Archive for the 'online learning' Category

California eLearning Symposium #elearns

I had seen the tweets within other people’s blogposts so I wondered how to insert Tweets into my blog. I just figured out how to do this, so thought I would create this first blogpost about my learning at the California eLearning Strategies Symposium.

The depth of conversation in California about online and blended learning has increased. Much of my learning now occurs in the tweets I send out and retweet from others during a conference.  Here they are…a few selected tweets and retweets …. going backwards:

Digital Learning Day in February, will you be there?


#280EdTech Doctoral Students Blogging

I finished my doctorate at California State University, Fresno in 2010. It was three years of engaging in a variety of academic intercourse with professors and colleagues on a wide range of topics from school finance to school reform. It was three years of great learning and transformation. At the end of each year, our cohort would be pulled together to ask our opinion about how the program was going. Every year I would suggest that there were many components of this face-to-face degree that could be offered online – I was frustrated because none of the program was offered online.

As a result of my nudging, the university hired me back to coach doctoral professors in how to teach in a blended learning environment and assist in designing assignments that could be offered from a distance via different online technologies. For two years, I worked one-on-one with professors discussing which online tools they would like to use.  Recently, I was invited to teach the Doctoral Course elective focused on Educational Technology – I am now having to take my own advice on how to design and teach a blended learning course. In the design of the course, I wanted to make sure students had the experience of blogging and using Twitter. The syllabus reflected this as one of the ongoing assignments is to write a weekly blog reflecting on their learning in the course. I set up a wiki where we could keep track of what we were doing in the course.

Our class met face-to-face one time and the rest of our interaction has been via Google Hangout offered twice a week so that students could choose which night would work best for them.

This week I challenged students to start Tweeting out their blogposts as another way to connect with the world. I said I would start the process.  And Tweet out this blogpost with our hashtag #280EdTech.

In addition to Tweeting this out, I’m sending out a “Trackback” for the student blogposts listed below. I invite you to comment as well. Some excellent wisdom here!

You never know where a blogpost will lead

I follow a lot of different blogposts but do not have time to read all of them. However, today I did have some time to read some of the blogs that I follow and I first read Carrie Schneider’s Post on the Getting Smart blog entitled “EdTech 10: Top 15 Announcements“. I was aware of the ASU / GSV Summit but was not sure of the content nor the attendees. It was great to get caught up with the Top 15 announcements which lead me to the “Fun in the Sun” blogpost about the overall conference, which caused me to read the Ed Week blogpost about one of the panels at the gathering.

Stacey Childress of the Gates Foundation, was a panel member.  She and others compared the medical field to the education field and in particular about the importance of the right tools in the hands of the right practitioners.  This lead me to read Stacey’s post entitled “Closing keynote a step in the wrong direction.”  It was interesting to read how how the final keynote speaker, Andy Kessler, missed the mark.  I have been at other conferences where you gather for the final keynote expecting inspiration and reflection about the overall direction of education and end up disappointed.  Stacey’s blogpost lead me to look at the Twitter stream with the hashtag #eisummit, which provided even more information that I did not have time to read.

Overall, I learned about the passionate education thinkers and innovators who attended this gathering and a glimpse into the future of education.




Apples to Apples please

By MSR. Creative Commons Attribution:

It is important to state up front that understanding how K-12 schools are funded is complex. Analyzing how online learning may save money or increase productivity is even more complex.   In January 2012, the US Department of Education released the report entitled, “Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity (Bakia et al, 2012) that provides further analysis about online learning and K-12 school funding.  I like to keep up with the latest reports and research about online and blended learning – especially reports that have to do with costs and online learning –  since I have done a little writing on that topic myself.

This report does a good job of identifying most of the current research and reports about online learning that are summarized and categorized at the end of the report.  In addition, the authors clearly delineate the types of costs that should be examined in any cost analysis such as identifying all resources involved such as hardware and connectivity costs, teachers time costs, opportunity costs, and looking at all cost parameters if comparing online programs to traditional school programs. Finally, the authors explain that educational productivity may be measured by outcomes such as graduation rates, test scores, student engagement, or school success – factors that are not always measured in dollars. If a student is able to learn (rate of learning) the material in a quicker way, this can be seen as a savings to the overall system.

This report begins in the Executive Summary by stating “Educational systems are under increasing pressure to reduce costs while maintaining or improving outcomes for students. To improve educational productivity many school districts and states are turning to online learning.”   

Unfortunately, the two statements above suggest that online learning in K-12 schools can reduce costs – and adds to the belief by many people that starting an online learning program will reduce costs.  The reality, especially in the short term, is that online or blended learning costs more because any time new technology is implemented, there are additional costs for online content, course management systems, and training for teachers, among other things.  Having established a part time online program and a full time online charter school, I learned firsthand that there needed to be an up front investment of funds to establish the program.  In the report, the authors quote from the 2006 report entitled, “20/20 Costs and Funding of Virtual Schools” which brought together experts in the field of K-12 online learning to discuss the costs to implement an online learning program.  In the 20/20 report, one conclusion was that it costs about $1.6 million to adequately implement an online school program.  Although I think that the costs of developing a part time or full time online program in a school or school district are less today, there are always going to be additional costs in the start up phase for any part time or full time online or blended learning program.

