Posts Tagged 'onlinelearning'

#vss12 What I learned

I am always exhausted when returning from most conferences because of constant meetings, sessions and interactions with others in a variety of ways.  Attending past Virtual School Symposiums sponsored by the iNACOL was always a highlight of my year because I got to reconnect with people I would only see at VSS, learn about the latest updates, and read about the latest policy updates via Keeping Pace. I always returned home mentally and physically exhausted because of the non-stop information sharing.

VSS12 was a little different because as an iNACOL staff member, I had other responsibilities.  I arrived home in California twice as exhausted as in the past.  I am thankful for the 10 hours of sleep I got last night and now have some time to reflect on what I learned from my new perspective.

First, the spirit of cooperation, collaboration and sharing continues to be the common language shared by all of those who attend in person and online. It is so refreshing to have conversations with others about ways to better reach students in online and blende learning programs rather than “if” we should have a blended or online learning program.

ImageSecond, the student panel was a highlight of the conference for me. This was a group of eight students from the New Orleans area who bravely agreed to sit on stage in front of 2000 adults and share what they thought about their experiences with online and blended learning.  Students in the group ranged from third grader to a college freshman – all who have been in full or part time online or blended learning programs.  The one young man talked about how he overcame a drug addiction before he got serious about his high school courses. After failing courses, he got on the right track and earned his high school diploma with the help of an online program. Another young lady shared how she enjoys doing her online work early in the morning so she is finished by noon when she can do other things like learning to cook with her mom. Another student shared if they did not understand a concept, then they could review it over and over in their online course until they get it. The students definitely reminded me of why I do what I do to promote accessibility to online and blended learning.

Third, I enjoyed presenting with Michael Horn to talk about the models of blended learning and what that really looks like for a blended learning teacher. From our conversation I learned that there is more of a change in how a teacher teaches in the flex model of blended learning than in the rotation model. The teaching pedagogy including online discussion boards, students turning in work online, flipped-type teaching are more evident in teachers who teach in the flex model than in the rotation model. I think this is where most traditional schools will eventually end up – with variations of the flex model – because with this model, teachers have to change how they deliver their curriculum.

Fourth, I enjoyed being part of the panel of the blogging online educators. It was exciting to hear the passion from online educator bloggers James Brauer, Kristin Kipp, Bekci Kelly and Joy Nehr. Each of them shared how their blogs are providing a voice for their work. And how our ongoing sharing with one another causes all of us to refine our craft and better articulate the stories of online and blended learning that occur in all of our lives every day. Hopefully, others will join our group.

In case you missed VSS or want to reflect on what you learned, here are some links that may help:

  • Pathable Online Community lists the presentations and presentation handouts – it will soon be freely accessible to non-attendees
  • Recorded sessions (all will be linked soon)
  • Twitter feed (#vss12 hashtag) – The top tweet was: “The problem isn’t that our education system has gotten worse, the problem is that it hasn’t changed.”
  • iNACOL Facebook page shows some of the pictures taken by those who attended – join our iNACOL group!
  • iNACOL Flickr group page shows other pictures from the conference as well

On the way to #VSS12

Today I travel to the Virtual School Symposium in New Orleans.  I am looking forward to seeing the people I have seen at the many previous VSS conferences and hearing about their progress.  One of the great things about VSS is that you don’t have to explain to others why online learning is important for students. VSS is a great place to relax and enjoy hearing about what everyone else is doing, to hear the same stories about start up and maintaining a program, and a chance to share with others about your own online or blended learning program.

VSS is a great place for:

  • Sharing stories
  • Learning new ways to engage online learners
  • Learning new ways to manage your time as an online teacher
  • Hearing about how online and blended learning have impacted student learning
  • Thinking about the future of online and blended learning
  • Learning new and better ways to maintain the quality of online and blended learning programs
  • Hearing about the latest and future trends
  • Learning about the things you want to learn about

Everyone at VSS is there to share ideas and to listen to one another – and to encourage one another.  There are few people I have ever met at VSS that have any kind of ego or suggest they have all the answers. This reminds me of two great quotes:

From Benjamin Franklin in the 1776: “Ay, we must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

And from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This is what VSS is all about.

See you there.

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 2 – Variety of Presentations and Diane Ravitch

The second day of CUE for me was a day of presentations.

The day began listening to Diane Ravitch – scholar, Twitter user, and strong proponent of the importance of teachers. I follow Diane on Twitter and follow her blog.  She is passionate about education and I love that about her.  Much of what she shares is research based. She and I do disagree about for-profit online charter schools and choice in education – she does not like it, while I believe that having more choices in school – especially in the world of online learning – is allowing more students to earn high school diplomas.

