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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Blog Statistics for April

Well, today is the last day of April and as of 9:50am (EST) there have been 334 visits to this blog during the month of April 2005.

Since the counter was added on 24 March 2005, there have been a total of 537 visits to this blog.

You will also note the new Geoloc map on the left hand side of the screen. This feature was added on 23 April 2005. In the final seven days of April, there were visitors to this blog from Canada, the United States, Venezuela, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Estonia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand.

So, thanks for the traffic and let's see if we can't get some more of these visitors to comment on some of the various topics that we have been discussing. Get some more conversation going about virtual high schools.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Time for Training, Time for Studying

An article in the Macon Telegraph by Julie Hubbard entitled "State prepares to make virtual high school a reality" (see http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/living/education/11474450.htm) caught my attention the other day.

According to Clements, the online class works like a real high school classroom.
Highly qualified teachers from around the state - retired or normally off for the summer - were trained for six weeks to teach courses in their fields to an online class of about 25.

Students enrolled in a course would probably spend 15 to 20 hours a week on the work and can take up to two classes during the summer.

If you recall, last month I had a post that asked the question "How Much Work is Involved for Students in Online Courses?" (see - http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/03/how-much-work-is-involved-for-students.html), which this quotation is starting to speak to... Apparently the principal of the Georgia Virtual High School believe that for one to two summer school courses, it should take about 15-20 hours per week. I really wish some students had replied to the post that I made last month, as I'd be curious to see if this number is a realistic one or not.

You may also remember a post that I made earlier this month asking "Will the Virtual Classroom Redefine What it Means to be a Student -- or a Teacher?" (see - http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/04/will-virtual-classroom-redefine-what.html). Again, Ms. Clements begins to answer the question on the teacher side of things... A virtual high school teacher will be, "Highly qualified teachers from around the state - retired or normally off for the summer..." Does this sound like a typical virtual high school teacher based on your experiences?

I know that in a couple of the comments to the very first entry that I made in this blog (see - http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/03/welcome-to-my-blog-on-virtual-high.html) we had a short discussion about training provided to those who teach in a virtual high school environment. I know from my own experience, it was largely trial and error. Granted, I have been involved with a couple of virtual high schools since their early days, and things may be more structure now. In the case of the Georgia Virtual High School it appears that they have a program where teachers "were trained for six weeks to teach courses in their fields to an online class of about 25." Again I ask, does this sound familiar to those who are out in the field or have been examining the issue?

I don't ask these questions because I believe that the principal of the Georgia Virtual High School has it wrong. I ask these questions because I think that there is probably a wide variety of responses out there depending on the type of virtual high school, how long it has been in existance, the type of structure that is providing the financial and administrative support, etc.. So, for those out there who have been involved with or have been examining various virtual high schools, what is your experience with these notions?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Do Today's Students Think Differently?

Ian Jukes at the Committed Sardine Blog has posted an entry entitled "Cyberspace Shapes Children's Attitudes, Social Interactions". This is a common topic that Jukes references, the idea that technology has shaped the next generation (see his entry on "Scientists Track Footprints of Thoughts" at http://homepage.mac.com/iajukes/blogwavestudio/LH20041127121839/LHA20041222212218/index.html). The basic premise is that because this generation of students spends some much time in front of flickering screens of some sort (gamesboys, PS2, televisions, computers, cell phones, PDAs, etc.) that their brains are actually wire differently than the generations that have come before them.

This is somewhat related to my previous entry on "Students with neomillennial learning styles and virtual high schools" (see http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/03/students-with-neomillennial-learning.html) and the work of Chris Dede, the idea that the technologies of today influence how we interact with each other.

The Human Genome Project, which Jukes references is based upon new technologies that allow researchers to take scans of the brain and see how the electronic impulses change over time (a new concept in itself, as it was long thought that the way that our brains were wired was fixed).

In my previous post about how this next generation is different from my own (i.e., the one on neomillennial learning styles), I asked the question "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?"

Based upon these new ideas presented by Jukes, I would ask the question a slightly different way... Have we designed our virtual high school environments in such as way that it caters to these children who are wired differently than we are? Or have we simply created environments that we would do well in?