The Bakia report examines the various research and reports that existed regarding K-12 online learning.  They quoted from the US DeptEd Meta-analysis entitled, “Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies (2010)” which concluded that “learning outcomes for purely online instruction were equivalent to those of purely face-to-face instruction” and that “students tended to perform better in blended learning courses than in traditional face-to-face instruction.”  The Bakia report authors explained that in the 2010 analysis, that “only five of the 45 studies included in in the meta-analysis focused on K-12 students, and these five studies looked exclusively at blended online learning programs.”

This report suggests there are several opportunities for online learning to reduce educational costs by:

  • Increasing the rate of learning
  • Reducing total salary costs
  • Reducing facilities costs
  • Realizing economies of scale

The one area that this report and other reports regarding costs for online learning do not address, is how colleges and universities are funded differently than K-12 schools.   Repeatedly, writers examine research done at the university level and apply it to K-12 schools.  For the record, most colleges and universities are funded by students in one course at a time and students are charged tuition to take the course.  In most K-12 school systems, schools receive money per student based on the number of students in attendance (seat time) each day and reported to state departments of education for funding. In most states, the FTE or ADA received by schools goes to the schools and does not follow the student.

In many reports about online learning, there is an examination of the available literature about costs for online learning, which are mostly higher education. Then, the writers generalize the findings to K-12 schools.  The Bakia report does the same when they state that online learning can “reduce total salary costs.”  The rationale for this conclusion is based on university research (Twigg, 2003 and others) and information collected from Florida Gulf Coast University.  The authors suggest that the number of students per teacher can be increased which would then reduce the overall costs. This may work fine at the university level, but it does not work well at most high schools where the funding does not change much regardless of the class sizes.

Future reports regarding costs for online learning at the K-12 level should utilize research conducted at the K-12 level when generalizing about how online learning may reduce costs in K-12 schools (there are many aspects of online learning that can be compared between universities and K-12 schools but cost is not one of them).  Overall, there are so many variables that may cause online learning to cost less or more than face-to-face learning that it may not really be possible to complete a real cost comparison. However, for those who do attempt to complete cost comparisons, please compare apples with apples.

#cue12 Day 1 – Teachers in Jail

The one “official” session at CUE 2012 I was able to attend was “Teachers in Jail: Transforming Cultures.”  I have to admit that I work with the San Diego County Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) to help them implement blended and online learning options.  In one of my first visits there I was able to observe the variety of school programs that are provided to these students – all who are “at-risk.”  These are students who are kicked out of traditional schools for a variety of reasons ranging from poor attendance to carrying a weapon to school.  JCCS serves more than 14,000 students in San Diego County from grades 1-12 yearly, of which 90% are in grades 9-12.  Of those served, just 20% of the students are in JCCS for more than 90 days.

Their presentation was about how teachers throughout JCCS use technology in their teaching.  One of the presenters stated: “JCCS students should not have access to less technology than regular school students.”  The JCCS administration has formed a strong partnership with the probation department which has allowed more technology, including the Internet, to be provided to students.  The probation departments are the ones in charge of Juvenile Halls and they are the ones who determine how much education is allowed – basically, teachers in the hall are guests of the probation department.  The one speaker pointed out that technology is used as a motivator for students to use for their education.  Students have to earn the right to use computers as well as the Internet.  The computers they work on are checked daily to make sure only appropriate websites are visited and utilized.

One of the “ahas” for me, even after working with JCCS since August 2011, was that they talked about the online learning courses offered by the local community college that students in Juvenile Hall could take.  The instructor has built an important partnership with the community college to make it all happen.  He said that it gives a new level of hope for students who end up in the hall – that they can work on their college degree while incarcerated.  What occurred to me is that without online learning, incarcerated students could NOT attend college courses.

Overall, it is evident that the administration, staff and teachers at JCCS have a passion for teaching and educating students in a similar way as any “regular” teacher.  They do extraordinary things every day with students who are definitely at-risk of dropping out of school and give them hope that leads to a diploma or GED.


Research Based Best Practices – Discussion Boards

Yesterday I wrote about some of the personal experiences I have had in working with online teachers regarding “best practices” that were developed as a result of students not being successful in online courses.  There are a number of research studies that have appeared in a variety of publications discussing best practices as well.  It is important to realize that all of the “best practices” listed here focus on online teaching.  However, all of these best practices can also be utilized in blended learning teaching as well. In addition, even though the studies below may be for college or for adult learners, effective online teaching practices work equally well at every level of teaching.

Overall, establishing an engaging and interactive online course environment is important.  Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2001) have identified the Community of Inquiry model which involves social presence (ability to connect with learners), cognitive presence (process of constructing meaning with the subject), and teaching presence (design, facilitation and direction towards educational learning outcomes). Everything a teacher does in an online course can fit in one of these broad categories whether in K-12 or in higher education or for adults.

