Tag: online learning

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.

Developmental Education


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At a recent SLATE meeting, Blackboard and K12.com presented a Blackboard-branded program about a service for higher education:  Developmental education.  This is a polished name for remedial courses.  The presenters stated that “60% of all students in higher education need at least one remedial math course.”  Blackboard has a small program that  provides courses (from K12’s Aventa Learning), instructors and supporting services in higher education.  Institutions can use this methodology in conjunction with traditional remedial programs, although the online program supports students with documented challenges, such as family, distance, and time constraints.  The program includes using video conferencing software, student services, and analytics.  The presenters stated that some students can move through multiple paths so that they can enter credit granting courses.  While current enrollment numbers are low, the presenters report high satisfaction with the program.  While I will not publish the costs that were cited in the presentation, the presenters reported that this program could save institutions about 30% of the their expenses in working students through remedial courses.  As this program continues, the proof will show in the long-term completion rates of these students as well as the cost savings.  Further, will these students be successful when they enter subsequent credit-granting courses where the remedial courses were foundational to the credit courses?

Technology is Distraction in Schools


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Ron Packard of K12.com spoke today at an Illinois Policy Institute program today in Chicago.  He thinks technology is a distraction in schools because it in not fully part of the core learning.  A classroom may have a few computers at the back of the room and they become diversions from learning rather than being core parts of the learning.  Further, technology has not produced much efficiency based on the number of adults employed in schools, although he misses the point that new regulations have caused
schools to provide more services.  When every student has a computer along with engaging curriculum and strong assessments, powerful learning can occur, he opines.  Further technology allows students to advance at their own rates because students can spend extra time on subjects.

He started K12 over a dozen years ago when he tried to find high quality math instruction on the Internet to supplement his the first grader’s math instruction.
In the past decade, K12 has grown to about 100,000 students.  He thinks that Chicago is the center of innovation in online learning.  His Chicago Virtual Charter School has about 600 students.  Students attend a school once a week and then learn online at home, with the help of certified teachers who track students’ achievement levels and then provide instructional assistance with video classroom software.
He observes that kids are asked to power down in schools.  When kids have access to powerful technologies at home, school does not look exciting.
Further, he forecasts that within a few years high school elective courses will be offered online.  He thinks this will help eliminate the maximum number of electives a student can take.  He thinks students will have more choice in courses and more opportunities at lower costs.
His catch words are:  Educational liberty, transformation, and open enrollment (across districts).

Packard claims he is not political and his words are the most neutral I’ve heard from the online providers and digital learning proponents. He did not talk about reforming schools, taking on teachers’ unions, or battling special interests, although he recognizes the political forces as he did not realize he would spend most of his work time tacking through the political headwinds.

He cited multiple successes in his schools that I will look at further and outline here in another posting.

His leadoff point was stated well.

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.

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.” 

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.

Online Learning Initiative in Northern Illinois

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

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

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

Register here.

Online Demographics Report

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

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

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

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

Illinois Online Learning Legislation Amended

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