stars, and look to a bright future of online learning.