Posts Tagged 'K-12'

Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning

Yesterday I wrote about the components of “Blended Teaching and Learning” which includes what the teacher is doing, what the student is doing, what the content is, and where the content resides.  Overall, it is important to understand that blended teaching and learning is part of a continuum from textbook enhanced to technology enhanced to web enhanced to blended to online.

Recently, I had the good fortune of visiting an excellent example of a technology enhanced classroom.  One of my clients is the Juvenile Court and Community Schools in San Diego County and I visited there in the fall.  One of the classrooms I visited was the teen mothers program in downtown San Diego.

It was about 1 in the afternoon when I walked in, along with the director of technology – two men in a class of 40 girls and a female teacher.  Just before we arrived, we found out that one of the teachers in the two classrooms had an emergency, so both classes of girls – about 40 in total – were all in the same classroom.  They were all seated at desks facing forward and in the front of the class were two students presenting on a digital white board.  All of the other students had clickers that they were using as part of the presentation.  The presenters – both girls in the class – were sharing their findings about teen violence.  As they presented, they would come to slide which would ask a question such as: “What percentage of teens are victims of violence?”.  The possible percentages were listed beneath the question and the girls in the class would use their clickers to suggest their answers.  After the audience responded to the question, the presenters would reveal the polling results.  Then, the presenters would say something like, “Ok, I see 25% of you answered C, why did you choose that answer?” and the girls in the audience would respond.  After a little discussion, the actual percentage would be revealed with an explanation.  Also in the room was a baby of one of the girls who began to fuss during the presentation.  The teacher walked over to pick up and console the baby so the young mother could continue to focus and the presentation was not disturbed.

Students were controlling the learning in this classroom and the teacher was the guide on the side that was enhanced with technology.  The technology used included clickers, a digital white board, a computer and a projector.  To me, this was an awesome example of “technology enhanced teaching and learning.”

I commented to the teacher about her use of technology and how effective it was and then I suggested that the only thing missing was having absent students attend online, from a distance, so they could also be part of the action.  She said that she maintains a blog that periodically updates what is going on in the classroom.  It was an excellent example of technology enhanced teaching and learning.

Blended learning is more than…

Blended teaching and learning is more than just:

  • Teachers putting their lesson plans online
  • Students sitting in a computer lab for part of the day
  • Students on computers surfing the Web
  • Students doing some of their school work from home
  • Creating video lectures that students can watch anytime

In the same way, face-to-face teaching and learning is more than just:

  • A teacher lecturing
  • Students sitting in desks completing workbook pages
  • Students creating videos as part of a project
  • Students reflecting about their learning on a blog or online portfolio

Blended learning – whether in pre-school, K-12 or college –  is about taking the best of face-to-face teaching and learning and blending it with the best of online teaching and learning.  Doing one element of either does not, by itself, lead to success in the classroom.  It is a combination of what the teacher does, what the student does, where the content is located, and how the content is accessed by the student.

Before computers, teaching and learning was mostly about the print content.  Teaching and learning occurred totally face-to-face and the content was almost always the textbook or some related subject specific book.  Teachers could vary how they taught by not just using the textbook, but also include other types of teaching such as cooperative groups, simulations or projects/reports.  But, everything resided in print.  All teaching and learning at this point was basically “textbook enhanced teaching and learning.”

Once computers were invented, they slowly seeped into schools – in most cases, first used by teachers and then by students.  Other technologies have since developed to work with computers that are now being used in classrooms for teaching and learning: projectors, digital white boards, document cameras, etc.  When these tools are used effectively by the teacher, then learning is enhanced.  However, if these tools are simply used to duplicate what was done in the print-only world, then that is an ineffective use. With computers and technology, there was now “technology enhanced teaching and learning.”

Then, along came the Internet and then, once schools were wired, instructors started using online content to enhance their instruction.  Teachers started assigning websites to learn content in addition to what was in the textbook.  This has worked especially well in the sciences where things change daily, but it has been equally useful in English or history courses where students can view actual primary source documents or listen to actual speeches or view Civil War battlefields without having to physically visit.  Effective use of online resources by face-to-face instructors has enhanced learning for many students at all levels.  Effectively using online resources in teaching and learning is “online/web enhanced teaching and learning.”

As Internet access increased, so, too did the use of online learning.  Not only could online resources be used for face-to-face instruction, but they could also be used so students could have some flexibility in when they could access their classwork.  Teachers who teach online utilize curriculum that is primarily online (as compared to the textbook enhanced teacher who primarily uses curriculum in print).  In addition, strategies and tools such as online discussion boards, chat rooms, email interactions, wall postings, instant messaging, video, web cams and a host of related tools are part of the effective online teacher’s tool box.  As new Web 2.0 tools emerge, a greater variety of learning tools will be available to online teachers.  “Online teaching and learning” is different than face-to-face teaching and learning, but it is not better nor worse.  In online courses, the majority of teaching and learning takes place online and the student has flexibility of time when they access the course.