Regarding the use of online discussion boards, a brief overview of effective online discussion boards with citations was written by Hannon (2008) at Latrobe University.  Based on his research, he says that the purpose of discussion boards should be to engage students in approaches to deep learning, achieve a high level of effective student participation and be sustainable and workload friendly.  Furthermore, designing a discussion board should be group centered and promotes a collaborative model of instruction.  He also shares several tips in designing effective online discussion boards and the first tip is to define the overall purpose.

Akin and Neal (2007) in the article, “CREST+ Model: Writing effective online discussion questions” explain the steps in asking the right questions. “The CREST+ model covers the cognitive nature of the question [C], the reading basis [R], any experiential [E] possibility, style and type of question [ST] , and finally ways to structure a good question [+].”

Lowes, Lin and Yang (2007) in the article “Studying the effectiveness of the discussion forum in online professional development courses”  have done considerable research regarding the strategies that enhance an online discussion board conversation – teacher to student and student to student.  They looked at the nature of online interactions.  They refined the teacher role in an online discussion and characterized these roles as cheerleading/affirming (offering praise and encouragement), new information (introduce new ideas or information) and questioning/challenging (raise questions that expand on previous posts).

These are but a few of the best practices that have emerged in the utilization of teaching online with online discussion boards.


Best Practices in Online Teaching

When I began working in online learning in 2000, there were few examples of best practices in online learning and there were few research studies that existed.  The only reports that existed were reports that were suggesting that online learning may increase at the college level and at K-12.  The past 10 years have seen effective online teaching practices emerge and many more studies that suggest the types of best practices that work.

When I worked in the Clovis Unified School District we began offering part time online courses to high school students in 2000.  The four teachers I hired to teach Algebra I, Biology, English 9 and Economics were pioneers in the world of online learning, as were others at every level of education who were teaching online.  We learned quickly that effective online teaching was more than posting a PowerPoint on the web or linking daily homework assignments.  When I became principal of the Clovis Online School, a full time online charter school, there was again a learning curve that occurred for all of the teachers – each one who taught one section of their subject to students almost completely online. Very few teachers – whether face-to-face or online – are as successful in their first year as they are in their third or fifth year of teaching.   From my own experience in coordinating both part time and full time online schools and working with teachers, I am listing what I would consider to be “best practices”, and where possible, point to the research that supports that.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the things that worked for us.

  • Problem, Student Dropouts:  In the first summer, close to 40% of the students who signed up dropped out of the online courses in the first week of courses.
    Solution: When I interviewed the students who dropped out, a majority of them replied, “I couldn’t figure out how to log in.”  In the next semester, we instituted face-to-face training to teach students how to work online.  We now know that students may be on the web for Facebook and looking up their favorite entertainer or sports team, but they need to be taught how to use the web for learning and research.  Eventually, our online courses included lessons that taught these skills.  Before a student could ever enter our online school, they would complete a series of online lessons to teach them what learning was like online so they were better prepared.  Once enrolled, students participated in further training to equip the with the skills needed to be successful online.  We developed a checklist that students needed to complete that included signatures by parents.  An increased percentage of students were then more successful in the online programs because of the training.
  • Problem, Time Management: We thought that students could manage their own time and do their courses when it worked into their schedules.  Turns out that most teenagers are not good managers of time and need to be taught how to do this.
    Solution: As part of the enrollment process and training, we required students to have an organized binder and to write down when they would do their online work and we encouraged parents to check in with their students daily.  There is a myth that many parents believe that when students reach high school, that students are on their own.  The myth increases online when parents think that because they don’t understand the Internet that they can’t check on their child’s work.
  • Problem, Email:  We assumed that students would check their email daily for notes from their teachers and knew how to respond.  I will never forget when I asked one of the more capable seniors in the full time online school to “cc” me in an email and she asked, “What does cc mean?”
    Solution: Email is an adult thing, not a student thing.  It is important to set expectations and to show students how to use email if it will be a communication device in your online program.  Incidentally, knowing how to use email is an important skill for the business world.
  • Problem, Student Work Deadlines: Initially, we had lose deadlines for when student assignments were due.  We would tell students that they had an 8-week period within which they could turn in their assignments.  The problem was that many students would not do any work for several weeks and then try to turn in all the work during the final week.
    Solution:  Students liked having weekly deadlines and became more successful with weekly deadlines.  Many teachers also started to use what we called “dailies” which were short 5-10 minute assignments that were assigned every day to get students engaged each day.  Dailies might be discussing a different piece of art for an art history course or doing a vocabulary game at for an English course or doing a math problem of the week in a math course.
  • Problem, Students Would Not Communicate via Email: Teachers became frustrated when students would not respond on email or complete their work.
    Solution: Teachers began emailing a weekly update to all students at the beginning of every week.  When students replied to the email, they received points toward their overall grade.

The ideas listed above are just a few examples of “best practices” or strategies for teaching online.  There are a number of online resources the better organize and share best practices.  The Faculty Focus people provide guidance to mostly online college teachers.  Michael Barbour in this blog post points K-12 online educators to some excellent research based best practices.

Flickr Photos