Tag Archives: Leadership

Online learning: Shouldn’t We Do better?


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With online learning, shouldn’t we do better?  Shouldn’t we have higher expectations?  Shouldn’t we stop telling partial truths?  Partial truths don’t help online learning initiatives.  All learning through technology is not all powerful.

When I was in elementary school, the teachers used controlled reading projectors.  These contraptions used modified film strip projectors to display the text of stories.  The projectors fed the story’s text through the film gate while a single line was revealed from left to right.  The speed of the text was regulated from 15 lines per minute to 120 lines per minute.  Supposedly, the projector was used to help us develop horizontal movement of our eyes to read and to increase our reading speed.  Didn’t work for me.  My eyes sometimes do not track across the page and it helped make me a non-reader for most of my youth.  Technology “solutions” do not always work.

When I was in junior high, my oldest brother was in the U.S. Navy.  While he spent most of his time stateside, he was involved with the Navy’s target drones.  The Navy had small unmanned airplanes that they launched in the desert near Twenty Nine Palms, CA.  His crew prepared and launched the target and then another group attempted to hit it with it with a missile.  But I digress.

After Basic Training, he prepared for his work with targets in Memphis, TN.  He learned about them through programmed instruction.  He left his instructional materials at home when he went to his next duty station.

During those youthful days, I was fascinated with any vehicle propelled by propeller, jet or rocket engine.  Through the programmed instruction books he left at home, I learned about radial reciprocating engines and aircraft marshalling.  It was self-paced and interesting for me.  No teacher demanding that I put away the books so they could move on to the next subject.

My point is that programmed instruction has been used for many years.  It allows students to progress at their own rates. From theory developed by B.F. Skinner, it evolved into an instructional method.  With computers, it has been called mediated instruction or computer aided instruction.  We know that this is a highly effective methodology, but it has largely fallen from favor.  It is based on mastery learning, yet is not a favored instructional strategy.

There are readers who will claim that this time it’s different.  Yes, first there needs to be a sense of urgency. (See the national number about physics teachers below.)  Financially, the current educational system cannot sustain itself.  Yes, technology gives us a new dimension of student tracking not available before.  Technology allows us to add many different forms of exciting media.  However, the learning system is not new — programmed instruction, CAI, mediated instruction, yet it is rebranded as digital, blended or online.  There is no new methodology, and it is limited; it does not accent or support other skills students need to be successful in their world.

So I ask the question, “Are the blended learning models proposed in many circles a rebirth of programmed instruction?”  Earlier this week I attended a presentation by Bob Wise that was sponsored by the Illinois Policy Institute and the Peoria (IL) Chamber of Commerce.  Gov. Wise gave his standard presentation about the need for digital learning.  (I’ve heard this in other venues.  The video of the presentation will be added here when it is available from IPI.)  His reasons for favoring digital learning are around shrinking state budgets,  loss of experienced teachers and the need for an educated workforce.  He proposes that digital learning allows for comprehensive data systems that can track student learning, converting bubbles to clicks — as I have written about before.  The essence of Gov Wise’s thesis is that for our country to compete in a global market we need a highly educated workforce.  We need more high school graduates that move into higher education, he postulates.  Yet, where do we teach the skills that industry tells us students need: problem solving skills, ability to collaborate, communication skills, etc.?  These can’t be measured with a bubble or a click.

The online learning proponents must set the bar high as naysayers will continue to cite the latest alleged deficiencies quoted in the popular press (NY Times, AZ Republic).  We need to maintain and professionally enforce quality standards.

Here are three examples in Gov Wise’s presentation that need

  • We need digital learning for students who don’t have qualified teachers, for example, the state of Georgia only has 80 some physics teachers.  I have heard this before.  There’s never been a reference provided when I’ve heard this number cited by various sources.  Here’s some more powerful, documented information:  In 2007, 66.5% of the nation’s students were taught physics by a teacher without certification in the subject (reference).  In 2007, the Georgia’s higher education system produced only 3 physics teachers (reference).  The national number is frightening and a strong reason to provide high quality digital learning for these underserved students.
  • Carpe Diem, a blended learning school in Yuma, Arizona, is cited as having excellent results with low costs, lower than average Arizona costs and lower than national costs.  However, it is average in Yuma County, AZ (reference).  It’s ok to get great results with average expenses.  This should be celebrated, not selectively removed from the presentation.
  • Working with some of the district’s most economically challenged students, Valley High School has dramatically improved its test scores during 5 years.  While Gov Wise praises “longitudinal data systems,” AYP is not longitudinal.  Further the principal did not do this alone.  During five years, many of the students came from a middle/junior high school and that school had to be raising their test scores as well.  This was a multidimensional effort — not just that of one school.  It is a longitudinal effort not an AYP effort that focuses on results on single grades or levels.

I hope that he reads this to strengthen his presentation about the need for high quality learning opportunities for all kids.

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.

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) gmail.com

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

Help me with this picture!

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Help me with this thought.  Recently, I listened to other technology leaders talk about virtualizing iPads so the schools could run Windows applications and Flash content on those devices.  This seems counterintuitive to the idea of portable technologies as well as vastly increases the costs of putting mobile technologies in schools.

Several years ago, I worked on a desktop virtualization project with a popular product.  It worked well with putting current applications on older computers, but when it didn’t work, it raised havoc on computer labs.  It gave me more chest pains than it was worth.  And over about five years, its cost was nearly that of replacing the computer labs with new computers.