She shared how she began using Twitter and then said she was not a Luddite but is concerned about some of the perils of technology.  She went on to explain these perils:

She gave everyone in the room a lot to think about.  Personally, I think in the long term, we will see gains from students in charter schools and online schools but, because the field is so young (just 10 years old), it is difficult to have reliable research at this time.  There are so many variables to consider in looking at charter schools and online schools…and if all you do is compare test scores between charter schools and traditional schools and call this research, I think this is a bit misguided.  But, it is always fun the have the discussion!

Three presentations of mine are linked on my wiki here.

First, I talked about the continuum from textbook enhanced to online teaching and learning.  It is important to understand that education involves the teacher, the student and the content.  When thinking about blended learning, it is important to consider all areas – teacher, student and content – to determine if you are “really” doing blended teaching and learning.

Second, presented with Joyce Hinkson from the CDE and Greg Ottinger from San Diego County Office of Education about current legislation and policies regarding online learning.  AB644 (Blumenfield) and the California Student Bill of Rights are the latest legislative effort to move the concept of online learning forward in California.

Third, presented with Marianne Pack and Luke Hibbard from Stanislaus County Office of Education about establishing an online learning network.  Before you can really understand online or blended learning, you have to talk about it and look at the various components.

#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.


What, forget about best practices?

I was surprised when I read the article entitled: “Forget About Blended Learning Best Practices” written by Michael Horn and Heather Staker from the Innosight Institute.  No doubt that the use of blended and online teaching and learning is increasing in both K-12 and higher education but I don’t think we should forget about the importance of “best practices.”  They wrote:

Simply following the guidance of best practices won’t help schools get the best results for their students. The reason is simple.

Best practices take the attributes of what good organizations do and assume that they are the causal reason for their success. But what works well in one circumstance might not work in another. For example, centuries ago, would-be aviators observed that most animals that flew well had wings and feathers. But when humans made wings with feathers for themselves, the results were dire.

I think that best practices develop before theories, and that research causes best practices to be refined. Once research and reports are written that identify these best practices, then the practitioner applies these, which, in turn, leads to better understanding and practice.  Throughout history, people in all walks of life and in all professions have tested out theories and ideas gleaned from others – often called “best practices.”  Any new idea or innovation has to be tested out in the process of development to allow the best practices to emerge.  This especially takes place in teaching – from preschool through college – to test out and try different strategies, concepts, tools, or practices that improve the craft of teaching.  Even in the analogy of humans learning to fly, there were humans that had to create wings and try out the idea of flying like birds before theories were developed and airplanes were invented. And teaching is a lot more complicated and challenging than learning to fly.   The authors then suggested:

Perhaps the best advice for educators is to take best practices with a grain of salt. Keep innovating to serve students, and do what works best for your specific circumstance.

Doesn’t “innovating to serve students” mean to identify best practices, customize them and put them into action?  I think we do want all teachers to learn from best practices and to apply those best practices that have been tested by others.  In  the world of online/blended teaching, these would be strategies that have developed around the effective use of online discussion boards, the importance of communication, how course design impacts online course success and many other components.  In addition, it is from best practices that standards emerge such as iNacol’s standards for the teaching profession.

The authors seem to suggest in this article that what is important is to identify one type of blended learning model and that by implementing this model, that it will move effective blended learning forward and increase the chances for success.  However, it is important to remember that in every case, it is the teacher who makes the difference.  For face-to-face teachers to transform to outstanding blended or online teachers they need not just models, but also scaffolds, guidance and best practices to test and use in refining their craft.  For blended and online learning to be effective, there is so much more than simply putting students on computers for 1/3 of a day or rotating through stations that include the use of technology.  And, it all starts with teacher knowledge, teacher learning, teacher passion, and teachers connecting with students.

Digital Learning Now – State Report Cards 2

Thanks to Brian Bridges , he and his team put all of the Digital Learning Now state results into an excel spreadsheet here.  This makes it easy to see the top state (Utah) and the bottom state (California) according to the report card.  In addition, it is interesting to see that the highest score was a 12 and the lowest score was a 0 on each of the 10 elements.  No state scored higher than a “2” on three of the elements:  Advancement, Quality Content and Infrastructure.

Here are some charts from the data showing the top 20 and the bottom 20 states based on the Digital Learning Now report card.

And the bottom 20 states.


Flickr Photos