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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hybrid Virtual Schools: The Future is Today

At the beginning of the month, I spotted this article on Ian Jukes' The Committed Sardine Blog, "The Future of Schools: The Shape of Things To Come." In the article, Jukes discusses a commentary by Chester Finn Jr., which I thought was actually quite funny, because it was only last month that I completed by first course in Social Science Education, where Chester Finn and "the contrarians" (as they call themselves - see his forward to Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? at the beginning of the "Fighting Back" section) were featured quite prominantly (and mostly in a negative light).

Anyway, the commentary is focused upon "five trends/factors/events that will (or should) have significant impact on the substance and delivery of educational content over the next five years" and the first one that Finn identifies is "technology and the gradual separation of teaching and learning from buildings called schools." He specifically cites "The proliferation of virtual schools and virtual charter schools [as] just part of the story."

The other part of the story, as he see it is:

"Coming soon are hybrid institutions, where the kid may or may not be in a school but much of his instruction and instructional materials come from far away. His main teacher may be on the other side of the country or the globe. The adult in the classroom with him may resemble a teacher aide, tutor, or college intern, there more to keep order, answer questions, and help him learn rather than someone to present a lesson setting forth what's to be learned. The lesson presenter will be elsewhere. There will be books, of course, and plenty of other instructional materials in paper form, but many of them will be downloaded from the computer rather than published and trucked in; and they'll be integrated with the lessons and courses on the big screen, the smart board, and the student's own desktop computer."
What strikes me about this description is that it isn't that far off of the experiences that I have personally had with the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation and the Illinois Virtual High School.

With both of these organizations, we have teachers that are in one location (and in the case of my involvement with the IVHS, as that teacher I wasn't even located in Illinois and for teh first couple of years of my involvement I wasn't even located in the United States), with students located in a number of other locations. While I'm not sure about the IVHS, the CDLI has mediating teachers (see my co-authored article The Role of Mediating Teachers in Newfoundland’s New Model of Distance Education) that are in the school and are responsible for monitoring the progress of these online students. In the case of both organizations, students go to school and as a part of their regular school day they will go to a computer lab, the learning resource center/library, or a distance education room for one or two (or more) classes that they may be taking online.

The vision that Finn outlines isn't that far away... One of the differences between Finn's vision and what we currently have is that in most instances, the teacher providing the instruction is somewhere in the same state. Another is that the student is still in a school setting (for the most part, because there are many virtual schools that do cater to homeschooled children who wouldn't be in a formal school setting). A third is that the adult in these models tends to be there for technical issues and/or the in loco parentis aspect of schooling.

Other than these three main differences, the vision that Finn outlines is what we currently have in many virtual school environments. Before closing, I should point out the Finn and the organization that he works for is largely mandated with promoting the type of educational experiences that students would have received in the earlier part of the twentieth century, at least in terms of the curriculum, the structure of schooling, who's truth is represented and told. Basically, if you fall into a category of being white, Christian, and middle or upper middle class, they this form of schooling is designed for you. If you don't meet all of those requirements, then your schooling experience will be quite limiting because you don't fall into the great narrative of the United States being founded as a Christian nation that has developed because of he action of great (white) men. But that's a post for another time, probably on my other blog (i.e., Breaking into the Academy), as this has little to do with virtual schooling (but I did think it worth mentioned the political slant of Finn and the contrarians).

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Is Online Learning the Future: Revisited

I just discovered that on the FE News Blog, where I found an article last month entitled "Is Online Learning The Future?," one of the other journalist posted a response to the original piece entitled "Is Online Learning The Future? A Response" (to view my entry on the original article see "Is Online Learning the Future?").

Anyway, the author of the the blog entry responds "Here at the New Curiosity Shop we respond with a resounding 'yes'." Apparently, The New Curiosity Shop is a venture in online learning between the author of the blog entry and another individual.

In their philosophy to online learning, they believe that "the main power of the Internet as a fantastic medium for people to talk to each other, forgetting that education is a communication process" and that "in time online learning will take its rightful place amongst the choices available to learners of all levels and ages, and that people will be aware that it *is* a real option, with benefits all its own."

