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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Resource Sharing

A few weeks back, I saw an entry at The GoldenSwamp that was titled "HP Free Online Courses." At first it didn't catch my attention, until I read a little further and saw:

"It should be considered why free courses like the ones here cannot be used in schools instead of spending education dollars to create courses that teach the same material.
Now, if you recall... Many moons ago I was asking a similar question:

How much money must be spent on borrowing courses with no real ownership, before it becomes too much? (see "Selling Online Course Content?")
I know it isn't quite the same, as one is dealing with a for profit corporation and mine is looking at educational co-operation, but you see the connection.

There are some twenty-odd states that have virtual schools at this monent. In the US there are countless school districts that maintain their own virtual schools. There are four provinces with provincial virtual schools and another two provinces where numerous school districts maintain their own virtual schools. There is the Virtual High School with is consortiu model (which is based upon sharing resources among its member schools).

When are we all going to come together and figure out a way to pool resources, particularly those involving course content, sharing students, course management, and student management, between virtual schools so that our students have access to a wider variety and better pedagogical learning opportunities? Or maybe a better question is what is stopping this from happening now?

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Growing Number of Homeschoolers in Virtual Schools

Amy Hetzner, writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, penned an article a few weeks back titled "Home-school enrollment falters: 20 years of growth halts; impact of virtual schools felt" (thanks to the Daily News feature of Distance-Educator.com Inc. for bringing this to my attention.

This is an issue that still puzzles me in my own thinking, and I wish more homeschoolers (as I know there are a lot of them that are blogging) would help me figure this out. In the past, I have made entries such as "Who Are Virtual Schools For?," "Online Learning for Who?," and "What Are Virtual Schools For?" trying to figure this out, and while I have gotten some feedback, I still have issues.

Here are my issues... I am firmly against the use of virtual schooling and, more specifically, public money to support religious schooling (see "Loopholes with Cyber Charter Schools," "Questions for those Involved in Virtual High Schools," and "Religion and Virtual Schooling" for my thoughts on this). I do realize that many parents who have chosen to homeschool do so for religious purposes. While I have read in my own graduate studies of some of the other reasons why parents may chose to homeschool their children, I have yet to come across any personally, in the popular media, or blogging that homeschool for any reason other than a religious one.

So, here is my challenge to you... Convince me that you are out there... Calling all homeschooling students and parents who do not do it for religious reasons, drop me a comment telling me why you have chosen to homeschool your children (or for students, why you believe that you are being homeschooled). I'm hoping that based on these comments, that it will help my own thinking on where the homeschool movement fits in with my own thinking on virtual schooling.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Virtual Schools and Choice

Rovy Branon, over at Situativity: Learning in Context, at the beginning of the month posted an entry at his blog which I found a little curious (see "The Debate Begins for Indiana Online Charter Schools).

The part that I found curious was the line:

"I have argued before in this blog that we will know when true choice has arrived for our schools when the old system begins to fight through legislation and the courts to pass laws to try to keep the status quo in place."
I'm not sure why this struck me the way it did, as I have argued that virtual schooling is can offer many things to many different groups of students (see "Who Are Virtual Schools For?).

I guess what it is about this that strikes me the wrong way is the fact that he's talking about charter schools and choice. Let me translate, the ability to choose to circumvent the public school system and take needed dollars out of it in order to educate your child in a religious environment. It was only a few days ago that I rallied against this very thing.

I agree with the notion that virtual schooling should be able to provide choice for students, but I see that choice as the choice between taking Spanish, French, German or Russian (or any other language for that matter), even hough you go to a rural school that only has 200 students in K-12. Or the choice to take an Advanced Placement Chemistry class even though your inner city school can't attract a qualified chemistry teacher to work there. Or the choice to finish a high school diploma, even though because of behaviourial issues you aren't able to cope in the traditional schol setting. Or the choice to stay in school, even though you are travelling all of the time competing as an amateur in a particular sport or performing a special talent.

