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Tuesday, March 29, 2005


A friend of mine from back home who caught up with me on MSN last night alerted my attention to a new project that appears to have taken root in my home province called Braintrain.

What I found interesting about this business, that has partnered with the largest school district in my home province, was the nature of the services that were offered: "one to many (ratio of 10:1 student to teacher) live web based course offerings in:

  • English 3201
  • French 3200
  • Math 3204
  • Math 3205
  • Math 3231
  • Math 3207 (common exam)
  • Earth Systems 3209
  • Biology 3201
  • Chemistry 3202
  • Francais 3202
  • World Geography 3202
  • World History 3201
  • Histoire Mondiale 3231
  • Physics 3204
  • Advanced Placement courses (names not given)"
I guess what struck me about this was that these services were being offered to students anywhere in Canada (including Newfoundland one supposes) for a fee. With the exception of the unnamed Advanced Placement courses, I believe that the majority of the courses listed are also ones that the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI - http://www.cdli.ca) offers as a part of its web-based distance education offerings.

I'm wondering what the relationship is between Braintrain and the CDLI? I'm sure that Braintrain isn't going to duplicate the course development process for all of these high school courses (ones listed with a number), especially given that I believe that there are only three listed that the CDLI doesn't already have developed.

I know that the Eastern School District, which was formed when the Vista, Burin, Avalon West and Avalon East school districts were merged together does have a number of Advanced Placement courses already developed (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, English Literature and Composition, Mathematics, Physics, and others that I may not be able to recall), so that partnership makes sense.

Can anyone out there from back home tell me anything else about Braintrain, other than what is available on their website?

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

How Much Work is Involved for Students in Online Courses?

In one of the regular e-letters that I received in my inbox each month, there was an article entitled "Student workload in an online course: Balancing on a rule-of-thumb" (see http://www.ecollege.com/news/EdVoice_arch_3_9_05.learn). The basis of the article was that in a traditional post-secondary setting, students should study two to three hours outside of class for each hour that they spent in class. The article then began to speculate at what that rule-of-thumb might look like in an online environment.
Having taking online courses as a post-secondary student, having taught many online courses within virtual high school environments, and (most recently) teaching a hybrid course for graduate students with a significant online component, I have often wondered about, end even been confronted by, this issue of how much more time students need to spend in an online course (or with the online components of a hybrid course) compared to a face-to-face course that they would take in the classroom.

In its first two years of operation, I know that the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (http://www.cdli.ca) used the model that their electronic teachers had a student load approximately 70% to 80% of what a normal classroom teacher would have. Is this the same for students, that their online classes are 20%-30% more work than their face-to-face classes?

For those reading, I have two basic questions:
  1. If you teach in an online environment, tell us what level do you teach and how much time it takes to teach online compared to your face-to-face classes?
  2. If you are a student in an online environment, tell us what level of education you are currently a student in and how much time it take to take an online course compared to your classroom-based courses?
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Thursday, March 24, 2005

How Far Have We Come with Virtual High Schools?

"Join a class composed of students from different states and countries chatting and learning together yet never leaving their homes! Virtual courses, virtual student lounges, virtual yearbooks, and virtual graduations; is this the education of the future?"

This is the lead question that begins a 1999 article by Glori Chaika titled "Virtual High Schools: The High Schools of the Future?" (see http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr119.shtml). Six years into the future, let's take stock of the respond to this question...

According to the National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) recent report, "during the 2002–03 12-month school year, about one-third of public school districts (36 percent) had students in the district enrolled in distance education courses... representing an estimated 5,500 out of a total of 15,040 public school districts" (p. 4). In addition, "an estimated 8,200 public schools had students enrolled in distance education courses during the 2002–03 12-month school year... representing approximately9 percent of all public schools nationwide" (p. 5).

In the Chaika article, she states that some of the advantages of virtual learning included:
  1. It permits students in small, rural, or low-wealth school districts to take specialized courses that would ordinarily not be available to them.
  2. It provides home schooled students with instruction in subjects their parents might not be able to teach, such as foreign languages or computer skills.
  3. It meets the needs of school phobics, those in hospitals or recovering at home, dropouts who would like to get back in, expelled students, single parents, and students in other states or even other countries looking for nontraditional educational solutions.
  4. And, in an age when many of our schools are overcrowded or crumbling, cyber learning makes financial sense, too, because schools using distance learning do not need to modernize or build new buildings in order to provide quality cyber instruction.

The NCES report allows us to judging the success made in only the first of these four areas; my favourite topic in how virtual high schools can be used to service students in rural populations. The report tells us:

  • Although a greater proportion of large districts than medium or small districts had students enrolled in distance education courses, a greater proportion of schools in small districts had students enrolled in distance education courses than did schools in medium or large districts (15 vs. 6 percent for both medium and large districts). In other words, when small districts do offer distance education, they are more likely to involve a greater proportion of their schools. (p. 4)
  • A smaller proportion of districts with the lowest poverty concentration had students enrolled in distance education courses than did districts with higher concentrations of poverty (33 compared with 42 percent for both districts with medium or high poverty concentration). (p. 4)
  • The proportion of students enrolled in foreign language distance education courses was greater for small districts compared to medium or large districts (19 vs. 11 and 6 percent, respectively). Furthermore, the proportion of students enrolled in foreignlanguage distance education courses was greater for rural districts than for suburban or urban districts (22 vs. 10 and 5 percent, respectively). (p. 8)
  • The proportion of all distance education enrollments that are in Advanced Placement or college-level distance education courses is greater in rural districts compared to urban or suburban districts (27 vs. 4 and 11 percent, respectively). Additionally,suburban districts had a higher proportion (11 percent) of all distance education enrollments in Advanced Placement or college-level distance education courses than urban districts (4 percent). (p. 8)