A first year doctoral student in my program here at Georgia asks the question in a different way altogether. We always compare what we do in an online or virtual environment to what we are able to do in the classroom. The classroom is our norm or standard that we compare everything else to. This student in my program asks, what would this virtual environment look like if it was the norm? How do we design online education in a way that works for this generation? How do we teach in a virtual environment that is effective for students that are wired differently than us?

Let's face it, classroom environments haven't proven to be that effective in promoting effective student learning, particulary in this day and age. So, what if virtual learning was the norm? How can we ensure that the virtual environment is effective in promoting effective student learning?

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Virtual High School for North Carolina?

In an article from the Lincoln Tribune, (see "State E-Learning Commission Formed to Develop Virtual High School" at http://www.lincolntribune.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=1115) it appears that North Carolina is taking the first steps to develop their own state-wide virtual high school.

According to the article, "the E-Learning Commission’s initial goals include assisting the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the North Carolina Community College Board and the State Board of Education in developing E-learning standards and infrastructures that provide virtual learning opportunities to students and other citizens. The Commission also will be working toward assisting the State Board of Education in developing a virtual high school for North Carolina students. "

The only problem that I personally see with this announcement is the fact that the virtual high school is so low on the list of potential goals. The fact the many of the post-secondary e-learning initiatives referenced are normally the responsibility of those post-secondary institutions (usually as a means of cutting costs or making money) bother me somewhat as well. I have always viewed post-secondary e-learning initiatives as a way for colleges and universities to get into new markets and I'm not sure that assisting these efforts is at the same level as providing K-12 educational opportunities to previous un-served or under-served populations (such as inner city students and, my particular concern, rural school students). It will be interesting to see how this Commission develops and exactly how long it will take the state of North Carolina to finally create a virtual high school.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Selling Online Course Content?

A while ago, I looked at an entry at Teaching and Developing Online called "Selling Online Education" (see http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/weblogs/vschools/archives/2005_03.html#011115).

In looking at the landscape of courses being delivered by virtual high schools one of the things that I could never understand was the duplicate of course development. For example, if you have public school institutions (regardless if it is an individual school, school district or Department of Education) with limited funds to develop content for their virtual school, why do they year after year purchase content from third party vendors.

I can understand that in the initial years of operation that there may be a need for the use of some courses developed by others, however, the continued use of these third party products year after year simply creates a cycle of dependency upn others for their content development. How much money must be spent on borrowing courses with no real ownership, before it becomes too much?

I have seen a couple of models where the virtual high school was created with a core set of courses that were determined to be in high need in the particular jurisdiction and then adding to that core set each year based upon a priority system of which courses were most needed within the state or province.

I've always wondered why this was the model used by the minority. I am hoping that there are some out there involved at the organizational level of different virtual high schools that can shed some more light on this issue from both sides of the model (e.g., those buying third party vendor products and the model described in the paragraph above).

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

How to Develop an Online Course?

I was directed to a site titled "How to develop an online course" by Priya Williams through Darren Cannell's blog (see http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/weblogs/vschools/archives/2005_04.html#011426). This is interesting, as it is a topic that I have done a bit of research on over the past six to eight months.
Williams outlines a seven lesson process that developers can follow when designing their online courses.
  1. Analysis
  2. Instructional Design
  3. Interface Design
  4. Development
  5. Online Evaluation
  6. Promotion
  7. Site Maintenance

The seven lessons read much like a web-based adaptation of many of the popular instructional design models. In fact, the text of these lesson reads like a beginner's manual for course developers from a technical standpoint, with little discussion of the pedagogy, theory or experiences of researchers, developers, or practioneers.

In my own research on this topic, I have interviewed a series of teachers, developers and administrators from a state-wide virtual high school. My initial findings have narrowed down the guidelines, or as Williams would put it, how to design an online course to seven items.

Course developers should:

  1. prior to beginning development of any of the web-based material, plan out the course with ideas for the individual lessons and specific items that they would like to include;
  2. keep the navigation simple and to a minimum, but don’t present the material the same way in every lesson;
  3. provide a summary of the content from the required readings or the synchronous lesson and include examples that are personalized to the students’ own context;
  4. ensure students are given clear instructions and model expectations of the style and level that will be required for student work;
  5. refrain from using too much text and consider the use of visuals to replace or supplement text when applicable;
  6. only use multimedia that will enhances the content and not simply because it is available; and
  7. develop their content for the average or below average student.

