Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Online Learning for Your High School

This is the question that I've recently discussed with superintendents and principals across Iowa, at least those who are seriously considering the benefits of online learning and the future reality of it as well. Here's a synopsis of what they have said:

Our number of dropouts is way too high. We've got students who fail a semester of algebra 1, which means they cannot enroll in second semester or geometry the following year until they pass. This puts them a year behind. Fail again, they are now 2 years behind with almost no way of graduating on time, just because of math courses alone (or substitute in the science course sequence).

If we could have our present curriculum placed in an online format, a student can work through the portions of the course they failed with the assistance of an at-risk teacher; do so at their own time, pace, and place; and be back on track for graduation. We could purchase packaged programs like E2020 or Apex, but that yearly cost is expensive, and if we had our own online curriculum, it saves money for more at-risk teaching staff.

It is difficult to find a Spanish teacher in many rural school districts, let alone a language like Chinese or Arabic. Plus, the vocational areas of Family Consumer Science and Industrial Technology are hard to staff as well. On top of that, in many schools, those teachers have class sizes of 5-10 students, making it hard to justify the costs.

Sharing staff between two districts has worked somewhat well, but consider the time spent for the teacher to drive between one district or the next. Instead, what if we had the teacher teach online, putting students from 3 different schools in the same course and raising numbers to a more sustainable amount. That teacher could drive to a different school each day (as opposed to several within a day) and still keep the course going.

If you like impossible puzzles, you should try developing our master schedule for next year. There is no way to get courses placed so that students can be out for Band, Choir, and Computers, which not only upsets the students, it also upsets the teachers of those respected programs.

But if we offered that Computers course online, then the student could take it during their free hour, whenever that would be. Or if they have a full schedule, they could still take the course and work as time permits. That flexibility sure makes scheduling an easier proposition.

The hardest students from scenario 3 are students who are the most academically-inclined. Not only because they are more likely to fill up their schedule rather than take a study hall, but also because their courses tend to be ones that there are only 1-2 sections of it (and in many cases, courses whose numbers don't allow a separate section, like scenario 2).

The result is if we have a student enrolled in Advanced Algebra 2, AP Biology, Honors Humanities, Advanced Chemistry, Band, Choir, Journalism (because they are the school newspaper editor), and Honors US History, as well as PE somewhere, they are over capacity, despite often having the ability and desire to take all of those courses. But, by putting Honors US History, Honors Humanities, Advanced Chemistry or Advanced Algebra 2 online, we have some flexibility we didn't have before.

I have a student who was recently suspended, and because of tensions with fellow students, I don't want him back in his course. Or, I have a student who is pregnant and finds it difficult to be in a class with other students. Or, I have a student who consistently butts heads with our one and only government teacher, and government is a required course. I wish I had another option.

In addition to the other scenarios, we have enthusiastic staff and belief that this is the future of education. If by putting our courses online we can offer them to other schools, we could stand to get weighted funding from those students. In essence, online learning makes increased enrollment a possibility.


Here's the upshot, of course. All of those have to do with the access of the curriculum to the student, which is a primary reason for online learning, and realistically, this is where Iowa's administrators should be initially thinking. But at some time, we also need to get to the point where we see students learn more from an online or blended learning opportunity. That, even if the above were not true, there would still be benefits to putting a course online in that it:
  • Is a media-rich environment
  • Allows both synchronous and asynchronous communication
  • Uses ongoing group collaboration
  • Connects students with outside resources and people
  • Creates a digital portfolio of student work
  • Puts the student in a position where she can share her work with the larger world easier

I don't know when the conversation in Iowa will turn from "Online learning brings us better access" to "Online learning brings us better learning"; what I see is that until the first one is fully understood by a majority of Iowa educators, the second one cannot happen. But ultimately, we need to get to that second conversation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Summer AEA Online Courses

Here's a quick list of some of the summer AEA online courses available with links for more info and registration. Note that in some cases, 2 sections of the course are offered... I have linked to each section by their dates.

I'm teaching the courses with an asterisk by their titles.







Friday, April 16, 2010

Ning eliminating free networks

Ning announced that they will be phasing out free accounts, part of their shakeup of the company. If you used the service for your school, you'll have to pony up or lose the data that your social network has created.

Ning joins many other popular services, such as Gabcast and Yahoo's Geocities that have discontinued free services. This is the day of reckoning that all the web 2.0 companies will eventually face. Starting off free to drive up traffic, they have to find what their funding source will be. Twitter recently announced they will be using "sponsored tweets" as advertising to drive up revenue so that the basic service is still free for users. Of course, that is what Ning tried to do as well.

This will probably be a bigger blow to Iowa schools than it should be. Ning, while extremely easy to use, never had "must-have" features for social networking. Regardless, many schools started their own Ning among teachers, and there are also several statewide Nings tied to teacher organizations. Will those teachers find Ning indispensable that they will pay for it? Will they make a jump to the cheapest alternative? Or, will they figure the bump in the road isn't worth it, because the next free option will dry up in a few months anyways.

