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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Blog Statistics for June

Okay, as of 8:00am today there have been 294 page loads at Virtual High School Meanderings from 198 unique visitors. This includes 115 first time visitors (i.e., came once and that was enough for them) and 83 returning visitors. On average the blog receives 4 first time visitors and 3 returning visitors a day. The busiest days were Wednesday, 08 June and Thursday, 09 June, both with 22 visitors.

In looking at how people find the blog, the two most consistent paths to me come from New Zealand this month:

In terms of search engines, Google and Technorati are still neck in neck.

Some of the more popular entries this past month include

It is interesting to note that two of these are entries that I made back in May.

Well, the Geoloc map is starting to get a few spots on it (and will probably be removed today due to my inability to read French and figure out what they want me to do to credit my account). This month Virtual High School Meanderings received first-time visitors from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Switzerland, Hungary, Republic of Korea (i.e., South Korea), Uruguay, and Brazil.

This is added to the visitors that have already come from Canada, the United States, Venezuela, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Estonia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Ukraine, South Africa, Iran, India, the Philippines and Japan. This brings the total to visitors from thirty-two different countries to this blog.

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Seven Principles for Good Online Teaching

By now those of us involved with teaching undergraduate students are quite familiar with Chickering and Gamson's "Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education." Even those outside of undergraduate education have probably come across a reference or two to this particular article. Borrowing once again from an older article from the eCollege eNewsletter ("The Seven Principles Revisited" - see http://www.ecollege.com/news/EdVoice_arch_1008.learn) from quite some time ago, somewhere in the vicinity of two years ago in fact, I wondered how applicable these seve principles are to good practice in virtual high school education.

I didn't have to wonder long because, apparently, there's an article out there that has taken the first step in looking at this. "Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses" (see http://distance.wsu.edu/facultyresources/savedfromweb/7principles.htm) by Charles Graham, Kursat Cagiltay, Byung-Ro Lim, Joni Craner and Thomas M. Duffy. While still focusing upon the post-secondary environment, these folks from Indiana University have started looking at what these seven principles means for virtual courses.

In this article, the authors discuss each of Chickering and Gamson's seven principles and relate it to a lesson for online instruction. These are:
  1. Encourage Student-Faculty Contact - Lesson for online instruction is that instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students.
  2. Encourage Cooperation Among Students - Lesson for online instruction is that well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students.
  3. Encourage Active Learning - Lesson for online instruction is that students should present course projects.
  4. Give Prompt Feedback - Lesson for online instruction is that instructors need to provide two types of feedback: information feedback and acknowledgment feedback.
  5. Emphasize Time on Task - Lesson for online instruction is that online courses need deadlines.
  6. Communicate High Expectations - Lesson for online instruction is that challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations.
  7. Respect Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning - Lesson for online instruction is that allowing students to choose project topics incorporates diverse views into online courses.

My challenge to you in this entry... For our virtual school teachers, is this list of good practices for online instruction applicable to your own teaching? For our virtual school students, would a course taught by a teacher that used this list of good practices for online instruction be a good course for you?

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Why Teach Online?

Continuing the trend of something different, two month ago now (13 April to be exact - wow, time does fly), an article came through my inbox as part of the eCollege eNewsletter. In this article, "Why Should We Teach Online?" (see http://www.ecollege.com/news/EdVoice_arch_4_13_05.learn), the author describes how he posed the question to a room of 200 online educators and the room fell silent.

He goes on to describe that:

"We can teach online because good teaching is still good teaching, despite the medium. We can teach online because we can give authentic assessment to our students, we can create authentic tasks, we can effectively interact, facilitate, and communicate theories and ideas. We can teach online because technology allows us and our own creativity (teaching skills) drives us. We can teach online because we've moved past the notion that online learning has "no significant difference" to actually understanding that it is better in certain instances than face-to-face instruction."
In responding to his own question, he throws out possible responses such as because of a shifting paradigm, we're meeting our students in a time and place that is convenient to them, or the benefits to the online teacher, but in the end, he settles on this response:

"I contend that we should because we have to be a voice in this sea of information overload. We should because we have to show our students how to dig through information responsibly, wisely and effectively. We should teach online because education has always led the way in terms of quality research, effective communication and critical thinking. We should teach online because the world needs us to."
Is this why you teach online? It is a good question... For our online teachers out there, why do you teach online?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

