Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Foundations of the Iowa Core

The Department of Education, in conjunction with the AEAs, released over the summer an online module entitled "Foundations of the Iowa Core".  The module is to be used as a component of professional development, or simply as an information piece.  While its development began as a response to some confusion amongst educators about what the Iowa Core, where it began, or where it is heading, it has also been beneficial for parents and community members to get a sense of the initiative.

The module focuses on
  • The basic features and terminology of the Iowa Core
  • Understanding the 6 Outcomes
  • Identifying the characteristics of effective instruction
  • Discussing the benefits of the Iowa Core for students, educators, communities, and the state
The module is intended to be use either individually or in conjunction with others.  There are several collaborative learning team (CLT) activities for schools who use it as part of their face-to-face inservice, as well as individual activities if a person is looking at it alone.  In addition to activities, the module features video interviews with teachers, students, and community members.  The content itself will take about 1 hour to complete if working individually, and will take 2-3 hours if groups are discussing the CLT activities.

Iowa Core in a Nutshell
5 Characteristics of Effective Instruction

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Online days instead of snow days?

Never too early in Iowa to start thinking about snow days, of course. 

Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso, IN is one school that last year dealt with snow days by creating "online days".  The premise was that students could still meaningfully interact with the curriculum working online through Moodle, and it would cause less disruption to the continuity of the learning process.

I ran across this reflection from a high school student, Jacob Knecht, who was writing for the school's newspaper.  While there isn't much there in terms of the structure or logistics of the day, it is clear that the "online day" was well received by students, faculty, and especially parents.  The concern of access at the home was not identified as an issue for BGHS.

One school's success does not dictate it is right for schools in Iowa, but it is good to see that while many Iowa administrators have hypothesized about an "online day" every time they have to call off school, there are schools that have put that into action.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Things that bug me, part one million and 26

I've been known to complain too much, and this really is a minor thing.  Still...

My son's quiz question:
Why is voting a good way to have a voice in your community?
a. Voting is easy
b. Voting helps make towns and cities better places
c. Voters choose who will help make decisions for the community

The answer guide of course says c, but you could easily argue b.  That's what my son chose.  And, he got it marked wrong.

It's not that he got it wrong that bothers me.  It's that he didn't get a chance to explain why he chose that answer, as he told me.  They never went over the questions as a class.  This is a golden opportunity for students to justify their answers with rationale and logic.  At the very least, the teacher should explain why a given answer is correct and others wrong.  But instead, students won't have a chance to learn and engage in dialectic discussion.

The answer sheet said c.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Digital Learning, Illustrated

One of the better activities for teachers to do is to look at the following YouTube video and answer the following questions:
  • What type of learning is taking place?
  • What role is technology playing?

It is worth it to take a look at the comments the boy has received (66 total when I posted this).

The type of learning that is taking place is illustrative of "digital learning".  It is student-centered, inquiry-based.  It draws upon teachers from around the world.  The individuals who are helping this boy out, the boy does not even know.  It is an authentic real-world experience for him, not something contrived and solely useful in the walls of a classroom.

In brief, he is learning through making connections.  And, it's not about the technology at all.  He didn't create this just to "make a YouTube video".  We aren't interested in assessing his videography or editing skills.  He wanted to learn how to use a bowdrill set, and the technology was merely a conduit to get to that learning, just as he would use a pencil or a calculator in other situations.

In this sense, digital learning is not about the technology at all; it is about the deeper purposes and important learnings that you want students to have.  It is about a curriculum that creates connections for students to multiple sources of learning, not to simply the one answer in the back of the book. 

The easy mistake to make, the wrong conclusion to jump to, is to think it is about the technology, since as an outsider that is what you see when you walk into a 1:1 school.  But if a school is doing it well, it's not what students should see.  As Chris Lehmann from Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia points out, technology "should be like oxygen, ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible".  Students should no more be conscious that they are using the computer than other pieces of technology in their room.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Moodle Monday: Can we have some Moodle please?

A presentation from Tomaz Lasic, Moodle entrepreneur.  Ask and you shall receive, as Moodle's array of functionality meets the wishes of many educators.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Online Learning Initiatives in Iowa

(My presentation given to the Statewide Leadership Teams)

Online learning initiatives in iowa
View more presentations from Evan Abbey.