Given how we were having a breakthrough year in Iowa with the social networking of teachers, the timing couldn't be worse. Social networking is crucial to 21st century professional development. Just another reason that the expense for Iowa to create a home-grown social networking engine would be well-worth the cost.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thoughts on I11I

The first reflection by anyone attending the session has to be a big thanks is in order to CASTLE. That includes Scott McLeod for the vision and Jamie Fath, Nick Sauers, and John Nash for the work putting it together. We can't lose the fact that this conference was:
  • Free
  • Brand New
  • With Limited Marketing
And yet, it was powerful to connect with other educators on this magnitude. Almost 600 people were there, and enrollment was capped back in February. When we were originally kicking around the idea of this conference last May, I believe I had told Scott he would be looking at about 200 people the first year. I won't underestimate the enthusiasm of Iowa's educators again... when we estimate that we'll have to double enrollment for next year's session, I believe that will be too low as well.

Reflection #2 is one I'll echo from Steve Linduska. Steve has been working with Iowa school districts and 1:1 computing initiatives for over a decade (and with technology in general much longer than that). He mentioned he never thought he'd see the day there was this level of enthusiasm for 1:1 computing in the state.

And what is most amazing is, conference aside, this enthusiasm has been at a grassroots level. We at the AEAs and the DE haven't made a big push for 1:1 computing, and in many ways, are now coming along for the ride. Look at who was presenting at this workshop. Teachers and administrators, not AEA/DE consultants. This is a refreshing change. Just as we need to shift our classrooms away from teacher-centered to student-centered learning (moving the teacher to facilitator), we need to shift the conversations around school change away from the statewide positions towards those at a local level. And, this conference did exactly that.

Which leads to reflection #3. Iowa is still a state of rural school districts, despite the growing migration to the urban centers and the consolidation of districts. Having taught in some very small districts, this was amazing to see the leaders in the state were small districts. This conference, much more so than ITEC or SAI, gave districts a concrete vision of what could be. Visiting with many of the teachers and the administrators who attended, they all had a very similar response to what they saw: That can be us in a year. Where else have we provided the avenue for that much change and hope in a year's time?

The most lasting image for me was the image of the map in the foyer with the pushpins from those who were attending. The pushpins were colored based on your district's current thoughts on 1:1... whether you were implementing, starting next year, next couple years, or wondering if this is for you. It is lasting predominantly because of the number of pushpins, representing a large percentage of Iowa.

But there's more to it than that. I met with Audubon's superintendent Brett Gibbs a year ago, almost exactly. At the time, we were preparing for a professional development session on technology with his whole staff. Brett was (and still is) very excited about what technology could do for achievement as well as enthusiasm within the community. I asked Brett what his current technology was like, and in the midst of describing it, he said "We do what we can... we can never go 1:1".

Audubon had a pushpin through it on the map, saying they are going that way in a couple of years.

This is serious change on a transformative level in the state. Naysayers will question the effectiveness of 1:1, and it is true that just getting the technology won't necessarily make a difference for students. But Brett will tell you that in rural Iowa, it is very difficult to make any sort of change against the inertia, even though it is critical for small district's survival.

Many state leaders, just like Brett, have found empowerment with CASTLE's leadership, whether directly or indirectly. I'm very impressed with all of them.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Quick thoughts - #iowacore

I owe you a more thorough reflection on the 1:1 institute from Wednesday, which was extremely successful given the grassroots nature of its development. But for now, I see some early momentum coming out of the institute for increased Twitter usage--the bi-product of good PLN presentations (@derondurflinger, et al) and many speakers posting their username on their presentation with an active backchannel discussion... at least until the internet went down.

So, when I see many individuals starting to use the #iowacore hashtag, I believe this will be a central place for many educators to get what they've unfortunately been lacking... a good conversation around what the Iowa Core means. Join in the conversation.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Learning Online in a K-12 Setting

My presentation from the Iowa 1:1 Institute

Learning Online in a K-12 Setting
Iowa 1:1 Institute - 4/07/10
Evan Abbey - AEA Project Manager for Online Learning

This presentation is aimed to build advocacy in school leaders for online learning, giving leaders discussion points and resources to have conversations in their home district.

Urgency: In his book Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen boldly predicts that 50% of 9-12 courses will be online by 2019. And colleges are seeing unprecedented growth in online course enrollments. Never before have students had the economic market-based power over their education that they do now. They are not limited by geography or time restraints. And, the monopoly educators had over determining the format for learning in the school is coming to an end.

In the past, the "online learning" discussion in schools has revolved around whether online learning is as effective as face-to-face learning. Despite research affirming the effectiveness of online learning, the debate has slowed action to a standstill, both at the local and at the statewide level. The time for debate has passed. Students are taking online courses regardless of a person's viewpoint of their effectiveness. We must now look instead at the most effective way to teach online, and rapidly prepare our schools for this change.

