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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Blog Statistics for May

Well, using the simple counter that was added back on 24 March 2005, there have been 565 visits to Virtual High School Meanderings during the month of May. This brings the total number of visits since this counter was added to 1102.

After being down for about 24 hours at the beginning of the month, the Geoloc feature has recorded visits from Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Ukraine, South Africa, Iran, India, the Philippines and Japan since the beginning of May.

This is added to the visitors from Canada, the United States, Venezuela, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Estonia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand that dropped by in April, bringing us to a grand total of twenty-five different countries.

I came across another statistics feature near the beginning of the month (about the same time the Geoloc tool was down actually), so the StatCounter was added on the evening of 04 May 2005. In addition to simple hits to the page (as the initial counter registers), this tool actually tracks individual visits, repeat visits, specific IPs that have visited; it is really quite cool. Anyway, since it was added there have been:

The one limitation of this StatCounter is that you only get a log of the really good stats for the last 100 visitors, so the statistics on popular pages, search engines and other sources that people came to the site from, length of stay, country, state/province, city and ISP of visitors. To get more you have to pay for the service, which if tracking traffic was important to you, I'd say it would be well worth the money.

Anyway, those are some of the statistics for this blog over the past month. I'll be back again at the end of June with another update.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Using Instant Messaging

Once again something from Darren's Teaching and Developing Online has caught my attention. This entry on the students use of instant messaging in the schools (see "Fighting for Attention"). In this post, he directs us a message that Sebastien Paquet has posted on the topic (also see "Fighting for Attention"). The main thrust of Sebastien's entry are comments made by Stephen Downes (see "Should We Ban Instant Messaging in Schools?"). Note: I know that this is a choppy introduction, but I wanted to give credit to those who put me on to the topic.

The main point of Stephen's brief entry is:

You know, it's funny - I read so much about teachers trying to find ways to get students' attention, and when they find a device - a communication device - that captures students' attention, they want to ban it.
Stephen was commenting on a point/counterpoint article that appeared in Leading and Learning with Technology.

The reason this caught my attention was a few years back, I did some preliminary research on this topic with a virtual high school in Canada. Basically, we encouraged the students to post their instant message (IM) accounts to the course discussion forum (and at the start of the school year during the first year of this project, the virtual high school was using a piece of software that also allowed the students to IM during the school day - note this software was removed for many of the reasons in the point portion of the article above) and hoped that it would lead to them talking to one another through IM when they got home and logged into their own computers. At the end of the year, the students completing a survey to get thoughts about their use of their IM in relation to their class. This project was repeated during the first and second years of operation for this particular virtual high school with a single class each year (although a different class in year one than in year two).

In year one, when asked how did you use your instant messaging to communicate with other students in the courses, the students replied:
"At home to talk about homework."

"We just talked about stuff, not really anything to do with the course. If you had to ask someone something about the course then you usually just posted it in the discussion forum."

"For some students that are in the course, I have added them to my contact lust for messenger. If they are online at the same time as I am than we will sometime converse answers and questions to review for tests and assignments but that is all."

"If I had a problem I would go online to see if anyone was on to ask. Also, if I needed to know when something was due I asked people."

"I simply just chatted with people in the course who are on my list, outside of class."

"Used instant messaging to talk about history and get to know other students."
When asked if there were any other comments that they wished to make about their use of IM in their course, the students responded:
"The use of instant messaging adds to the ability to understand concepts and ideas. It allows us to get instant answers to many of the questions that we have rather than having to wait for e-mail back from our e-teacher. Also, we are able to get alternate answers to review questions that could show up on tests."

"I believe that instant messaging (MSN in particular) is a great idea. Being able to chat with other students in the course, and getting their opinions on a certain topic would really help."

"I think instant messaging would be a great idea because of the time it could save to contact others."