This is the choice that I think virtual schooling has to offer! Not, I want my son or daughter to be raised in a Christian school using taxpayers money.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Religion and Virtual Schooling

I have argued in the past that online or cyber charter schools are just a way for people to circumvent the separation of church and state and to provide religious school to their children here in the United States (see "Loopholes with Cyber Charter Schools" and "Questions for those Involved in Virtual High Schools"). It appears that I was barking up the right tree, as you can see from this item: Online Christian Education - an Alternative to Public Schools at The Christian Post.

I should note that the particular school that they are referencing in this article, isn't as bad as the ones that I normally rally against, as this particular school is privately funded. Personally, if you want to take your children out of the public school system and using your own dime have them religiously schooled, I have no problem with that.

What I do have problems with is the religious right's continued push to try and subvert the publically-funded education system and infuse it with their own white, middle/upper-middle class, Christian views. To set the record straight, I am a white, middle class Christian. This does not mean that I think that my particular views should be shoved down the throats of those who do not share these demographics. Yet, the religious right, through the use of charter schools, standardized testing, the joke of intelligent design, etc. (see my thoughts on some of these issues at my other blog, Breaking into the Academy, in entries titled "What does your first grader need to know?," "Testing and what American students know," and "Standards, accountability and expectations").

This is why I feel so stringly against the cyber charter movement, simply put, it is taking public money away from a system that needs every penny that it can get and then some...

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Supporting Different Learning Styles Through Virtual Schooling

Once again my inspiration (or at least tracking) comes from Darren at Teaching and Developing Online. This time he posted an article on Supporting Different Learning Styles. The article that caught his attention was written by Steven R. Terrell of Nova Southeastern University with the full title, Supporting Different Learning Styles in an Online Learning Environment: Does it Really Matter in the Long Run?".

In this article, (using David Kolb's theory of experiential learning) Terrell found that "the majority of students (167 or 77.3%) fell into either the Converger or the Assimilator category; of these, 37.1% (i.e., 62) graduated. Of the 49 students falling into the Diverger or Accommodator categories, 20 (i.e., 40.8%) graduated." Th participants in Terrell's study were doctoral student.

This is actually quite interesting... In my own work with secondary school students in a virtual high school environment, a colleague and I have found that in two social science class that student who held the Coverger or the Assimilator or a fairly even score for all four styles tended to do better in the course (in terms of their final course score) than students who were Divergers or Accommodators.

In case you were wondering, here is a quick description of each of the four types:

The Accommodative Learning Style - you have the ability to learn primarily from hands-on experience. You probably enjoy carrying out plans and involving yourself in new and challenging experiences. Your tendency may be to act on intuition and "gut feel" rather than careful analysis. When a thoughtful approach does not seem to be working out, you will be quick to discard it and improvise.

The Divergent Learning Style - you probably have the ability to view specific situations from many perspectives. For example, you may enjoy brainstorming and small group discussions. You also like to gather information and probably have broad interests. Your tendency may be to watch events rather than participate in them.

The Convergent Learning Style - you have the ability to find practical applications for ideas, concepts and theories. In particular you enjoy situations where there is a single or best answer to a question or problem. You may usually assume there is one best answer and use technical analysis to reveal it. You also may usually prefer to deal with technical issues rather than people issues.

The Assimilative Learning Style - you have the ability to create theoretical models (ideas that predict outcomes and descriptions of how different factor interact). You most likely enjoy inductive reasoning and distil disparate observations into logical explanations. (Kolb and Baker, 1979-80, pp. 11-17)

I'm often torn on this kind of research, as learning styles deals largely with self-report and can change from day to day, even hour to hour. Having said that, I wonder how these kinds of findings affect how we design online learning experiences for our students engaged in virtual school environments?

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Technology and the Future of Education

My daily newsletter from Darren drew my attention to this particular entry, Shape the future. In it, it referenced a press release titled "How technology may help shape the future of education."