1. Iowa Core materials on Moodle
The Iowa Core professional development, alignment, and assessment for learning sub-committees have been placing their resources and instructor guides on the Heartland Moodle server (will soon be on the statewide Moodle server).  

The state has been awarded $2.7 million for the developing our capacity to deliver K-12 online content.  This includes content development/acquisition, professional development, and technological support.  An overview of the grant can be found here

The AEA Online Council is developing a PD sequence for online pedagogy, called Online Learning for Iowa Educators (OLLIE).  There has been a proposal to offer a cohort for curriculum consultants from the statewide team this spring, with the purpose being common collaboration to create PD content, K-12 content, and prepare consultants to teach online.  If you have personal interest in this, contact me and for more info, check out here.

Heartland AEA is currently participating in a National Science Foundation grant coordinated by the Concord Consortium.  The grant is looking at the use of digital tools (including a portal and simulations) to enhance inquiry science.  It is entitled “Innovative Technology in Science Inquiry – Scale-Up” (ITSI-SU).  While the grant is paying for a piloting group to receive stipends and digital probes for their involvement, the online tools are available freely to all teachers.  If there is statewide interest, Evan Abbey and Rob Kleinow can train other consultants in a “train-the-trainer” model.

For more information, visit
To see and try out the portal, visit


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Moodle?

The recent developments with both ARRA and AEA PD Online have gained many administrators interest.  However, one question that surfaces is why did we choose Moodle over Blackboard, Studywiz or other LMS products?  Both of the initiatives will be standardizing the content into Moodle.

First, there isn't much debate, that we need to standardize and choose one.  AEAs and districts have limited resources, and content and expertise are easily shared when everyone is using the same platform.  So, why Moodle and not a different one?

It is not because of functionality.  In comparison of features, many of the top platforms have very similar features.  You could argue Moodle has a wider range of plugins for installation than commercial products, but that doesn’t mean overall it has more functionality.  So, this is not a deciding characteristic.  Here is what are:

1. Cost – Moodle is open source, meaning there are no annual per pupil costs for the license to use Moodle.  This differs from commercial products, which usually range from $5-10 a student, plus the yearly license fee (and some have support contracts on top of that).  Open source doesn’t mean free, as there are costs involved to have someone maintain the server, but those costs go back to support local employees. And, while there are other open source LMS products out there, Moodle remains the option with the most visibility and support, meaning the cost is lower over them as well.

2. Present Scalability – Because of its open source nature, it allows all types of deployment.  Districts can dabble with a trial server.  An individual teacher can set up their own server.  There can be cheap hosted versions for as little as $7/month.  A district can set up their own Moodle installment, including robust options (the largest self-managed Moodle installments have up to 500,000 users).  And, there are many full-fledged Moodle hosting options a district can use if they would prefer not to host it themselves.

3. Experience & Market Share – The AEAs have each used Moodle, in some cases for over 5 years.  Leading districts in Iowa have used Moodle for just as long.  In fact, the current market share of K-12 educational entities in Iowa for Moodle is overwhelming.  Having a community of users makes for a more valuable statewide effort, allowing content, professional development, and knowledge to be exchanged.

4. Professional Development – The AEAs have developed professional development materials (including modules and courses) for Moodle.  This material can be used flexibly in either online, self-paced, hybrid, or face-to-face options.  Developing professional development for other LMS tools would be a considerable cost for the AEAs.

5. Future Scalability – Moodle’s market share, especially among open source options, means it isn’t going anywhere and will continue to thrive.  Moodle has a vibrant community adding many different plug-ins and options.  The ability to add your own individual themes, plugin tools, templates, and layouts make it a flexible option for the future. 

That's not to say a district could not choose a different platform and be pleased with the results.  But, it will inhibit that district's ability to participate in the statewide effort.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

So, what is OLLIE?

Online Learning for Iowa Educators (OLLIE) is a new initiative by Iowa's Area Education Agencies.  Its central aim is to deliver quality professional development in online pedagogy to Iowa teachers, and do so in a systemic way.  It is a 5-course sequence built around best practices in online teaching:
  1. Introduction to the Online Learner (1 cr.)
  2. Technology for Online Instruction (2 cr.)  
  3. Instructional Design in an Online Course (2 cr.) 
  4. Facilitation in an Online Course (2 cr.) 
  5. Assessment and Evaluation in Online Courses (2 cr.)