From the Business Section: Online Learning Scores High

In a press release from Claria Corporation on 15 June 2005 entitled "Online Education Scores High Marks" (see http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/050615/sfw022.html?.v=14), the by-line reads "60 percent of online education respondents believe the overall quality of education is the same for online and classroom courses." The press release continues with statistics such as:
  • In terms of overall value, 21 percent of respondents thought online schools were better than traditional schools
  • Regarding the quality of teaching, 19 percent of respondents thought online schools were inferior to traditional schools
  • 18 percent believe the quality of degrees received at online schools is worse than traditional schools
  • 27 percent of respondents believe the quality of education is better with classroom instruction

The research, which was conducted by Feedback Research (http://www.feedbackresearch.com/), a division of Claria, doesn't state whether or not the respondents to this survey were adult or adolescent learners, but given the statistics (and other clues in the press release) I'm willing to bet that it was adult learners.

Given this guess, I'm wondering (and asking) is what would these numbers look like if we were asking secondary students (or any K-12 student) these same questions. What do you think?

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Is Online Learning the Future?

Well, it appears that I'm going to have to revert back to my discussion of the role of virtual schooling in the public education system. My copy of Distance-Educator.com's "Daily News" on Thursday directed my attention to an article from the UK, asking the question "Is online learning the future?" (see "Is Online Learning The Future?" - http://www.fenews.co.uk/newsview.asp?n=470). Also note that FE News has a blog as well.

Not as damning an assessment as "Are Superintendents the Problem?," "Virtual Schools on the Internet: Could this Cure Education's Woes?," "What Are Virtual Schools For?," of "The Next Big Thing in Public Education?" (those British are just so polite), but still does raise the question of where the balance between the traditional classroom setting and online should be.

The article itself, discusses the creation of what can best be described as a virtual high school in London and also raises some context specific questions (such as "should it be available to prisoners?"). However, the author ends the piece with an interesting finish, including a question that I have been wrestling with in the entries listed above and some speculation as well.

So what does the future hold for online learning here in the UK? As programmes begin to get off the ground and more types of learning are available, we shall see if it is a viable option in the future. One thing is certain though; the Internet will be a source of learning for students whether it is formally supported or not.
I thought that the final statement was quite interesting, but rather true. Regardless if we have formal virtual high schools or hybrid courses in brick and mortar schools, students are getting more and more of their information these days from the Internet. What does that mean for both the virtual high school and the brick and mortar school?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Digital Divide and Virtual Schooling

To borrow a line from Monty Python... "And now for something completely different!"

Getting off of this theme of how to fix public education for a bit, there was a article by Paul Lamb on CNet News.com on the digital divide (see http://news.com.com/No%20more%20digital%20divide...not/2010-1071_3-5730088.html). As is becoming more usual, I found this article from Darren's Teaching and Developing Online. Lamb's artile discusses how it may be easy to say that we have conqueored the digital divide when we look at statistics like these:
  • 67 percent of American adults and 87 percent of American teenagers now use the Internet (Pew Internet & American Life Project)
  • 96 percent of all children between ages 8 and 18 have been online at least once, and that number varies by only a few percentage points when broken down by ethnicity and family income (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation)

However, Lamb argues that these figures are misleading. "For example, only 29 percent of school-age children in households with annual incomes of less than $15,000 use a home computer to complete school assignments. In comparison, 77 percent of children in households with incomes of $75,000 or more use a home computer to complete assignments. "

What implications does this have for virtual schooling? Many of the these children that live in households with an annual income of less than $15,000 are urban students who's schools don't offer many of the courses that virtual schools are pushing (such as AP), or they are students in rural areas who's schools simply don't offer the courses because of small class enrollment and qualified teacher issues. If only 29% of the students that we are hoping to target have access to a home computer, how does that affect their ability to be successful in the virtual school environment?

Is home computer accss essential? Helpful? Unnecessary? These are questions that teachers in virtual high schools must address when they are designing and delivering their courses. An online course is not like a traditional course where the student can take all of their books and materials home to work on them. If there is no computer in the home or they are without adequate Internet access, they simply can't work at home for the most part.

In Berge's and Clarke's book, Virtual schools: Planning for success, they describe how some virtual school provide free home computer set-ups or laptops on loan programs for their students. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these instances are the virtual charter schools, with virtual schools from the public education system not being able to cover the costs of such programs.

So, what does the reality of the digital divide mean for virtual schools? What does it means for virtual school teachers? What has your virtual school, or you as a teacher, done to account for this reality?

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Are Superintendents the Problem?

