Posts Tagged nacol

Online Learning’s Promising Practices

NACOL just released a report addressing the promising practices of online schools working with at-risk students.  Based on a study of 5 online or blended learning schools, they came up with the following key lessons demonstrated by those successful schools:

Motivating students who have failed in the traditional classroom setting is a key to success for credit recovery programs. The flexible and self-paced nature of online courses can motivate; these attributes can also remove the social stigma of credit recovery. Online courses may be more engaging to some students than traditional face-to-face classes. In addition, programs that use online courses can address mobility issues of students who move regularly from one school in the district to another.

This is the hardest part of our job.  We need to develop better methods of engaging students. Florida Virtual School states they pass 90% of their at-risk kids in credit recovery courses. Does that mean online schools should just design separate credit recovery courses in addition to mainline and advanced courses? There is no separation at our school and we pass half that amount.

Online learning is particularly well suited for students recovering credit because it allows for individualized instruction, both by the teacher and through the use of course management technology. Online curriculum must be rigorous to ensure that students are learning the material, and not simply moving through the course. Diagnostic testing that allows students to demonstrate mastery of the elements of a subject that they learned in their previous attempt to pass the course, and to move on to the parts of the course that they need to focus on, keeps students engaged.

I’ve long been a proponent of diagnostic testing but none of our courses currently offer this.  The rigor of a course has to be enforced by the administration.  Individualizing instruction (and assessments) is the role of the instructor but if your school employs instructors who are trying to teach traditionally online than this won’t happen at your school.

The self-paced aspect of online courses is particularly valuable to at-risk students, who may associate education with difficulties and stress, compounded by learning deadlines imposed  by arbitrary calendars or school hours.

This is also one of the most difficult aspects.  Often these students do not have basic organizational skills or the ability to evaluate course responsibilities and schedule accordingly.

Providing credit for work or community service allows students to be engaged in a valuable activity outside of school and to have this experience count towards graduation. It also
motivates students to complete the program.

Most online programs serving credit recovery and at-risk students—but not all—have a
significant face-to-face component. The blended approach is important because it provides
expanded student support and face-to-face contact. The online component—whether fully
online or blended—provides 21st century skills to a group of students who often have less
than average exposure to computers and technology.

We have kids come in once a week for four hours of face-to-face contact.  Should we increase this to make it “significant?”

Programs that keep students from dropping out or attract students back into the school
system may pay for themselves—or at least defray costs—by capturing the state public
education dollars tied to those students. Online programs are particularly scalable and able
to expand more easily than programs based entirely on brick-and-mortar classrooms.

Success stories and anecdotes regarding the benefits and value of online learning for both
at-risk students and the schools serving them abound. The need exists for federal funding of
quantitative research in this area.

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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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Goods, Bads, and Bests from NECC Week

NECC 2008 was the best conference I’ve ever been to.  Mostly, because it was so dynamic.  Usually I judge a conference only on the quality of the sessions but this one was so much more than lectures.  I wanted to take a couple minutes and reflect on the Goods, Bads, and Bests from NECC Week (EBC, NECC, and NECC Unplugged).

Easily, the best part of EBC and NECC2008 was meeting people from my personal learning networks.

The 2nd best part was participating at NECC Unplugged.  I didn’t get to schedule a session there because my travel plans were made so close to the conference that I had no idea if I would even be attending past Monday afternoon until a couple days prior.  So when I got to sit-in and contribute to an impromptu roundtable conversation with Steve Hargadon, Darren Draper, Robin Ellis, Karl Fisch, and several others from my PLN, I was excited.  We discussed how EBC could be better next year along with social networking in education.  I had been a passive observer at the Blogger’s Cafe until that point, and it feels so much better to contribute to the community.