The AEAs began offering courses in the sequence during the 2009-10 school year, and will have all 5 courses being offered by the summer of 2011.  Currently, the AEAs are also partnering with Drake University, which will be offering a 15-credit certificate in online teaching, using a core of the 9 credits above with 2 electives (6 credits) from their online pedagogy offerings.

As taking an online experience is one of the keys to learning how to teach, the courses are all online.  More importantly, they are being delivered in a train-the-trainer, modular format, meaning that schools can deliver school-wide professional development to teachers using the course content with a local or AEA facilitator (we are currently in the process of training a cohort of AEA trainers).  Courses will also be offered as catalog courses through AEA PD Online for instructors looking to learn on their own, outside of a district initiative.

The courses do build on each other sequentially.  Participants have hands-on activities helping them construct an actual course they will use, so the learning is an efficient use of time.  However, the "Introduction to the Online Learner" is an excellent course for all educators to take, whether they will be teaching online or not.  Given that many administrators, counselors, at-risk coordinators, and TAG coordinators are pondering online offerings for students, this course gives must-have information on ensuring student success online.

OLLIE is a central part of the ARRA Ed Tech grant to help build capacity in Iowa to deliver K-12 content.  Some of the grant dollars are being used to provide piloting districts with stipends for early adopter teachers who take OLLIE courses.  This summer, we held a cohort of 19 districts who completed coursework in the OLLIE sequence, representing over 100 teachers and administrators.  In addition, the Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Des Moines, Norwalk, and Van Meter school districts have committed to delivering OLLIE content to selected teachers in their district.

Map Channels: free mapping tools

Teachers participating in the cohort not only had a chance to engage with the content, but they also had the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers across the state on similar projects, including the creation of common courses.  Several teachers participating in the summer program are implementing hybrid units this fall as the first step into online learning.

One important step for schools looking to dip their toe in online learning is to target specific teachers who will actively challenge themselves to deliver the curriculum in new and exciting ways for students.  More cohorts are planned to begin this year in regional areas for district trainers or early adopter teachers.  Districts interested in professional development should contact me or their AEA Ed Tech consultants to find out more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting Your School Started with Online Learning

(Below is my presentation for Tuesday, 11:00 at ITEC).

Key Concepts
How online learning can be used in your school. (Blog - 4/26)

• Most common roadblocks facing Iowa's schools
- Fear for teachers of being replaced
- Primitive view of what online learning is
- Tradition of what "school" is to look like
- Money

• Action Steps
1) Become an advocate
2) Share and refine a vision of online learning in your school (Have conversations with your influential people)
3) Sell your idea to your publics
4) Lay the foundation--plan your course server, your student access, your policies, your professional development. Examine the processing questions
5) Learn what resources/opportunities exist (network)
6) Target specific areas & early adopters to work with
7) Commit. If you wait for the perfect course to be developed, you will never offer one. You learn by trying.

• Current Efforts in Iowa
- Iowa Learning Online (contact Arlan Thorson).
ILO offers free courses in several areas for Iowa students. They also offer free content for schools to use, and have brokered courses for schools, helping with marketing & registration.

- ARRA Grant.
The state AEAs, in partnership with Cedar Rapids CSD, Davenport CSD, Sioux City CSD, Waterloo CSD, Iowa City CSD, Council Bluffs CSD, and Dubuque CSD have received a $2.7 million grant to develop capacity to deliver online learning in Iowa.

Goals of the grant =
1) Provide online content for Iowa schools in math, science, and literacy.
2) Help connect teachers with free online content.
3) Build a repository to host the online content.
4) Provide systemic professional development in online pedagogy for K-12 schools.
5) Connect schools with Iowa Learning Online to use their services to enhance online offerings.
6) Help schools find new models for providing credit recovery and alternative programming.

- OLLIE (Online Learing for Iowa Educators).
To help build internal capacity for online learning, we are developing a sequence of professional development courses, to be facilitated by AEA consultants or locally at an LEA.