Help me understand why we want to buy tablets and then pay the expense to virtualize them to run Windows 7 and Flash.

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.

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.

Cell Phones at School Bring Classes Into Light

An article printed in Tuesday’s (Oct 12, 2010) edition of the Chicago Tribune and online the night before describes how schools are relenting to students’ personal technologies.  A local principal is quoted, “It’s one of those things — if you can’t beat them, join them.”  Whaaaaa?

So schools are relenting to students’ technologies.  Well, then how far will this go?

Why not design instruction that uses the power of students’ personal technologies?  As I have written here during the past several months, students have more computing power and bandwidth capacities than schools can provide.  Tap into those capabilities to open your schools and learning in the new century, now nearly 11 years old.

Nearly two years ago in my graduate class on school technologies for aspiring superintendents, I constructed an assignment for students to design a learning program to use students’ cell phones in schools.  Most students looked at the assignment with contempt, while others thought this would never occur.  It’s here!  For some time I have been using Alana Salzman’s (Vantage Point Venture Capital) quote, ” Bet on the inevitable.”  Personal technologies in schools is one of those trends that will sweep across schools.

Personal technologies is one of the five trends that schools can use sharpen learning, address shrinking technology budgets, and prepare students for their future in a largely connected world.

Schools get moving.  The opportunities are at your doorsteps.  Design instruction that uses student research during class time.

Technology Leadership

image source: http://www.pace.com

The following is the executive summary from our recent publication The Challenges and Professional Development Needs of the District Technology Leader.  The full report is available here.

The district technology leader could be an administrator, manager, or teacher who has responsibility for technology operations across a school district. The
Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) calls such individuals the “Chief
Technology Officer” (CTO).

This report outlines a survey of CTOs in Illinois public and private school
districts. The survey asked participants to identify their three top challenges and
four top professional development needs.

For their top challenges, CTOs were precluded from using “time, money, and
(lack of) people” as their primary challenges. These components were identified
as universal challenges for all organizations. Through a focus group, nine
challenges were identified. Later CTOs were presented the list and asked to
identify and rank their top three challenges. Responding CTOs ranked
Professional Development for other employees issue as their top challenge.
Increased Expectations ranks second, followed by Instruction and Staff, both tied
for third. Professional Development includes formal training programs and adhoc,
spur of the moment training session for individual employees.

For professional development, CTOs were asked to rank their top four
professional development needs based on CoSN’s “Framework of Essential Skills
for the K-12 CTO,” which has ten categories. Responding CTOs ranked Planning
as their highest professional development need, followed by Instruction, Policy,
and Leadership, respectively.

For professional development, school district leaders should recognize that CTOs’
professional development needs are not technical. CTOs know how and where to
get assistance about the core components of their jobs. They need professional
development on CoSN’s broad categories of “Leadership and Vision” and the
“Educational Environment.” This development can occur in formal opportunities,
but likely best when CTOs are mentored and included in district planning and
policy development, curriculum initiatives, and school-level projects.
The most important insight from this study is that district leaders need
professional development for strategic elements, including planning, leadership,
policy, and instruction.

Using Open Source Software

Image source: http://is.pasok.gr/si/images/si_opensource.jpg

The fifth issue that schools should consider is the use of open source software.  The open source community is quite different from the former “freeware” software.  Quality is improving.  The development community makes improvements and supports new ideas in increments that are similar to paid-for-software.

As with the other considerations (cloud computing, students’ personal devices, increased bandwidth, and social media), the marketplace in open source is maturing and improving.  The heavy-handed licensing agreements of the major software companies are unrealistic for schools.  While schools get great discounts, on-demand inspections and agreement language that only favors the companies are becoming obsolete.

Some of my peers state that “free is not free.”  Paid software that is really not supported, except with extra costs or stonewalling by companies that the issue “will be fixed in the next version, is unacceptable.  In practical application there are issues that should be addressed:

  1. Some open source software does not have some advanced features that some users need.  Ok, buy the software version those indivuals need.  I project that this is a very small percentage, less than 5% of the computers in the organization.
  2. Test the open source software in actual school experiences before implementing broadly.

There is some great open source software for web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, image editing, and operating systems, among others.  Schools should strongly consider the implementation of this software over paid software.

As with other issues with technology in schools, budgets are being cut.  The market across many areas provides the avenues for school technology departments to reinvent high performing systems at lower costs.  Take a look at using open source software in your schools.

Providing Bandwidth

Image source: http://digitalization.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/fiber-optic.jpg

In the previous two postings, I described trends that are occurring in education that schools should consider:  cloud computing and personal technologies.

When a school district decides to move its operations into the cloud and encourage students to take their personal computers to school, the district needs to open the flood gates for more bandwidth.  Students will need more and more access to the resources placed on the Internet.  Additional personal technologies will choke existing networks.

As this shift occurs, schools will become bandwidth providers, which means stronger network gear, more wireless access points, more wired ports, and a larger Internet connection.  Schools will refocus their financial and human resources toward bandwidth and away from buying, installing, supporting, and replacing local hardware toward network bandwidth.  Alternatively, 1,000 students with 3G connections on their cell phones have an aggregated bandwidth of 200 megabits per second.  Netbooks and other wi-fi devices need local connections.  Personal devices require more higher capacities on the network.

The bandwidth component is an essential link in refocusing technology implementations in schools after shifting resources to the cloud and opening schools to students’ personal technologies.