I find it interesting that in time online learning will be a legitimate choice available to all learners. Part of that statement is probably true, the available to all learners portion. However, I think that online learning is already a legitimate choice within the education system. The number of state-sponsored virtual schools and the growth of cyber charter schools seems to indicate that policy makers and parents looking for alternatives to the public education system already see if as not only a legitmate alternative, but a preferred alternative for a variety of reasons (in the case of the policy makers, probably due to the more cost effective opportunities that it can provide, whereas the parents look for an alternative to public schools probably prefer the less of regulation on how their child should be taught - i.e., they want to be able to educate their children in an environment that is homogeneous in terms of religion, race, and social class - if we want to call a spade a spade).

I don't know, maybe this is a difference between K-12 online learning or virtual schooling opportuities that are available in North America compared to those that are available in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. Maybe someone out there from one of these European destinations (or with more knowledge about the K-12 online learning landscape in Europe than I) could respond and give us some insight...

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Generation M?

I was reading The Committed Sardine Blog and saw an entry entitled "Gen M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds." The reason this entry caught my attention was it immediately reminded me of earlier entries that I have posted on this blog (see - Do today's students think differently?, Will the virtual classroom redefine what it means to be a student?, and Students with neomillennial learning styles).

This Generation M entry was discussing a report that have just been released by the Kaiser Family Foundation called "Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds" which focuses on media-use amongst American children. Based upon the findings of the study, Jukes has some interesting questions which he poses, such as:

Questions range from broad societal issues... to issues of cognitive development (can new media offer educational content in an appealing and effective format or do they distract from more substantive pursuits such as reading and homework?). Do media stifle or inspire creativity in young people? Empower or disenfranchise them? Offer powerful tools for health education, or model unhealthy habits?
The ones here that jump out at me are those that deal with how students learn. Does children's access to and use of various media change the way that they process information? If so, what are the nature of those changes? Also, how can we change how we design and deliver learning experiences to accomodate these changes?

These are the questions that I have, anyone out there have any answers...

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

African e-School

Apparently the first virtual school has found its way to Africa, see Nepad Launches E-School from today's The Monitor out of Kampala.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Loopholes with Cyber Charter Schools

Earlier this month I found an entry over at Daily Gusto concerning the case of a Pennsylvania senator and a cyber charter school (see Santorum cyber school case continues). Apparently, this Senator (who primarily resides in Virginia) used public funds from the State of Pennsylvania to have his children attend a cyber charter school, and there was nothing wrong with that!

According to Pennsylvania law, the good Senator was able to use funds intended for public education in the Penn Hills School District to pay for his children to attend a cyber charter school because the good Senator maintained a home in Penn Hills and paid property taxes there. It appears that "under state law, a school district must pay a fee set by the state for each resident who attends a charter school."

Now, I know that in this case that the good Senator did nothing illegal (see the article "Pennsylvania Ruling Favors Santorum" from Philly.com - which I was directed to by this entry in Distance-Educator.com's Daily News). However, there is a bigger question here. The good Senator probably maintains a residence in Penn Hills for two reasons: a political ploy to be able to make the claim that he still has roots in the community and a personal desire to return to Pennsylvania after he has finished serving in the Senate (I'm only assuming the second reason).

Should the residents of Penn Hills have money taken from their public school system so that the good Senator's children can attend a charter school, particularly when their primary residence is not even in Pennsylvania? In my opinion, the fact of the matter is that the good Senator has found a loophole that allows his students to enjoy a private education at the cost to the taxpayers and this is what is wrong with education in the United States. As someone not from this country, it boggles my mind that Americans allow their publically funded system of education to be destroyed by special interests such as the charter school and cyber charter school movement (who's agenda is really the end of public education).

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Friday, July 15, 2005

Questions for those Involved in Virtual High Schools

One of the other blogs that is devoted to virtual schooling is Deciding About Schools Online (DAOS). I don't think that it would be unfair to characterize this blog as one with a specific agenda (as most blogs, and even websites, do). On its purposes page is states that it has two main purposes:
  1. DASO provides an accurate and regularly up-dated directory of those involved with deciding about e-learning in Ohio.
  2. DASO provides professional annotations of resources on the topic and links to written documents that these stakeholders have published regarding K-12 e-learning.

However, these purposes may not provide the agenda in as specific a way as some of the questions that were asked in a survey that was conducted at their site a while back. With stems such as:

  • The state subsidy for online schools should be the same as it is for all schools.
  • School districts should accept successful completion of an online course (replacing seat time) for the purposes of granting credit.
  • In the near future K-12 Schools will turn to the resources of the private sector in order to develop their own for-profit products and services.