So, knowing that I have some researchers, some developers, and some practioneers from the field out there. What does everyone else think? Are these useful guidelines? Are there ones there that you disagree with? Are there ones that you feel should be there that are missing?

Just as a note, I hope to be interviewing students over the next two months to gain their insights and see if these initial guidelines hold true.

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Will the Virtual Classroom Redefine What it Means to be a Student -- or a Teacher?

This question is the second sentence from an article by Christina Wood entitled "High School Goes Virtual" (original article available at: http://www.edutopia.org/magazine/ed1article.php?id=art_1270&issue=apr_05&d=0330).

Will the virtual classroom redefine what it means to be a student -- or a teacher?
The author of the article, however, fails to really address this fundamental question. The article describes the types of students that are targetted by (e.g., "the Illinois Virtual High School targets students in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods, where it's often difficult to keep qualified teachers in key subject areas") or attracted to (e.g., "the flexibility of online learning is a big draw for students with a heavy schedule of extracurricular activities, too") virtual high schools. It also describes the variety of funding sources, from federal grants to state support, particularly focusing upon the importance of state support.

The author continues by describing how virtual high schools are using emerging technologies to make the learning experience much more personal for the student than the correspondence distance education programs of the past. She continues by discussing how virtual high schools shouldnot be seen as a saviour to the funding crisis in rural schools (see my entry on Online Learning: A Panacea for Rural Schools? for more on that portion of her article).

She concludes with a short discussion that starts to address the question of how will the virtual classroom change was schools look like in the future. In this discussion, she references a blended system, where students spend part of their day taking classes in the traditional classroom and other parts of their day in front of a computer taking classes online.

Some form of blended learning -- online and in the classroom -- will likely become the norm, as students take one or two online courses to supplement their traditional schedule. And even when they're enrolled in online courses, most students won't be entirely on their own. An inclass teacher will act as a coach, helping students select online courses and making sure they stay on track and manage their time well. The local coach or facilitator might assist students with real labs and virtual ones, join them on real field trips and their online counterparts, and help students find online sources and offline ones.
Not much of a revelation, given that this is how state-wide virtual high schools currently operate for the vast majority of students today.

At the end of the article, there is a short "sidebar" about "A New Way of Teaching," in which the author begins to address the second part of the question: "Will the virtual classroom redefine what it means to be a teacher?" It focuses upon the opinions and experiences of three virtual high school teachers and what is different about their roles as teachers compared to when they taught in the traditional classroom.

Overall, the author does make some interesting points about the nature of student interaction in the virtual classroom is vastly different from that of the traditional classroom, but the question still remains:
Will the virtual classroom redefine what it means to be a student?
I don't know the answer to this question. I suppose it would help if there was some description of what is currently means to be a student? Or what it means to be a student in the traditional classroom? Is that a question that can even be answered?!? Or maybe a better way to put it is that is this a question that has a single answer? Is what it means to be a student in a traditional classroom in a high school in a suburb of Atlanta the same as what it means to be a student in a traditional classroom in a high school located in rural Newfoundland? Are there characteristics that we can assign to "good" students in the traditional classroom that we can't assign to "good" students in the virtual classroom?

I suppose the reason that this article has caught my attention so much and has spawned two entries in a two week period from me is for two reasons. The first is because I feel that the author that the author is asking the wrong questions and trying to address the wrong issues. The second is because I get the sense that these questions that she is asking and the issues that she is addressing are the same issues that a lot of people are working towards.

What are the right questions and the right issues, you may ask? A fellow student in my doctoral program wanted to look at online learning. However, instead of looking at online learning from the perspective of the traditional classroom being the norm or the standard, he wanted to examine online learning from the idea of what it was the norm, if it was the standard. When we look at the traditional classroom, we look at pedagogy and the tools that teachers use. What if we were able to look at the virtual classroom as just another tool, but a rather unique tool? What pedagogies support the types of activities that we undertake in the name of teaching in a virtual classroom? What learning theories support the actions taken by students in the name of learning in a virtual classroom?