The modules include
1) Introduction to the Online Learner (1 credit)
2) Technology for Online Instruction (2 credits)
3) Online Instructional Design (2 credits)
4) Facilitation (2 credits)
5) Assessment, Feedback, and Evaluation (2 credits)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Reflection on Eric Scheninger's Visit

Eric Scheninger (@NMHS_Principal), a frequent colleague and collaborator of Van Meter High School principal Deron Durflinger (and many others in Iowa), recently made a visit to Iowa State's CASTLE program and several central Iowa schools.  He liked what he saw.  Here's his reflection from his visit.  Definitely worth a read, since it gives us a view from outside of the work that is happening in the state.

A few of my thoughts:
• Eric is a proponent of constructivist education steeped in technology integration, so the benefits he saw are not surprising.  Still, it is reinforcing for Van Meter, South Hamilton, and United to hear that it is obvious to outside observers the enthusiasm and enjoyment with the learning process that their students have.

• The "parental-acceptance-curve" is a poignant observation that future Iowa 1:1 schools will grapple with... parents being a bit leery before roll-out.

• Obviously, Eric's visit was limited in time.  While it is one thing to observe creativity on display in student reactions and enthusiasm, it is another to quantify it against other schools.  The big question that remains is how students are achieving in 1:1 schools.  Are students actually learning more?  Is the constructivist theory of education bringing about higher gains, or is it a bunch of sound and fury?  If I'm a school weighing this decision, this question has to be at the center of my decision, and we need that data.  The data on higher attendance and fewer referrals are steps in the right direction.

• Eric hit the nail on the head with his observation about needing more professional development.  The AEAs were a bit blindsided by the explosion in 1:1 environments and are scrambling to catch up.  Most distressing to me: Over a majority of the AEA Ed Tech consultants who are training Iowa 1:1 teachers have never actually taught in a 1:1 classroom.  Good news, though.  The INTEL Elements courses will help provide system professional development in this area.

• One concern for me is that Eric highlighted certain student work--creating original music for their presentations, developing Wordles, putting in slide transitions, and using Paintbrush.  At first glance, I don't see how any of these actually lead to mastery of objectives.  They are the equivalence of making your posterboard look really pretty.  And undoubtedly, they are time-consuming, taking time away from student analysis, conversation, and direct focus on the end outcomes.  This is a chief criticism of technology integration by critics such as Dan Willingham, Robert Pondiscio or Jay Matthews, and something that our 1:1 schools need to be conscious of.

• One other bright spot in this reflection is Eric sees most teachers thriving in this type of teaching environment.  From my conversations with Deron and Van Meter superintendent John Carver, this is not always easy.  While it can appear schools like these 3 are fully embracing the mantle of change, there is a lot of background working with staff and community to help them with this second-order change.  Not every teacher was originally excited about the move to 1:1, so this shows the work that school leaders have put in.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

So, what is the ARRA grant?

The ARRA Ed Tech Grant uses federal stimulus dollars for the purposes of enhancing education through technology in the classroom, using a similar structure to the E2T2 system.  In applying for the roughly $3 million, Iowa is prioritizing capacity-building for its schools to deliver K-12 online learning.

The needs for this are self-evident: Iowa has limited statewide options for online learning that pale in comparison to other states.  This has come as the result of its fine educational system (and the pride that the state takes in it), as educators and community members alike have been slow to demand fixes when what we are used to "wasn't broken."  But, times have changed, and the most vocal group for needing the benefits of online learning have been administrators.

To address this need, all 9 AEAs and 7 of the 8 largest districts in Iowa banded together to create a common proposal.  They were awarded $2.7 million, to be used to address the needs of online learning for rural access, high teacher shortage areas, credit recovery, and disaster/pandemic preparation.

The specific action steps have quickly materialized:
  • Develop/purchase online content for schools to freely use
  • Link to and vet free online resources that exist on the web
  • Deliver professional development to train K-12 teachers in online pedagogy
  • Create a common repository for schools to access the content and deliver online learning
  • Partner with Iowa Learning Online, which brokers courses that districts can open up to other district students
One distinct thing about this is the speed at which things are moving.  This isn't a 6-year development process before schools can peak behind the curtain (okay... maybe that was too blunt of an allusion).  These things are coming quickly.  We had a 100-teacher cohort complete summer training in online pedagogy from 19 different Iowa school districts, and we are currently in the middle of a train-the-trainer sequence for AEAs to deliver their own training.  We also will have purchased some content from Florida Virtual Schools this fall, and will have the repository up and running by next summer.