These stems for the likert-style questions have led me to believe that DAOS is more interested in cyber charter schools than state-wide or public virtual schools (and to see where cyber charter schools can lead, take a look at Online Christian Education - an Alternative to Public Schools from the The Christian Post - I'll post more on this attempt to destory public education later I'm sure). I've posted trackbacks to their blog and I'm sure that they can correct me if I'm wrong.

I don't out them here because I think that this agenda is wrong (although I do disagree with the concept of charter schools, but that's neither here nor there at the moment - see my entries on Are Superintendents the Problem?, The Next Big Thing in Public Education?). I out them because in my reading of the DAOS blog, I don't see that agenda mentioned anywhere, and I think that's wrong. As I have stated many times in this blog in the past, my agenda is providing educational opportunities to rural school students within the public education system.

In any regard, around the middle of last month DAOS blog featured a couple of posts asking questions of specific groups involved in virtual schooling. For example, they posted an entry entitled "Questions for Policy Makers" that asked:

The questions that require attention (QAR's) for policy makers start with these:

  • How do appointed officials best communicate their understanding of e-learning?
  • What expectations should appointed officials have of e-learning?
  • How do elected officials discuss e-learning with their constituents who have experienced education in an entirely different context?
  • What should be the expectations for e learning in the context of a standards based reform movement?
  • What assurances exist that e-learning experiences will conform appropriately to teaching and learning standards at the state and federal levels?
  • Can e-learning assist students in making progress toward the goals of No Child Left Behind?
A few days later in a post entitled "Questions for Educators", they posted:
Among the questions that require attention by educators are:
  • How will these new schools alter the types of preparation needed by teachers?
  • In what ways will the communication between teachers and students change and what can teachers do about it?
  • How can the fact that a teacher is not in a building effect ongoing professional development?
  • Should there be certification issues associated with being a teacher in an e-learning environment?
  • What impact should virtual schooling have on colleges of education?
  • What guidance can content selection standards provide?
  • What different expectations should administrators have in shifting to an e-learning environment?
  • How will e-learning effect financial planning for administrators?
  • How will students in e-learning perform on standard tests—both formative and summative and what should administrators anticipate?
  • What avenues for job growth are there for administrators in e-learning?
  • How necessary is it that professionals in e-learning be trained online?
  • What drives the professional development train—using content or using technology, and in what combination?

Regardless of their agenda, these aren't bad questions for the most part. The only problem that I see are scope and number. How many educators have the time to sit down and consider all twelve of these questions, let alone actually come up with answers for all of them...

So, I ask you today in looking at these questions... If you fall more into the policy-maker category, which two questions do you see as the most burning right now? And, do you have any thoughts about your responses to those two questions?

If you fall more into the educator category, which two questions do you see as the most burning right now? And, do you have any thoughts about your responses to those two questions?

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Virtual Schools Offer a Wider Selection

A couple of weeks ago, Darren Cannell from Teaching and Developing Online posted an entry about Education Options. Typical of Darren's entries, it points to a full article from Government Technology with the same title, Education Options, by Emily Montandon with the sub-title "Virtual schools offer a wider selection for students and families, and create questions for states."

The article states that at present

"At least 15 states have distance education programs for public school students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's 2004 report, Toward a New Golden Age in American Education -- How the Internet, the Law and Today's Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations. A deluge of regional and districtwide programs exist as well, and new programs are cropping up all the time.

Within the next decade, the report predicted, every state and most schools will offer some form of virtual schooling."

The promise of these opportunities, as the article puts it is that "virtual schools offer students and their families scheduling flexibility, course options, varied learning formats and experience that will benefit them beyond their schooling."

It is interesting that one of the individuals, an administrator even (as I know that I have beat up on administrators last month), stated - quite wisely I thought - "Online schools are an indicator of education's path for the future, a logical next step in a society where, thanks to the Internet and technology, we expect more conveniences."

In previous posts I have asked the question of whether or not virtual schooling was the wave of the future, the next big thing, the saviour of public education, etc. From this article it seems that virtual schooling is seen as just the next logic evolution of schools based upon society's own expectations and habits.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

What Does Teaching in a Virtual High School Look Like?

I was checking out the website for the new Georgia Virtual High School (see http://www.GAVirtualSchool.org/) a few weeks ago and in their virtual library they had a link to this article: "Telling the Online Learning Story: What People Don't Understand, They Don't Support" (see http://www.sreb.org/programs/EdTech/onlinestory/onlinestoryindex.asp).