The basic thrust of the press release is a description of a project that uses a variety of technologies, based upon activity theory and the theory of expansive learning pedagogical principles, to try and help students learn science, mathematics, history and environmental awareness better. Basically, they are trying to create a social constructivist learning environment within the classroom through this project.

It reminded me of a series of entries that I made about a month or two ago (see "Is Online Learning the Future?," "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?"). The basic thrust of those entries was questioning whether or not virtual schooling could (or would eventually) change the nature of school (i.e., change the way we teach and students learn). This project, at least in the initial evaluations appears to be having some success in changing the way that these people teach and thus changing the way that the students learn (and from these initial evaluations, having studens learn in a more engaging manner).

For me, this is the real silver bullet for virtual schooling... Changing the system so that students are more engaged in the learning process and are able to essentially learn better due to that increased engagement. My fear for virtual schooling and all of these technology-based projects is summed up in the final sentence of this press release:

And that could mean that educational theory becomes translated into commercial reality.
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Saturday, August 13, 2005

How would this work?

I came across this about a week ago, as Joanne Jacobs alerted me with Gym online (see also Darren's Teaching and Developing Online). Originally a New York Times article (or here), both items describe an online course physical education offered through a virtual high school in Minneapolis. Apparently the requirements go like this:
The course allows students to meet requirements by exercising how they want, when they want. They are required to work out hard for 30 minutes four times a week and report to their teachers by e-mail. Parents must certify that the students did the workouts.
Is it just me or is this where things start to get a little ridiculous when it comes to virtual schooling? I mean basically we are given out credits for having parents say that their kids exercised four time a week for 30 minutes each time. I'd hate to be in a situation where a student used these physical education credits as the last few credits they needed to graduate and have someone challenge the accurateness of the parents' reporting, I mean, how would you substantiate it?!?

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Cost of Virtual Schools

A little over a year ago, Jaring Internet Magazine published a feature article entitled "Virtual-School Costs Under Siege" by John Gartner (and yes, I'm only just finding it now) and a related in-depth article by the same author with the same name "Virtual-School Costs Under Siege". Anyway, the gist of the article was that state legislators are getting a little weary over how much money school districts and publicy funded virtual schools are spending on third party vendors such as Connections Academy, K-12 Inc. (the only two actually listed in the article), APEX, Aventa Learning, etc..

This is something that I haven't really raised to date on this blog, these third party, for-profit vendors. I think the best response to this issue is to look at two reports produced by the Education Policy Research Unit of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University. These reports consider the K-12 Inc. company and parts of their operations.

DATE: April 1, 2004

TITLE: Knowledge Universe and Virtual Schools: Educational Breakthrough or Digital Raid on the Public Treasury?

AUTHOR: Gerald Bracey

INSTITUTION: Arizona State University

SOURCE: Education Policy Research Unit

DESCRIPTION: This report considers one little-known-but large and influential-technology enterprise, Knowledge Universe, and examines the operations of its school-related division, K12, Inc.

Report in (Word) (Acrobat Reader)
Press Release in (Word) (Acrobat Reader)

DATE: April 1, 2004

TITLE: The K12 Virtual Primary School History Curriculum: A Participant's-eye View

AUTHOR: Susan Ohanian

INSTITUTION: Arizona State University

SOURCE: Education Policy Research Unit

DESCRIPTION: Since its inception in 2000, K12 has evolved from a provider of curriculum materials for home schooling into a "Virtual Academy" that receives public school dollars under the charter school laws of several states. The author, a long-time public school teacher, critiques the K12 history curriculum for kindergarten through second grade.