I've had the pleasure to work closely with Nancy Movall, who was named the grant specialist, and has been overseeing the governance of the grant.  Nancy has been vigilant about 3 things--sustainability, efficiency, and results.  The grant's funds are limited to one year, so purchasing seats in a program like Plato or Apex won't have any sustaining effects.  Neither would they be transformative, as it would emphasize the same detached form of online learning that schools had been engaged in, one where the student works through endless modules in isolation.

She has stressed that we need to own content, that we need to make one-time purchases and have the content indefinitely.  This will include some local development, geared around specific aspects of the essential skills and concepts.  But given that we have limited resources in the area of instructional design, we have to be systemic about what we choose to develop ourselves.

Most importantly to Nancy, we need to avoid situations where teachers are developing content on their own.  It is a model that is highly inefficient, and past track records have shown a tendency to take traditional face-to-face lessons and move them online, not taking advantage of the features about online learning to make it unique.  Instead, teachers will be trained on how to take existing content, be they units, lessons, activities, or resources, and weaving them together for a powerful learning experience.

So, what do schools need to know?  First and foremost, that help is coming.  Schools interested in systemic professional development in online pedagogy now have an option, the OLLIE sequence.  This professional development can be delivered in different formats to fit a school's needs.  In addition, schools will have a solid base of content to choose from within a year's time, eliminating the need to purchase high quantities of seats in packaged programs.  Plus, the process for schools to become participants in the arena of online learning will be made much easier with the resources that Iowa Learning Online offers.

Interested?  Contact us:
• Evan Abbey -
• Nancy Movall -
• Arlan Thorson -

Friday, October 8, 2010

10 Things You Need to Know About Being an Online Teacher

(Below is my presentation for Monday, 1:45 at ITEC).

More and more, I receive random emails or calls from those with an interest in teaching online.  The reasons for their interest are different; some are looking at retirement and see this as a more flexible way to stay in teaching, others see themselves as changes agents for educational delivery, be it a constructivist pedagogy or a tech-infused classroom, and online learning is the next frontier.  Some in this rough economy see teaching online license renewal courses as a decent part-time job that allows them to keep their present position.  And still others are being asked to by administrators.

Whatever the reasons, my responses are usually the same.  Online teaching is not easy.  Whether you thought so or not, you have to understand that it isn't as simple to do what you do in a face-to-face classroom, only this time with a keyboard.

I've seen several good face-to-face teachers who are not able to teach online (and vice versa).  It is a completely different skill set.  Not an impossible one, mind you (and certainly one we need to learn as a state).  But it is different.

Here are the ten pieces of advice (not in importance, but rather in terms of when you'll encounter them) that I would recommend for any person looking to become an online teacher:

#10. Take an Online Course 
Or five.  You'll learn more from being a student in an online environment than you will researching it.  You will see first hand what type of organizational structure or communication patterns work for you and what don't work at all.

Of course, a problem is that there are currently many bad online courses out there.  My wife recently completed one where she was asked to read the two articles and make two reflective posts in the forum each week for 9 weeks.  And that's it.  She never discussed the content with her instructor or fellow classmates... it was simply a sequence of hoops to jump through for her credit.  So, take the course with a critical eye, and take a variety of courses to gain some perspective.  This one step will help you not just at the beginning, but throughout your online teaching career.

#9. Online Teaching is Time Consuming... Have a Plan!
You know, when I receive evaluative feedback from my participants at the end of the course, the most frequent comment is how surprising the amount of work is.  They were thinking an online course would be less work than a face-to-face course.

The same misperception holds true for the teacher as well.  It takes a considerable amount of time to read student's work, answer student questions, communicate through announcements, etc.  Your evening hours can quickly evaporate.  What makes it worse, students who are used to getting an answer immediately in a face-to-face class will wonder why you haven't emailed back to their question (it's been 5 minutes already!!!).

For your own sake, have a plan of when you will be teaching.  Block out some time from your schedule.  And communicate this plan to your students.  Let them know that Wednesday is "Church Night" and you will be busy, or Saturday morning is spent watching each of your sons' flag football games.  Let them know when you will be grading assignments, and how frequently you respond to questions.  The more up front planning and communication you can add, the more sane your life will be.  Which leads us to...