It seems that Darren Cannell and his Teaching and Developing Online blog continue to provide me with material to think and write about. This particular one, entitled "Online learning generates educational controversy," came courtesy of his "daily Bloglet" service (see the "Mailing List" feature in the right hand column of his blog - if you are interested in online learning at all, I'd encourage you to sign up). The entry directs you to an article from The Express-Times by Jeff Schogol entitled "Online learning generates educational controversy".

The reason this article caught my attention was because it kind of fit into the theme that we have been discussing lately, what is wrong with the current system of public education and can virtual schooling be a way to fix it. For example, in the article they state that this K-8 virtual charter school "provides a flexible, individual and free education program that allows students to move at their own pace. This approach makes it easy for parents to get actively involved in their children's education." According to the virtual school's website, "each student is loaned a computer and other equipment to take the classes." The article also tells us that the school's website claims that the school "will serve as an example of how a school's parents, students, and teachers can reach their goal of achieving an excellent education through the effective use of technology. In concept, design, and delivery, the school will be a model of innovation and excellence."

Having said that, some of the critics of this particular school (and this method of schooling) state in the article "what you won't get is any socialization. I think that's especially difficult for kids because they're social beings and when they leave school they enter the social world." Another superintendent, funny how all the critics are superintedents, states that "Students who take classes online also miss developing friendships and ways to deal with adversity."

What really caught my attention in this article, and I think where we can really start to discuss things is when the article states:

"Online education will not replace classroom learning because teachers are valuable resources. Kids need teachers. They need parents. They need adults in their lives, and that sorely lacks when that void exists.

"Technology can enhance how students work together but can never replace the classroom setting. I think you need human interaction, you need questioning, you need facilitating, you need stimulation to learn. So technology is a tool, not an instructor."
Now, there's some food for thought... Online education will not replace the classroom because teachers are valuable resources. This implies that online education, such as that provided by virtual high schools, does not involve teachers. So, all those adults running around administering courses in virtual schools, well, I'm not sure what they're doing, but apparently they aren't teaching. At least, not according to this superintendent.

And apparently there is no human interaction occuring in the teaching that does occur in online education (that is, unless you buy into the previous paragraph and agree that there is no teaching in online education). So when the teachers correspond with students in e-mail, when they discuss with students on a bulletin board, when they chat through an instant messenger or using a synchronous virtual classroom tool, apparently none of this constitutes human interaction.

The Journal of Educators Online recently published an article in it called "Relative Effectiveness Of Computer-based And Human Feedback For Enhancing Student Learning. The purpose of the study discussed in this article was "to examine the educational impact of presenting various levels of computer-based, online feedback (no-feedback, knowledge-of-response, knowledge-of-correctresponse, topic-contingent, and response-contingent) either alone or paired with human interaction in an independent, mastery learning environment." The researchers found "that student learning is enhanced by human interaction but is not influenced by the various types of computer-based feedback." more specifically, "students prefer feedback that is direct and clearly addresses the correctness of their response; and instructors cannot rely on computer-based feedback alone to correct errors in student understanding as live interaction remains a critical element for student success in independent learning environments." Imagine that, human interaction.
But once again, if we believe the superintendents above, not only is there no teaching in online education, but there is no human interaction either. I like how they specifically call it online education instead of online learning, did you notice that. It kind of implies that there isn't necessarily any learning actually occuring, but I guess that's the point. If there isn't any teaching going on or any human interaction occuring, why would there be any learning?

But I disgress... In addition to giving me a chance to raise the issues of what is teaching in online education and what does human interaction look like in online education, this also fits in with the theme that we've had this past week. The past three entries that I have made (see Virtual Schools on the Internet: Could this Cure Education's Woes?, What Are Virtual Schools For? and The Next Big Thing in Public Education?) have all considered what is wrong with the public education system and can virtual schooling be an avenue to cure some of those ailments. Consider the fact that all of the negative comments about this virtual school were made by public school superintedents. Forgetting the fact that this virtual school is a charter school and, in essence, stealing taxpayer's money from the public school system, look at the nature and the wording of their criticisms of the virtual school. Could it be that the superintendents' complete lack of understanding of the potential of virtual schooling is the problem? Does this contribute to some of the problems that we see in public education today? I don't know the answer for sure, but I'd be willing to say that it probablyisn't helping matters any.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Virtual Schools on the Internet: Could this Cure Education's Woes?

In keeping with the theme of my last two entries (see What Are Virtual Schools For? and The Next Big Thing in Public Education?), it appears that this discussion has even reached the popular media...

Detroit Free Press - June 6, 2005
"Virtual schools on the Internet: Could this cure education's woes?"
By Mike Wendland
Free Press Columnist
By the way, thanks for the Distance-Educator.com Daily News for bring this to my inbox yesterday.