Utilizing the best online tools and strategies and the best face-to-face tools and strategies is what I would term, “blended teaching and learning.”  In some cases, this may be a face-to-face teacher who has students turn in all assignments online and discovers the power of the online discussion board as a way of giving all students a voice.  In other cases, this may be a stand alone course where students may only meet their teacher online and only occasionally face-to-face.  “Blended learning and teaching” looks different at different grade levels:  a 4th grade student may participate in an online discussion group under the direction of a face-to-face teacher;  a 10th grade World History student may access his/her entire course online and meet a teacher face-to-face once a week; a college student may access all of his/her courses completely online with a face-to-face meeting at the beginning and at the end.

Michael Horn and Heather Staker from the Innosight Institute completed their landmark case studies about blended learning schools across the U.S. in 2011.  Their one line definition is, “Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick and mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.” However, reading further in the report, Blended Learning is really more than just where the student is as they wrote, a blended learning definition includes “design elements that differentiate them from the others in terms of teacher roles, scheduling, physical space, and delivery methods.”  I would add that “delivery methods” would also include the teaching tools and the location of the curriculum.

At the college level, Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman writing for the Sloan Consortium defined blended learning as: “courses that blend online and face-to-face delivery where a substantial proportion (30%-79%) of the content is delivered online.”  (Allen & Seaman, 2007.

In another definition, Curtis Bonk and Charles Graham define blended learning “combines face-to-face learning with computer mediated learning.”  (Bonk and Graham, 2006.  Handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local designs.

Larry Cuban recently wrote about Rocketship Schools and founder John Danner discussed the use of “Blended Learning” in their curriculum.  In addition, Horn and Staker completed case studies on 40 schools for their publication, “The Rise of Blended Learning” which included Rocketship Schools.   Rocketship Schools and others are highlighted as examples of effective blended learning.  Is Rocketship an example of the use of “blended learning” or “technology enhanced” or “online/web enhanced” or “online” teaching and learning?  Decide for yourself.

Regardless of the definition we use of “blended learning and teaching”, how teachers utilize both face-to-face and online learning tools and strategies is what makes the difference in student learning.

For-Profit Online Schools Reporting

Reporters Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown at the Washington Post, wrote an investigative article entitled “Virtual Schools are Multiplying, but Some Question Their Value” that appeared on Saturday, November 26.  The reporters chronicled the development of K-12 Inc virtual charter school in Massachusetts and the politics involved in the process.

K12’s push into New England illustrates its skill. In 2009, the company began exploring the potential for opening a virtual school in Massachusetts in partnership with the rural Greenfield school district.

But Massachusetts education officials halted the plan, saying Greenfield had no legal authority to create a statewide school. So Greenfield and K12 turned to legislators, with the company spending about $200,000 on Beacon Hill lobbyists.

State Rep. Martha “Marty” Walz, a Boston Democrat, wrote legislation that allowed Greenfield to open the Massachusetts Virtual Academy in 2010. She acknowledged that the language was imperfect and didn’t address issues of funding or oversight but said she couldn’t wait to craft a comprehensive plan.

“You do what you need to do sometimes to get the ball rolling,” said Walz, who accepted at least $2,600 in campaign contributions from K12, its executives or its lobbyists since 2008, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Amazingly, the article produced almost 900 comments from readers.

I think the article was nicely balanced although Chester Finn was quoted as saying that virtual schooling is less expensive than face-to-face schooling.  He stated:

“They have no business trying to charge as much as the brick-and-mortar schools, at least over time,” said Finn, of the Fordham Institute, which has commissioned a study of the cost of online schools. “Once you’ve got the stuff that you’re going to use for fourth-grade math, for instance, you don’t really need to do much with it. And it should be cheaper.”

However, the reality is that it takes a good 5 years for a virtual school to become financially sustainable (Note that K-12 Inc was established in 2000 and the Florida Virtual School was established in 1997 and both took more than 5 years to figure out the financing model).  Good online teachers (just like good face-to-face teachers) tweak their content and delivery a little bit each year.  These things take time and money.

In the same issue, Jay Mathews wrote about how for-profit schools will survive.  His column focused on for-profit colleges.  It is important to note that funding for-profit colleges are different than funding K-12 schools – the funding mechanism for each is much different. It is difficult to compare funding colleges to K-12 schools, let alone compare funding between elementary schools and high schools.

In a follow up to the article, reporter Emma Brown blogged about the article to further clarify the issues about graduation and completion rates in K-12’s virtual schools.  Founder Ron Packard explains that many students enter K-12, Inc schools already behind in credits and it is difficult to have a student graduate from high school in 4 years when they enter the school already behind more than a year.  In addition, I would add that students choose to attend virtual schools and have already left a traditional public school – many because they have not been successful – and would probably not have graduated on time there either. 

This narrative continues to play out in reports across the nation as I wrote about here, here and here.  John Watson, author of the K-12 Keeping Pace with Online Learning documents, also weighed in about for-profit virtual charter schools last week. It is pretty amazing how much has been written about online schooling in the last month, much of which began with the report bashing online learning by the National Education Policy Center out of the University of Colorado, that was published on October 27. 


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