#8. Communication Online IS Different
You probably already get the whole netiquette, "You-don't-know-how-they-will-interpret-sarcasm-online-so-don't-use-it" thing.  And yes, use emoticons.

But there is much more.  As an instructor, you have to use many different tones, be it analytical, informal, inquisitive, humorous, concerned, reassuring, or more.  You have to know how to phrase things positively, even when students aren't reading the directions (which you will be tested on even before your first class starts).  And, you need to know when and how to jump in to online discussions, helping steer them to the learning outcome you desire, without people knowing you are steering them.

#7. Remember, Online Students Have Issues, Too
Which, is better stated as "Online Students have Needs".  They will need to have clarity about assignments, meaning you will need to provide many levels of support.  That includes a "Question & Troubleshooting Forum", screencast tutorials showing how to navigate the site, and virtual office hours for asking questions.

But the bigger needs are social needs.  Students need to get to know other people.  Research out of UW-Madison has shown an interesting phenomenon:  When students rate the quality of online courses, even if they are in the exact same course, they will pick different reasons why it was a good course or not.  But actually, the biggest constant for good courses vs. bad courses is something that appears later in the survey... how well did you get to know your fellow students.  Even though participants can't articulate this, their perception of being in a close social group in class makes the class good.

Social presence can be built in several different ways.  How you have students introduce themselves is critical.  How you have them keep connected at the end of the class is critical.  And, how you structure assignments so that there is honest interaction, requiring a person to converse with others is critical.  As a beginner online teacher, this is a hard area to perfect right away.

#6. Flexibity... and yet, structure
Online courses are synonymous with being flexible.  "Any time, place or pace" is the mantra.

Well, that's not quite correct.  Flexibility is important, even more so than in a face-to-face environment.  In addition to differences of prior knowledge, learning preferences, and favorite topics, online courses bring in differences of technological proficiency and technological access (doing certain online activities on dial-up = not fun).  So, it is important to provide choices for students.

But, that doesn't mean you don't have due dates.  Letting students wait until the last day of class where they turn everything in is a recipe for disaster.  Items like pacing charts help students budget their time to meet weekly due dates.  And with each choice, you will want to provide models of the desired outcome as well as the steps to get there, so students can see clearly the path of their learning.  Without this structure, students are left wandering the great desert of online courses.

#5. Need-to-know vs. Nice-to-know
The most common mistake a new teacher make is putting too much into their course, not too little.  Myself included.  I haven't had a course yet where I haven't taken out considerable portions after teaching it the first time (I know... if you have taken my course, you are allowed to say "No Fair!")

When you design your course, be sure you clearly identify what you want your students to know, and then stick to it.  If you have other material, clearly identify it as "Enrichment" that participants can learn on their own.

#4. Make it Interactive
This video really says it all:

Interaction isn't jump-through-the-hoops forums. Your class need to have high quality multi-media, simulations, scenario-based activities, and role-playing.

#3 You can't just take everything off the internet
Take some time to understand copyright, including Creative Commons.  Copyright for an online classroom is very grey at the moment.  While you are a teacher and you are guided by fair use policies, you also are putting things on the web.  There is debate right now between whether a learning management system like Moodle is an online classroom or a webpage (which has a great impact on whether you can use items through fair use).

#2 Rethink assessment
How could you assess student ability to graph inequalities online?  How about singing?  Physical agility and endurance?  Oral speaking?

Not everything can be taught online, but more can than you think.  A common mistake is, for a performance-based objective, an online teacher will require non-performance-based assessment.  Taking a multiple-choice quiz to see how well you can sing, for example.  There are a multitude of tools out there, be it podcasting or data-collection tools (heart-rate monitors and video cameras for a PE class, for example).  Don't settle for inferior forms of assessment.

#1 Make it fun
You know which face-to-face courses are fun within minutes of being in them.  The instructor has a personality, uses humor, and doesn't take themselves too seriously, making everyone feel relaxed and safe to learn in the process.  That's harder to do online, but just as critical.  How can you make your course fun right away?

From the moment you introduce yourselves to your students, let them know your personality.  Use personal anecdotes.  Use a theme throughout the course (best online course I took was from a Disney nut, who kept putting random images of Walt Disney World throughout the course).  And, be sure to show them you are not perfect either.  Show them how you have learned the content you are currently teaching, and point out some of the mistakes you made at the beginning too.  All of these things make the course more enjoyable and safe for students.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

So, what is AEA PD Online?