1. Cost - Both in teacher time and in compensation
2. Misunderstanding of what online learning can be - Thinking online learning is like an NWEA test where you read a passage and take a multiple choice quiz repeatedly. Online learning is so much more, including forums, online collaboration, social networking, online portfolios, synchronous virtual classrooms, simulations, and even interactive gaming.
3. Iowa's Tradition - Iowa has a deep history of educational excellence. That is a good thing. But it also makes embracing change, especially in non-traditional formats, very difficult. Iowa's tradition has slowed down efforts and killed urgency more than anything else.
4. Resolve - To be fully honest, online learning can happen, regardless of the perceived roadblocks. This is the one that can kill it, however. If there isn't the resolve from a group of school leaders who are dedicated to seeing it happen, it will always be passed by more "pressing" issues of the day.

What You Need to Know:
1. There are several districts in Iowa that are currently developing online courses or are in plans to develop courses. Your efforts would not be alone in the state.
2. To help prepare the districts for teaching online, the AEAs have developed a module on Online Instructional Design. This module is designed to be a 45-hour (3-credit) course, facilitated locally in a district, where teachers collaborate face-to-face in learning teams, online in online communities, and individually as they build an online course. The topics in the module include
• Guiding Principles to Online Education
• Online Course Orientation, Policies, and Structure
• Objectives
• Assessment
• Instructional Strategies
• Resources, Teachnologies, and Copyright
• Online Facilitation
• Putting it all Together
3. The AEAs and several Urban school districts have teamed together to write an ARRA grant for online learning. This grant will provide funds for online content, courses, and professional development, all of which will build the capacity in the state to teach online. The efforts of the grant will work to build a statewide system of courses, shared between districts, available for 9-12 students.
4. There are other professional development offerings available right now. Here are 3 online license renewal/graduate credit courses in online pedagogy:
Technology for Online Instruction: Moodle (2 credits - May 3-June 6)
Technology for Online Instruction: Adobe Connect Pro (2 credits - June 21-July 26)
Online Learning Instructional Design (2 credits - July 5-Aug 8)

Where to Start:
1. Become an Advocate. If you the school leader do not vouch for the importance of online learning, it will not happen
2. Have Conversations. Just like with starting a 1:1 initiative, moving a school to teach online takes many informal conversations before you can have formal ones. Visit with your most influential teachers, your technology personnel, your curriculum director.
3. Get connected. See Arlan & Evan's contact info below.
4. Get your early adopters going. The schools that are the most successful identify those 1-2 teachers who are willing to learn on their own and try something brand new. Get those teachers inspired and then get everything else out of the way. Piloting a successful course not only gives other teachers an example of how it can be done, it allows you to look for the logistical issues to offering online courses and it begins your marketing of your courses before you have large numbers.
5. Get informed. Many resources to read about effectiveness in online learning. It is not the same as face-to-face learning. Below are resources to get started.
6. Plug in. Have teachers take a course online to get a feel for how it works and see the benefits of learning in that manner. Connect with other schools and school leaders looking to use online learning. And start selling your vision to your local community, touting the benefits it will bring your community.
7. And now... Plan. Now its time to start looking at technical hardware and the logistics of setting up courses.

Resources and Information:
• Evan Abbey - AEA Project Manager for Online Learning -
• Arlan Thorson - School Liaison for Iowa Learning Online -
Power Point presentation
Sloan Consortium 2008 Report on K-12 Online Learning
Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies by U.S. Department of Education (2009)
National Primer on K-12 Online Learning by North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) (2007)
Keeping Pace - an annual review of state-level policy and practice (2008)
Changing Face of Education in Iowa - Evan's blog

Monday, April 5, 2010

Online Learning at the Iowa 1:1 Conference

This Wednesday, I will be presenting at the Iowa 1:1 conference from 1:30-2:30 on online learning. Here's the info:

Title: Teaching Online in a K-12 Setting
Description: For districts looking to incorporate online learning in their curriculum. Will overview current online learning initiatives in the state and information on planning, professional development, and technology support.

The session is geared for both administrators and would-be online instructors. We will discuss the Iowa ARRA grant which will provide resources and training for schools on online learning--something every administrator should know about. We will also look at how schools are using online learning in Iowa currently and at a plan to get your district started.

I will see you there!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wiggins on Prioritizing Assessment

Soundbite, demonstrating once again we should listen to Grant Wiggins. From ASCD, about teachers who argue there is not enough time in the day for quality assessment with the required instruction:

If you say you don’t have time for assessment, you assume that the teaching is more important than the learning. Feedback is the key to reaching goals. Saying there’s no time is to confuse causing learning for mentioning stuff.”

h/t Ben Grey

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Being Selective in Your PLN

The current course I'm teaching on Personal Learning Networks has been discussing the challenge of time quite heavily. Specifically, for those new to connecting to others via web tools, it isn't just the time involved in learning in a new way, it's also the time spent learning the tools to access that learning.

When asking others about PLNs, the message that comes out is to be selective in the tools that you use. Don't become jack of all trades, master of none. Find the tools (or tool... singular) that work for you, and then use it to enhance your learning.

That's why an otherwise powerful video like the one below sends some mixed messages.

There of course are great thoughts about the changing role of the teacher and the power of digital technology over the paper and pencil. But what unintentional message does the beginning of the video send?

And, how do we overcome the anxiety that it causes?