One of the many things that caught my attention in this article were the quotes by individuals responding to the question "What is it like to be an online teacher?"

“Holding online [chat] office hours this fall has allowed my students to develop more of a sense of community — even across sections. While they don't actually know each other personally, they look forward to 'hanging out' one evening a week when their schedules permit. I really find that very little of my office hour time is taken up with mathematics questions; we spend a lot of time just chatting in the way I talk with my daytime students in the hallways and at lunch during the day." - JoAnne Glenn, ApexLearning, AP calculus instructor, National Board Certified Teacher

"I have really enjoyed teaching the AP Government online course this semester. It is an extremely well-put-together course, and I have been very impressed with the thoroughness of the material. The developers have certainly made my job as teacher/facilitator much easier than I expected." - Stephanie Dunbar, teacher, Georgia

"Today a student told me that he wished we had this math all year. He went from a 78 percent average to a 92 percent average! I'm calling his parents shortly to tell them we finally found the key to their son's math future." - Henry Chandler, teacher, Virginia

"I spend a good part of my time communicating with students via e-mail. I have, on occasion, also connected with them by telephone, but the bulk of the correspondence is written. The fact that it is written communication does not make it impersonal, however. I have had students share happy and sad news from their lives. I have also had students send me graduation photos and request that they keep in touch after the course is over." - Stacey Labbé, ApexLearning, AP microeconomics instructor

As I looked at these quotes, I recalled an entry that I posted here two months ago entitled "Teaching in a Virtual High School" (see http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/05/teaching-in-virtual-high-school.html). In that entry I talked about the measures or standards or even categories that could be used in the evaluation of online teaching. As I look at these quotes, I am struck with a different (but similar question), what does it mean to teach online?

What does it mean to teach online? What does it look like? If I asked you to describe to me what teaching looks like in a classroom setting, while I may get different response, most people would be able to describe it. If I asked what good teaching looks like, I'd get a little less agreement I'd imagine, but you could still answer. So, what does teaching online look like?

More directly, what does teaching in a virtual high school look like? What does the teacher do in a synchronous teaching environment in a virtual high school? What does the teacher do in an asynchronous teaching environment in a virtual high school? Looking forward to your thoughts...

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Note: I started my comprehensive examinations this past Monday (04 July 2005) and will be engaged in that for most of the next six weeks. While I already have entries pre-written for this period of time to keep a regular flow of content coming, the frequency may decrease slightly (depending on how tired I am at the end of the day and how much I can actually think about something other than my comps questions. I will be posting information about my comprehensive exams at my other blogs, Breaking into the Academy, so you can visit there to see the nature of my questions and any public discussion I attempt as I try to talk out my ideas.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

More Young Children Going Online

In my Sunday edition of the Athens Banner-Herald at the beginning of June (05 June 2005 to be exact), there was an article titled "Study: More Young Children Going Online."

The article described how "23 percent of children in nursey school - ages 3, 4, or 5 - have gone online" and "by kindergarten, 32 percent have used the Internet" (p. B4). What are these kids doing, well they're "viewing Web sites with interactive stories and animated lessons that teach letters, numbers and rhymes." Not only is Internet use becoming more common, but according to the US Department of Education "two thirds of nursey school children an 80 percent of kindergartners have used computers."

Two months ago, I posted an entry that asked "Do today's students think differently?" (see - http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/04/do-todays-students-think-differently.html). Two weeks before that I was asking "Will the virtual classroom redefine what it means to be a student?" (see - http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/04/will-virtual-classroom-redefine-what.html). Three weeks before that I was talking about students with neomillennial learning styles (see - http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/03/students-with-neomillennial-learning.html). The basic train of thought for all of these entries was that today's students are inherently different than students were twenty years ago, even ten years ago. Regardless if it is how their brains are wired, them becoming accustomed to technical methods of content delivery, or how technology has changed the way that they learn; there is something inherently different. One student in the Banner-Herald article commented "You grew up with music in your blood. Well, we have technology in our blood."

In raising these issues, the majority of comments that were made dealt with re-affirming that the media that today's students are immersed in are definitely different than the media that students ten or twenty years ago were immersed in (see "Today's Students Think Differently" as an example).

My question remains, with this next generation of students entering our schools with more exposure to and more proficiency with glowing boxes of all sorts (i.e., televisions, computers, game stations of various sorts, PDAs, digital cell phones, the list goes on), what does that mean for how we delivery education? More specifically, what does it mean for the delivery of virtual schooling?

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