Online Learning On My Mind

I teach online so its always on my mind, but things have been happening recently which led me to want to start writing about online teaching and learning.  Normally I write pretty vague blogs that can apply to both traditional and distance and hybrid schools but want to focus on my specific model for a little while.  Bare with me. Things that have me thinking, in no particular order:

1.  I was asked to present at Virtual Schools Symposium about Shared Leadership in a discussion called “How to Start an Online School” then shared leadership seemed to stop at my school when summer began.  Feeling a little torn about making that presentation now.

2.  I just went through an online training program for Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, CT’s new state online school.  I was able to look inside some of the responsibilities their teachers have for developing curriculum (almost none) compared to our teacher’s responsibilities for developing curriculum (100 %).  My hypothesis is that teachers who use pre-packaged software solutions can focus more on supplementing instruction, personalizing assessments, and communicating with students than those that have to spend a lot of time building online content.  More hypothesizing to come.

3.  I was just at NECC2008 and there were almost no relevant sessions about online learning.  I attended one and it was terrible, antiquated, inapplicable to my situation or any online teacher’s situation who has taught for more than 5 days.  There was nothing in any of the dozen or so E-learning sessions that I thought could benefit a hybrid high school teacher.  I think I found a topic to propose to NECC for next year.

4.  Clayton Christensen predicts half of all high school students will take online courses ten years from now.  If that comes true, my career experience is going to be very relevant to the future of education.

5.  A trusted colleague in my PLN asked me to talk to her principal about the challenges of online learning for credit recovery.  Her school is thinking about offering online classes next year.  Even though the challenges are so vast and so many, I still believe in online learning. That said, everyday I question the potential of online learning as a valuable option for at-risk kids.  I’m spending my life trying to figure out a way to teach at-risk kids online, but am losing so far.

UPDATE:  NACOL just released a paper on the role of online schools for at-risk students, stating

As online learning moves past the early adopter phase, the growth
of online programs focused on at-risk students or credit recovery has redefined how educational technology can be used to address the needs of all students, from advanced students in search of Advanced Placement or dual-credit courses, to at-risk students trying to find the right instructional mix to fit their learning styles.

The last half of that last sentence is especially relevant to our learning model.  We need to find the right mix to meet these kids learning styles because we are failing nearly 50% of our students right now with another 20% dropping out.  Anyone have any ideas for the right mix?

Those 5 things really have me thinking about online learning and interested in seeing where it goes in the near future.  I also look forward to tackling these things in future writings, which I haven’t really done in a year of blogging.  Wonder why not?

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  1. #1 by Beth Still on July 14, 2008 - 10:20 PM

    From one online teacher to another….

    Just wanted to briefly share my thoughts with you on this. I, too, believe in the possibilities of online learning. For kids in the region where I live, it is a necessity to help level the playing field. Students in western Nebraska do not have the opportunity to take the same classes that kids in larger cities have. The number of electives gets whittled down more and more each year. The high school in my town is working on eliminating all elective social studies classes within the next two years. Why? Need to focus on the “real” classes that are assessed! (It is a relatively large high school for Nebraska—1000 students) Kids will be chomping at the bit to take classes that we will eventually offer at the Virtual School—-Civil War, History of the American West, etc. However, these kids will probably be advanced students looking to broaden their horizons before heading off to college. They are ideal online students. Motivated, driven, self-starters.

    Here is the problem as I see it. Both of us teach mostly at-risk kids. School is not at the top of their list of priorities. If my students have to choose between working an extra shift or coming to school they will nearly always work. They care about their grades, but they are not driven by their grades.

    Last year we piloted an online program at my school. We did not have a mandatory attendance policy which I believe cost us 50% of the students within the first two weeks. But the remainder that stuck with it did quite well. I spent a lot of time analyzing what caused some of the students to drop out and what motivated others to stick with it. Here are my thoughts.

    I required that each student check in once a week and I counted it for a grade. I’d send out an email on Monday morning to all students and they had until Wednesday at midnight to respond. All they had to do was respond so I knew they were still active. I sent out text reminders a couple times each week. I also took the time to let them get to know me. However, it did help that they already knew me. None of my students were “new.” I had all of the in f2f classes prior to the summer school pilot program.

    Cory, you are in an almost impossible situation. If I understand correctly you don’t ever really see your students f2f, correct? Aren’t students assigned to a mentor that may not necessarily be one of their teachers? Other than working in a computer lab I don’t know when you would see them. Do they ever Skype you? Do you ever Skype them if you see them online? Do they ever see your face? Do they ever hear your voice? Do you email/call them at least once a week to check on their progress and to see if they need anything?

    I know some people might say that it is up to the student to be responsible and we should not keep on top of them, but online classes are much different than f2f. Teenagers, especially at-risk teens, do not have the skills needed to work independently. They are intelligent enough, but online classes require a great deal of motivation that most teens (except the most dedicated ones) just don’t have. It is through no fault of their own, it is just the way they are wired.

    It is too bad that your school does not require students to take just 3 classes at a time for 9 weeks. Juggling a full course load (6+ classes) is why many students in a traditional setting get discouraged and ultimately decided to drop out. Fewer, but more intense classes, solved this issue for us at my school.

  2. #2 by mrplough07 on July 15, 2008 - 7:02 AM

    I agree that motivation (and lack of organization skills) are some of the biggest reasons students when taking online classes. Communication is a big part of teaching online but we have huge loads at my school, especially compared to most online schools, so calling students on a weekly basis isn’t possible. If our role of course designer was eliminated or reduced by using software solutions then we might have time. As it is, most teachers have WAY too many responsibilities and too big of a course load to call.
    I do try to hunt down all my students and at least meet once f2f but a majority of my kids don’t have a regular communication schedule with me.

  3. #3 by Robin Ellis on July 16, 2008 - 5:02 AM

    Cory, the links you have provided are very helpful. I am going to share them with the appropriate people in my district and direct them to your posts. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts here in the future.

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