In discussing the Michigan Virtual High School, Wendland writes:
Fitzpatrick, based in Lansing, says education had been stuck in what is known as the 2-by-4-by-6 paradigm.

"In other words," he explained, "the two covers of a textbook, the four walls of a classroom and the six hours a day that students are in school. That's been the old model for the way we educated, and it's a model that's increasingly less efficient."

Online education breaks that paradigm and helps schools be as efficient as the rest of society in this always-on, instant access, wired world, he said.

"The way education works after high school, and certainly the way education and skills are developed in the professional world, is more and more dependent on some sort of technology-enabled system like the computer or the Internet," Fitzpatrick said.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Kind of sounds like a response to the question: Are virtual schools the panacea for an ailing public educaiton system? - breakng the 2-by-4-by-6 paradigm (as an aside, see my entry at Breaking into the Academy on education and paradigms) and helping schools be as efficient as the rest of society.


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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What Are Virtual Schools For?

I came across this shortly after my last entry. It appears that Danielle Strachman at HeightenedLearning has taken up the call before I even issued it. In her entry on virtual schools (see http://heightenedlearning.blogspot.com/2005/05/virtual-schools.html), she states that:

As a tool to enhance education, Virtual Schools offer students an outlet for learning on their own and a resource to parents looking to outsource certain areas of study.

On the other hand, I do not believe that Virtual Schools should serve as the sole outlet for a child's education. The only person who should serve as the sole outlet is the child.

While not quite answering the call of "Are virtual schools the panacea for an ailing public educaiton system?," Danielle has certainly come down on the side of virtual school as one tool, as opposed to virtual school as a sole means to deliver education to a child.

As a Canadian, where most of our provinces do not have progressive homeschooling legislation (at the time I left, my province for example requires that the child be under the supervision of a certified teacher, even in a homeschooled situation), I wonder if this isn't shortchanging virual schooling based upon a single constituency. Going back to my real interest in virtual schooling, in many instances virtual schooling is the only way that a rural secondary student is able to access highly specialized courses from a teacher who is a subject matter expert in that area (in the case of my province, this tends to be Chemistry, French, Mathematics and Physics - although our virtual high school is branching out into other speciality areas such as Art and Music).

But this also goes back to a question that I had for those involved in the homeschooling movement some weeks ago (see Online Learning for Who? and Who Are Virtual Schools For?) I argued that in many of the specialized areas (such as AP courses) are beyond the ability of many parents of homeschooled students to support in a way that maintains the academic rigour of these courses. If this argument holds water, and please comment on whether or not it does, wouldn't having these specialized courses delivered by a virtual school be a wonderful outlet for the homeschool student's education?

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Friday, June 03, 2005

The Next Big Thing in Public Education?

Darren Cannell over at Teaching and Developing Online had a post about virtual schools being the next big thing in public education (see - http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/weblogs/vschools/archives/2005_05.html#012100). In that post, he referenced a blog entry entitled "Virtual schools: the next big thing in public education?" (see - http://www.bloggingbaby.com/entry/1234000600043508/) that caught my attention.

The reason that this entry caught my attention was I believe the author failed to recognize the different types of virtual schools that are actually out there. For the most part, the author focuses the content and, especially the examples, upon virtual charter schools (also known as cyber charter schools). The fact of the matter is that within the virtual school community (and education at large), these are generating some controversy at the moment.

The problem is that with the exception of a few select states, cyber charter schools operate under the same legislation as brick and mortar charter schools. This means that they would receive the same per student funding as a brick and mortar school. The problem arises in that cyber schools and brick and mortar schools don't have the same cost structure. Apparently California, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania have funding provisions that are specific to cyber charter schools. Linda Cavalluzzo has a good chapter in the new book out by Berge and Clarke (see Virtual Schools: Planning for Success) that deals with the funding arrangements that can be utilized by various schools.

However, that doesn't really tackle the fundament question that is being asked in this entry: Are virtual schools the next big thing in public education? The author sort of sits on the fence when addressing this question, only stating:

"Whether virtual schools are the panacea for an ailing public educaiton system is debatable. But it’s clear that they’re not going to disappear anytime soon."
So, let's have this debate! As you may recall, I tried to take up this call in an earlier entry (see Online Learning: A Panacea for Rural Schools?), with some feedback. But let's broaden the focus. I was fixed on simply rural education, but let's open those parameters up to include all of public education. Are virtual schools the panacea for an ailing public educaiton system?

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