The third, and last, best part is a little of a selfish one.  I hosted a poster session called Using Web 2.0 to Motivate Student Creativity which focused on Web 2.0 for Beginners and it went really well.  A lot of people stopped to watch our (OCHS) kids talk about their experiences using these tools.  I met hundreds of people and loved talking to educators who really wanted to make their children’s experiences at school more relevant.

The Goods.  The best sessions I sat in were all at EBC.  They were discussions yet, only one of the sessions that I attended at NECC was even close, mostly because they hosted a backchannel chat (pw:necc) through Chatzy. David Warlick and Alan November didn’t dissapoint but Social Networking in Education was the livliest and most passionate session that I attended outside of EBC.

The Bads.  By far the worst part about NECC Week was the lack of wireless connectivity.  In over half the rooms I was in I had nothing, nada, zilch for connection.  Kristen Hokanson said it best to an IT guy trying to solve the problem at EBC once he declared they had no idea so many people would have laptops, “but this is an edtech conference.”  They didn’t have enough access points and in the theater where the spotlight sessions were at, there was nothing.

Those view-blocking Pearson cameras at EBC were annoying, but I wasn’t nearly as mad as others about them recording and profitting from our words.  Spreading information…..good.

The other bad part, which I have encountered at almost every conference I’ve attended, was their take on Online Learning.  When I went to NECC in Philadelphia a few years back, I don’t remember any online sessions so was happy to at least see that strand in almost every concurrent session.  However, most of the sessions weren’t worth attending, the NACOL booth didn’t even have someone sitting at it, and the one session I did attend was horrible.  It was three instructional designers from the University of Houston who lectured for 45 minutes straight about 3 basic lessons you could teach online.  It was like they just discovered e-learning and somehow convinced ISTE to accept their proposal.  I wish they would screen for people who are really doing something with online learning and hybrid schools, its a future of education.

flickr user: kjarrett

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Breaking Down Personal Barriers

Forbidding Wall

When I was in High School I was petrified of public speaking. It got even worse when I went to college and didn’t know anyone in the room. In fact, early on in my college career I would drop courses if I found out there was a speech involved. I hated that about myself, but hated the idea of speaking even more. Then I became a teacher.

Knocking Down that First Big Wall:
When I began college at 21, after 3 years of floating around through life, I knew I wanted to work with kids. I wasn’t interested in teaching at that point because I didn’t think there was anyway I could get up in front of a class everyday and just….talk. But after a few years of college, something changed. I had to take a speech class to move to a 4 year school, there was no way to avoid it anymore. Even though I dreaded every one of those 3-5 minute monologues ( I would shake, my stomach would get upset, and I felt flushed with heat), I started getting a little confidence in myself. The final assessment of the semester was presenting a Persuasive Speech I wrote about working with kids in the community (I still didn’t think I could teach at this point). My speech got nominated by our class and I ended up in a school-wide competition. I didn’t win but made it to the finals and the observers were about 50 students, a dean from Stanford, one from Cal Poly, and the head of my school. In about 6 months I had gone from being deliriously nervous just to talk in front of 30 kids in a community college classroom, to the finals of a speech competition in front of some very intimidating people.

Going for It:
Once I got through that course, I knew I could become a teacher. But the fears didn’t stop once I did. I still get nervous in front of my peers and large groups and there are still personal barriers that I keep trying to knock down. The main difference now is that I set goals to break down those walls. I push myself to handle uncomfortable situations. Just last week I presented at my first NACOL Webinar, which was really strange and awkward. I wasn’t happy with how I presented my ideas in that hour, but I know that next time will be better because I got through it.

How This Applies to my Kids:
I want to push my kids to do things that unnerve them. I want to teach students to play outside of their safe zones. I want to help them get through their fears at a much younger age than I did. I talk to kids about this in very limited situations right now, but as I’m growing as a teacher I’m learning that this plays more and more of a role in students lack of success. I think I’m finally beginning to understand the role of fear in a teenagers mind, and hopefully I can help them break down some of the barriers that fear creates.

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