Tag Archives: online learning promising practices

Digital Learning is About Flipping the Teacher

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Much has been written about Jon Bergmann’s movement around flipping the classroom.  Digital learning is more about flipping the teacher.  As illustrated above, traditional education is centered around the expert delivering information to a large group.  In this setting, the teacher speaks to large groups up to 80-90% of the time and less than 20% of the time working with small groups.  In digital settings, the teacher becomes small group focused, working with individuals  and small groups 80-90% of the time and in large group settings for the balance.  This is more than being a “guide on the side.”  The digital teacher provides detailed focused instruction to help students with basics, for clarity, and for extension of the fundamental learning.  The teacher’s role becomes flipped.   So the forecasts and calls for competency based instruction and personalized learning need to focus on flipping the instructional perspectives and roles of the teachers.  This is more than flipping any classroom; it is flipping the teacher.

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.

Where’s the Education Leadership on Technology in Schools?

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In 1988, Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reported the “most promising current uses  and demonstrations” (pp.12-13) for computers:

  • Drill and practice to master basic skills.
  • Development of writing skills.
  • Problem solving
  • Understanding abstract mathematics and science concepts.
  • Simulation in science, mathematics and social studies.
  • Manipulation of data.
  • Acquisition of computer skills for general purposes, and for business and vocational training.
  • Access and communication traditionally unserved populations of students
  • Access and communications for teachers and students in remote locations
  • Individualized learning
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Management of classroom activities and record keeping (pp. 12-14)

Looking at the list, the last — Record keeping:  student information systems, payroll systems, business functions, human resources systems, and the like have been implemented in many schools.  We have implemented technology to handle the mundane.  The other applications have spotty implementation and without significant transformation.

In Technopoly, technology and cultural critic Neil Postman states that

“[T]he main characteristic of all tool-using cultures is that their  tools were largely invented to do two things:  To solve specific and urgent problems of physical life, such as water power, wind mills, and the heavy wheeled plow; or to serve the symbolic world of art politics, ritual, and religion, as the construction of castles and cathedrals. . .” (p. 23).

Considering this view with schools, school leaders are largely tool thinkers:  “Technology is a tool.”  So the focus becomes those  issues not directly related to teaching learning:  mundane management things (recording keeping, paying bills).  Yes, states are requiring data and so school leaders respond to the “urgent” demands of regulators.

Further some school leaders contend that their teachers “integrate” technology.  This is not much beyond the tool user.  Hardware and software are purchased independently of their curricular design and use.  Teachers are herded into a room shown the new gizmo and told to “integrate” it into their curriculum.   This is a recipe for failure.  Teachers have no direction, support, or encouragement to succeed.  It’s up to them to find ways to use stuff with their kids.  Just another thing to do.

School transformation occurs when school leaders insist that hardware and software are part of the curricular design and focuses on learning.  It’s time school leaders realize the potential and implement it in their classrooms.  Otherwise the other ideas that OTA identified in 1988 will continue to be on somebody’s list of promising practices.

Starting an Online Program: To Blend or Not to Blend

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Blended Learning:  First, in all of the blended programs, the students learn in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home at least some of the time. Second, the students’ experience online delivery with some control over the time, place, path, and/or pace. (Reference)

In the rush to digital learning, school districts may be willing to grasp at any branch of the digital tree that they hear about from peer districts or at the latest conference.  It is essential to match the type of learning (blended, online) with target student group.

Dr. Margaret Roblyer’s research can help districts determine the type of delivery model.  Her research indicates the characteristics of students in fully online programs:

  • 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.

The Innosight Institute published a classification of blended learning programs.  The study largely outline the blended practices in traditional brick and mortar institutions.  The models include direct instruction from teachers, group projects, and computer mediated instruction.  In some cases, students rotate between stations or there is a flexible schedule to pull out students who need extra help or for group activities within the brick and mortar context and traditional school day.  Check the referenced research above for specific details.

Beyond the opportunities outlined by Innosight, schools can consider blending classes rather than constructing new schools.  Students could be scheduled to be in physical attendance only half the time.  A senior year experience could provide a blended environment to prepare students for their next steps in education, the job market, or the military.  It must be noted that districts and states need various policies and enabling legislation to allow students to gain credit for students in partial attendance.  In Illinois, we have legislation that allows students to participate in non-traditional programs and the school district can receive state funding for those students.

Whether to blend or to engage students fully online can be determined by the characteristics of the students. Roblyer’s research provides insight on how to develop various programs, depending on the characteristics of the students.

From this Roblyer’s, here’s how a program can work for schools:

  1. High achieving students should be put into online courses.  They can work at their own rates to be somewhat self-sufficient.
  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.

Before jumping on the digital bandwagon, schools should step back to look at the target student population and consider the modes of learning where that group can be successful.

Other postings in this series:

Innovation and Democracy

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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.

Student-Teacher Interaction Essential in Online Courses


(Click the image to see it larger.)

Student-teacher interaction is essential in online courses. Online courses require rich content that includes many modalities for students to choose their learning path, including text, audio, video, kinesthetic and other modes. This is one of the features of online learning that is difficult to produce and separates from traditional classroom learning. Learning in most classrooms is largely auditory with some visual aspects. Once kids know how to read, we largely teach through talking and listening.

The individualized tracks allow students to slow down or speed up their learning. If they want to watch a video to learn the content, they can. If they want to read, they can do that. This freedom is essential because it’s possible.

The above chart shows a triangle where students interact with the content as they would in any course through essential understandings, course goals, the insights they develop.

Teacher student interaction occurs through email. Online discussion boards are excellent ways for teachers to give every student feedback and additional ideas to consider. This is not possible in a traditional classroom, where discussions are dominated by the articulate few. Additionally, online sessions using video conferencing allow teachers to further explore concepts, assess students’ understand, and clear misconceptions — the essence of what teachers do in a traditional classroom.

Further another part of the triangle includes student-to-student interaction. This can occur through group projects, discussion boards, and discussions in video conferencing software, among others.

A strong combination of content, interactions with other students, and active interactions with their online teachers, students in virtual programs (online/blended/etc) can be successful.

Technology-Rich Classroom is Not Blended Learning

A technology-rich classroom is not a blended classroom, according to Heather Staker, Senior Research Fellow at the Innosight Institute, speaking at a recent professional development session for the DuPage County Regional Office of Education. (A recording and slides from her presentation are available here.)  Ms. Staker states that data continues to support the predictions made by Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Class that 50% of all high school courses will be online by the end of the decade.  She estimates that approximately 3-5 million students are in at least one digital course this year with 10.5 million predicted by 2014.

In the models of disruptive innovation, Dr. Christensen foresees that classes will be disrupted not entire schools and so the issue of blended learning:  Digital content that is available online in combination with students attending school in a brick and mortar setting.

As the slides in the presentation, referenced above, indicate, Ms. Staker states that the types of blended learning are as varied as schools and local contexts.  The power lies in customizing courses for local needs and individual students.

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.”