While these strides give me a sense of optimism, they still indicate that only 15% of schools in small districts take advantage of opportunities provided by virtual high schools. More importantly, in my mind, was the fact that while almost dozen and a half states have sponsored state-wide virtual high schools, according to the NCES only 15% of small districts had students enrolled in courses offered by these virtual high schools (compared to 27% of students in medium and large districts). However, "a greater proportion of small districts than medium or large districts had students enrolled in distance education courses delivered by another local school district, or schools in other districts, within their state (39 percent vs. 25 and 13 percent, respectively)" (p. 13).

This indicates that small districts are getting their virtual offerings more from schools in other districts or other school districts than they are having students enrolled in courses from the state-sponsored virtual high school. This trend strikes me as odd, the stated mission of most of these state-sponsored virtual high school programs. For example, the Illinois Virtual High School in its preliminary plan listed the first of its intended audiences as "learners who are underserved (poor, rural, urban) when local curriculum has run out" (see http://www2.imsa.edu/programs/ivhs/pdfs/prelimplan.pdf). This is common of many of these state-sponsored virtual high schools. [Note: that I am note singling out or picking on the Illinois Virtual High School, as this is common of most state-sponsored virtual high schools - and I knew where to find the document on their website.]

So why is it that small/rural school districts are not taking advantage of these opportunities, particularly considering that they are one of the primary target audiences of these state-sponsored virtual high schools? And with only 15% of schools in small/rural districts having students enrolled in virtual courses, is the opportunity really bing taken advantage of at all? Maybe for this small percentage of schools, but what about students in the other 85% of schools in small/rural districts? How can we begin to increase the opportunities that these students have?

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Students with Neomillennial Learning Styles and Virtual High Schools

Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles: Shifts in students’ learning style will prompt a shift to active construction of knowledge through mediated immersion. Educause Quarterly, 28(1). Retrieved on March 20, 2005 from http://www.educause.edu/apps/eq/eqm05/eqm0511.asp?bhcp=1
In the above article, Chris Dede (the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies in the Technology in Education Program at Harvard University) argues that there is a new type of learner appearing in our schools and universities. These students aren't based upon demographic references, such as the baby boomers, Generation X'ers, or the children of the echo (see David Foot's Boom, bust, and echo - http://www.footwork.com/book.html ). These students are grouped based upon a set of learning characteristics and can include the next generation of students that we now see in our educational institutions, but also baby boomers, Generation X'ers, or the children of the echo.

The learning characteristics that Dede believes makes these students different include:

  • Fluency in multiple media and in simulation-based virtual settings
  • Communal learning involving diverse, tacit, situated experience, with knowledge distributed across a community and a context as well as within an individual
  • A balance among experiential learning, guided mentoring, and collective reflection
  • Expression through nonlinear, associational webs of representations
  • Co-design of learning experiences personalized to individual needs and preferences

In his article, he poses the question:

In the standard “world to the desktop” interface, which is now complemented by multiuser virtual environments in which people’s avatars interact with each other, computer-based agents, and digital artifacts in a simulated context and augmented realities in which mobile wireless devices infuse overlays of digital data on physical real-world settings; how can higher education institutions prosperly use these emerging technologies to deliver instruction matched to the increasingly “neomillennial” learning styles of their students?

As he develops the concept throughout the article, he states that there will need to be some changes in how we deliver education in order to address the issue of using emerging technologies to deliver instruction matched to the increasingly “neomillennial” learning styles of our students. The changes that he suggests are:

  • Co-design: Developing learning experiences students can personalize
  • Co-instruction: Utilizing knowledge sharing among students as a major source of content and pedagogy
  • Guided learning-by-doing pedagogies: Infusing case-based participatory simulations into presentational/assimilative instruction
  • Assessment beyond tests and papers: Evaluating collaborative, nonlinear, associational webs of representations; utilizing peer-developed and peer-rated forms of assessment; using student-initiated assessments to provide formative feedback on faculty effectiveness

As individuals who are interested in or directly involved in virtual high schools, we are in the trenches with many students who have naturally gravitated to our medium of delivery because they exhibit the characteristics of neomillennial learners. So I ask the question to all of you...

In the virtual high school environment, how are we using emerging technologies to deliver instruction matched to the increasingly “neomillennial” learning styles of our students?

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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Welcome to my Blog on Virtual High Schools

Trying to find the appropriate topic for a first entry that will garb people's attention and get them to com back on a regular basis to comment on and contribute to it.

In searching for that appropriate topic, I came across an article that was published three years ago.

Winograd, K. (2002). ABCs of the virtual high school. The Technology Source, March/April. Retrieved on 12 March 2004 from http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=988
Essentially the article is an interview with a series of people who were involved in the virtual high school movement at the time. The third question that was asked of these individuals was:

How do you see the virtual high school evolving over the next five years and what questions need to be answered before that evolution can occur?
Their responses, if you don't want to take the time to read them, dealt with everything from how to prepare teachers and administrators to work within ths environment to how to close the digital divide to how to expand virtual offerings to include middle school and elementary school students to how to prepare for the eventual conclusion that every student before completing high school will end up taking a virtual course.

My question to you is simple, after three years since this article was published, how far have we come in addressing the issues raise by the participants in their responses to this question?

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