"It's a quick and easy way to communicate and you can use it while you're doing something else on the net."
In year two, the kind of feedback that we received was similar. Students listed the following reasons for chatting with other students:

  • Socializing – getting to know others
  • Communicate feelings about the course in general
  • Discuss course work
  • To gain feedback regarding progress in the course

When asked how they thought that IM could be used in their virtual schooling, their responses included:

  • Assistance with assigned work
  • Pick up from missed classes
  • Get to know others and feel more comfortable
  • Talk to more than one person at a time
  • Obtain information quicker
  • Get in contact with the teacher quicker
  • Collaboration with classmates
  • Easy way to communicate

Based on this feedback, my colleague (Morris Cooze) and I concluded that while further research was needed with more students over additional years, it appeared that instant messaging was a tool that students felt comfortable in utilizing, given the amount of use during their personal time. We also concluded that students personally felt that instant messaging assisted in both their learning and their sense of “knowing” their virtual classmates. Based on these trends, we recommended that teachers in virtual high schools should give consideration to adopting a more formal role for IM in their e-Learning environments.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Teaching in a Virtual High School

Okay, I know it has been a few weeks since I posted here, but between the end of the semester, a quick holiday out of town and the beginning of Maymester, things have been a little hectic around here.

Anyway, I know that I have read through this publication before (see http://www.sreb.org/programs/EdTech/pubs/PDF/Essential_Principles.pdf), but it came to me again this past week in the form of an ERIC document (see http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED477169). Basically, this publication describes a "checklist for selecting, preparing and evaluating online teachers for K-12 students.

The items include:

State Qualifications

1. The teacher meets the core professional-teaching standards established by state licensing
agency.
2. The teacher has the necessary academic credentials in the field in which he or she is teaching.
3. The teacher has the prerequisite technology skills to teach online.

Curriculum, Instruction and Student Assessment

1. The teacher assesses each student’s background and content knowledge before beginning instruction.
2. The teacher uses appropriate technology to teach the online course successfully.
3. The teacher uses fair, adequate and appropriate methods to assess students’ mastery of content.
4. The teacher demonstrates high-quality writtencommunications skills.
5. The teacher makes clear to students his or her availability and willingness to support them.
6. The teacher facilitates and monitors appropriate interaction among students.
7. The teacher provides and enforces appropriate standards for student behavior.
8. The teacher’s instruction complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
9. The teacher uses online resources effectively to deliver instruction.
10. When appropriate, the teacher gets others to assist him or her in supporting students’ learning.
11. The teacher adapts the Web-based course to meet students’ needs.
12. The teacher promotes student participation and interaction.

Management

1. The teacher ensures that students know one another and feel comfortable interacting with one another online.
2. The teacher provides students with timely feedback.
3. The teacher ensures that students’ work and data are secure.
4. The teacher monitors students to ensure academic honesty.
5. The teacher helps students with technical issues.
6. The teacher coordinates and assists students in understanding course requirements and procedures for working online.
7. The teacher guides and monitors students’ management of their time.
8. The teacher shares information about student progress with mentors, principals and parents.

Evaluation

1. The teacher understands that student success is an important measure of course success.
2. The teacher accepts and follows policies and procedures to monitor courses.
3. The teacher ensures that students participate actively in the course.

The reason why I present this here is because, when I went to meet with the folks from the Georgia Virtual High School a few months back, one of the things we talked about was how to evaluate online teachers.

In a traditionally sense, an administrator would come into your classroom and sit in the back of the room while you presented a lesson that you probably spent more time planning than you would normally spend planning a week's worth of lessons. The administrator would have a checklist that they would go through, making notes in the margins or in the spaces provided and when it was all over, you'd arrange a time to meet with them to go over what both of you observed, how you both felt about it, and areas to continue doing and areas to improve upon.

How would that look for a teacher in a virual high school? Would the SREB checklist be sufficient? Is there any other literature out there on the subject? What are existing virtual high schools doing?

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Online Learning for Who?

Last month The Christian Post ran an article entitled "Online Education Changes Traditional Homeschooling" (see Monday, Apr. 11, 2005 edition or http://www.christianpost.com/article/technology/568/section/online.education.changes.traditional.homeschooling/1.htm). In my last entry earlier this week, I referenced a post to the DASO Blog entitled "What About At Risk Kids Online" (see http://www.elearningcorridor.org/blog/2005/04/what-about-at-risk-kids-online.html).