While I realize that there are many more questions in this entry than I normally pose, however, these are questions that I am grappling with as a teacher in and a researcher of virtual high schools.

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Monday, April 04, 2005

Who Are Virtual Schools For?

This past week I have been trying to find other blogs, or at least entries from other blogs on the virtual school movement. A few that I came across were Althouse's post on Virtual High School, Snooze Button Dreams' entry entitled Virtual School, Kimberly's Number 2 Pencil's post titled Surf the web, earn an A, and Joanne Jacobs' entry on Online classes for all. The essence of these entries look at who virtual schools are for and how they will affect the quality of education.

I'll leave the second issue for another day, but I wanted to look at the first issue in this entry. Many of you who have been reading my blog to date know of my own bias towards students in rural schools who are disadvantaged because their schools aren't able to attract teachers qualified to teach specialized courses or they simply don't have the enrolment figures to justify allocating a teacher to so few students.

But let me through out the issue in another way. The legislature here in Georgia, has decided that not only will the publically-funded, state-wide virtual high school cater to students in the public system, but will also be available to students in private schools and homeschooled students. While I am no expert on the homeschooling movement, I do know that I had a homeschooled student in one of my online Advanced Placement courses a few years back.

This girl was an exception student who was in my course for two reasons: the content was at a level where she felt that she was unable to do it on her own and her family were unable to support it, and she was interested in trying out an online course because it was something that was becoming quite popular at the university that she was interested in attending. It was at about the same time that the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Association was beginning to offer their online courses (see http://www.pahomeschoolers.com/courses/index.html).

While the feelings towards the online opportunities offered to homeschooled students by virtual schools was mixed in the four blogs above, I can't see how these opportunities could be a bad thing?!? Like any instructional product, there are online courses that are well designed and online courses that aren't so well designed. Like any traditional classroom, there are some online teachers who are quite good and some online teachers that aren't so good. However, I would argue that in many of the specialized areas (such as the AP courses offered by the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Association) are beyond the ability of many parents of homeschooled students to support in a way that maintains the academic rigour of these courses.

But like I said, I'm no expert in homeschooling... So let's hear from those out there who know a little bit more about the homeschool movement than I. What do y'all think?

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Blog Statistics

Just a short entry... Since I added the counter on 24 March to the end of the month, there were 203 visits to Virtual High School Meanderings.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Online Learning: A Panacea for Rural Schools?

Edutopia News, the weekly electronic newsletter from The George LucasEducational Foundation, appeared in my inbox this week with the main article about virtual high schools (see http://www.edutopia.org/magazine/ed1article.php?id=art_1270&issue=apr_05&d=0330). The essence of the article and, accompanying video, describes how this tenth grade student from a community of 26,600 (small for community in Florida) is the majority of courses through the Florida Virtual School.

The main reason the article caught my attention, above and beyond the fact that it has some good details about students' and teachers' experiences in the Florida Virtual School, is the comment:

Although virtual schools may open doors for young minds, they're not a cure-all for the shortfalls of public education. In fact, the idea that they are a panacea may be one of the few real dangers of online learning.
This is a curious comment, as the article (and those quoted in it) fear that an increase in the availability of online learning opportunities for rural communities will allow policy maker to see that as a substitute for adequately funding rural schools. In a state like I the one that I currently reside in (i.e., Georgia), where a series of the southern rural counties have taken legal action against the state because of inadequate funding (see http://www.accessnorthga.com/news/ap_newfullstory.asp?ID=56646), has recently announced is intentions to create a virtual high school (see http://www.nga.org/center/frontAndCenter/1,1188,C_FRONT_CENTER^D_7680,00.html).

While the timing is curious, I'm afraid I don't believe that the concern is justified. The use of virtual schooling in the K-12 environment began as a way to offer Advanced Placement (and other honors-level) courses to students who were unable to take them in their regular school. This meant students in urban and suburban schools who couldn't fit it into their schedule or wanted to take overload courses as much or more than it meant rural students who didn't have access to these courses due to low enrolment or lack of specially trained teachers.

With the advent and popularity of virtual schools in recent years, I have seen it more as an opportunity for schools (rural or urban) to supplement what is available in their brick and mortar schools. Are there others out there that share the concerns raised in the article? Or are these concerns unwarranted?

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