As I mentioned yesterday, we have 2 concurrent initiatives regarding online learning in the state at the moment.  The first, which had been called "the statewide system" for months, has now been dubbed "AEA PD Online."  But, what is AEA PD Online?

A little over 3 years ago, the chief administrators of Iowa's AEAs commissioned what was called the AEA Online Council.  It featured at least one representative from each AEA, and the representatives came from a set of diverse roles within their respective AEAs; we had Educational Service directors, Media Service directors, Educational Technology consultants, and License Renewal coordinators in our group.  In addition, we had representatives from other partners, such as the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Learning Online, and IPTV.  Recently, that has expanded to included representatives from higher education as well.

The chief administrators commissioned the group out of a concern of duplicating resources.  There was the reality that as AEAs began to develop online content or online professional development, there would be some unnecessary duplication from one AEA to another if they did not communicate.  So, in its infancy, the Online Council was that vehicle for communication.

It did not take long for the members of the council to realize that by actually pooling together resources and proactively working together, they could work most efficiently, producing the most amount of professional development for the money.  This could only happen if the AEAs worked as a system with dedicated staff and resources being not for one AEA, but for all the AEAs.  In 2009-10, it was a goal of the council to make this system a reality, and by this last summer, we had hired a project manager to oversee the system, started laying down our online technological supports of a registration system, Moodle server, and website, and developing a legal agreement to govern this new system.  The birth of AEA PD Online.

The mission of the Online Council is:
  • To develop a statewide system for development of content for online professional learning related to statewide efforts and mandates by determining the vision and managing the process
  • To develop a single, transparent system for delivery of online professional learning content
  • To serve as an advocate for quality online professional learning by collaborating with other state organizations
AEA PD Online will bring to Iowa educators those 3 things.  Our goal is to offer 150 online courses in 2011 and double that for 2012.  Included in this are the rapid deployment of several state initiatives, including Iowa Core professional development, the Intel Elements series, training on the Google Apps, and the OLLIE professional development series.  We have recently added a training to our training server on 103b Overview of State Requirements Regarding Seclusion and Restraint, a legally-required area of professional development for Iowa schools, and we have plans to continue adding more.  We will aggregate the webinars and webinar recordings from the AEAs in one place, and will help host statewide webinars.  And similarly, we will gather together and support the online communities that allow Iowa teachers to connect with each other.

The AEAs, through AEA PD Online, are in the process currently of applying for license renewal provider process, a process that should go through December.  By that time, the aforementioned registration system and Moodle server will be put in place, meaning we will see our first official "statewide" courses in April.  However, individual AEAs are already hosting online courses.  A list of them can be found on the AEA website.  The training server has already existed statewide for some time, although individual trainings are new.  And, while the aggregation of current webinars, recordings, and online communities will happen once our new website goes live in April, you will see more efforts in those areas in the spring.

But, this does not happen without you.  We need instructors willing and interested in teaching online.   And, teaching online is not the same as teaching face-to-face.  If you have a desire to teach online or want to know more, please contact me.

In an upcoming post, we'll look at what it takes to be an online instructor, and let you see if it would be right for you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A return to blogging, with a look ahead and behind

I had promised to myself that I'd have met my year-long goal of re-designing the look of the blog before I started blogging again, but that's still a work in progress.

In the meantime, it is fall conference time, and I'll be presenting at the following in October:
But, I'm more excited about what has happened over this past summer. The AEAs are making headway to having a statewide system for online professional development, a one-stop shop for Iowa educators for online trainings, webinars, online communities, and for-credit online courses. That should roll out this winter, with complete offerings in those areas up and running next summer.

In addition, the AEAs are collaborating with the districts of Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Dubuque, Iowa City, Sioux City, and Waterloo on a federal stimulus money grant. The grant brings nearly $3 million to the state to build the state's capacity to deliver online learning for K-12 students, especially in the areas of rural schools, high-need/teacher shortage areas, and credit recovery. The grant will do this through 1) systemic professional development, 2) collection and development of content that is free for Iowa's schools to use, and 3) creation of a repository for online learning to take place.

These are two big developments (and directly responsible for my blogging hiatus), and Iowa's teachers and students will greatly benefit. In upcoming posts, I'll help highlight the details of these developments.