About five weeks ago, I posted an entry about who is the main audience that we should be designing virtual school opportunities for (see http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/04/who-are-virtual-schools-for.html). That entry was focused upon things that I read in other blogs (the ones I referenced were Althouse's Virtual High School, Snooze Button Dreams' Virtual School, Kimberly's Number 2 Pencil's Surf the web, earn an A, and Joanne Jacobs' Online classes for all).

The basic premise of the entry was twofold. The first aspect of the post tried to address the basic question: who are virtual schools designed for? As you may know, I firmly believe that it should be for 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. However, (as I mentioned in that entry) 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 (free of charge). The four entries that I based that last entry on were mixed in their feelings about homeschooling and virtual schools.

In the second aspect of the post, I argued 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 and that virtual schools are a great way for these parents to be able to continue to have their children outside of the public school system, but have access to the specialized content-area expertise that these teachers bring to virtual schools.

Given that there wasn't a great deal of discussion on this the last time around, and the new items that I included in the first paragraph above, I ask once again:

  1. Who are the main audiences that we should be developing virtual high schools for?
  2. What is/should be/can be the role of virtual high schools in the education of homeschooled students?

Looking forward to hearing your comments...

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

College Credit Opportunities for Rural Schools

A few weeks ago I came across this document. The U.S. Department of Education issued a press release entitled "High School Students Using Dual Enrollment Programs to Earn College Credits, New Reports Say: President Bush's budget proposes increasing access to "dual enrollment" programs for at-risk students " (see http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2005/04/04062005a.html).

I have to be honest and say that I don't know much about dual enrollment programs, as they weren't a beast that existed back in Newfoundland, but I imagine that they are something like college or university sponsored Advanced Placement courses. An Advanced Placement course allows students to challenge for college or university credit (based upon the individual college or universities policy) by taking and achieving a specific level on a standardized exam during the first two weeks of May. I imagine that a dual enrollment course is a course offered in high school, but crosslisted with a college or university that allows a successful student to get credit at that college of university.

Anyway, the reason this caught my attention wasn't because of the dual enrollment issue or even the at-risk students (although that seems to be of interest to another virtual school blog, see What About At Risk Kids Online) . My interest lay in these two sections of the report.

"Larger public high schools were more likely than smaller ones to offer dual credit and/or Advanced Placement courses. Specifically, 63 percent of small schools, 75 percent of medium-sized schools and 82 percent of large schools offered courses for dual credit. Similarly, 40 percent of small schools, 82 percent of medium-sized schools and 97 percent of large schools offered AP courses."
No surprise that rural and small schools do not have the ability to offer a comparable educational opportunity, when it comes to Advanced Placement courses, as their larger, urban counterparts.


"For those schools offering dual credit courses through distance education, smaller public high schools were more likely than larger high schools to offer them through this means (35 percent of small schools, 21 percent of medium schools and 17 percent of large schools). High schools in rural areas and schools in towns were both more likely than either schools in cities or schools in urban fringe areas to offer courses for dual credit through distance education (33 and 29 percent vs. 11 and 18 percent, respectively)."
This finding was quite interesting though. Rural and small high schools are able to offer their students more opportunity to achieve college credit than larger and urban counterparts are able. This is achieved through distance education dual enrollment programs .

I guess my question is why have we gotten so good in rural education in some respects of providing opportunities for our students and not at others? I would imagine that if we are able to do this through distance education for some programs, whynot others? Any thoughts?

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Update on Geoloc Map

As you will note, my new Geoloc map has stopped operating. As the e-mail that I received, and the entire Geoloc site, is in French I'm not sure why, but I am working on trying to fix it.

In the meantime, since the end of April and the "Blog Statistics for April" there have been additional visitors from Portugal, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Denmark.

As soon as my high school and undergraduate French comes back to me, or I can get someone who speaks English, I'll try and get that feature back ASAP.