Report in (Word) (Acrobat Reader)
Appendices in (Word) (Acrobat Reader)
Press Release in (Word) (Acrobat Reader)

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Update on North Carolina VHS

You may recall a few months ago I posted an entry about a Virtual High School for North Carolina?. As an update to that piece, from yesterday's eSchool News Online:
N.C. to launch new virtual high school

The Charlotte Observer reports on a proposal by the North Carolina State Board of Education to open a statewide virtual high school in 2006. The school would offer a variety of web-based classes and electronic courses to every public school student across the state. Proponents of the program say the virtual courses will give students and teachers more options during the school day and should appeal to a wide-range of learners--from college-bound high-school students to tech-savvy preschoolers. Credit for the courses would be awarded through local districts, not the virtual school, officials said.

http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/living/education/12291989.htm (Note: This site requires registration)
I haven't read the full article, because I don't want to have to register with the paper, but here it is if you are interested.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Remote Controlled VHS?

This was initially brought to my attention by Distance-Educator.com's Daily News around the beginning of July, but with a full schedule and trying to space out my posts so that I wouldn't have to bother with my blog thoughts until comprehensive exams are over, this is where it landed in the queue. Anyway, the item directed me to an article at Wired News titled "Classroom Clickers Make the Grade."

The article begins "an honors student at Ohio State, a kid in a fifth-grade science class in Kentucky and a deaf student in England all begin their learning experience the same way: with their hand wrapped around a remote control. " It continues by describing this learning experience

Hundreds of colleges, high schools and even middle schools are using "clickers" -- as even manufacturers call them. A moderator can pose a question and within seconds the respondents' answers are anonymously logged on a laptop at the front of the room.
In reading the remainder of the article, it seems that this is different from (I hesitate to say) traditional web-based distance education employed by the majority of virtual schools. Does anyone out there know anything else about this system? Has anyone ever seen it in use? Anyone know of a jurisdiction that is using it?

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Geoloc Map Update

You'll notice that the active Geoloc map that I had on the right hand side has been replaced by "a limited service." Basically I believe that means that it'll stay there as is, but no new visitors will be added.

I've searched through their site, trying to figure out how to get it active again, but the site is all in French once you get past the main page. I think I'll leave the "limited service" map there as an archive to see where everyone has come from, even if I can't figure out how to get full service again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Virtual School... District?

In the early part of last month, Ray Schroeder, the editor of Online Learning Update, posted an item "Oregon Senate passes bill to create ‘virtual school district’- Associated Press." It pointed to an article in The East Oregonian that was entitled "Senate passes bill to create ‘virtual school district’."

This article states that "the bill allows the Oregon Department of Education to create an 'Oregon Virtual School District,' which would contract with established programs to provide selected online courses." The purpose of this virtual school district would be "to make sure that students at rural and mid-sized schools can take the same advanced courses that are offered to their peers at larger high schools."

Now this is the only piece that I have seen on this particular measure, and I haven't had the time to go searching for the legislation or any more articles about it ot get a better sense of what exactly is happening here.

Some basic questions that I have about this virtual school district... Is this the first step to a state-wide virtual high school? Is this a measure to assist in individual school districts or even individual schools in creating their own virtual schools?

If it is the former, this should be seen as a positive step towards achieving the purpose that they have indicated above. However, if it is the latter than it is a waste of "$2 million from the state schools budget" because of the fractured approach that Oregon will have decided to take. Does anyone know what the intent of this virtual school district is?

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Blog Statistics for July 2005

Just a quick update of the stats today...

Our standard counter is reading 1623 today, which means we had 521 since the end of May (I didn't include this number in the June statistical update for some reason). This breaks down into 47 unique visitors (34 first time and 13 return visitors), for an average of 6 visitors a day for the month of July (4 first time and 2 return).

The only new countries represented on the Geoloc map are Mexico and Germany (to the best of my knowledge - by the way you'll note that they have kept it active for me so I haven't had to remove it yet). This is added to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Switzerland, Hungary, Republic of Korea (i.e., South Korea), Uruguay, Brazil, 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 - bringing the total to visitors from thirty-four different countries.

The popular entries this past month have been (in their order of popularity):

The interesting thing is that some of these entries are from back in May, now if we could only get some of the more than dozen people who visited "Using Instant Messaging" to start leaving some comments... :)

In terms of how people are coming across this blog, Yahoo! is currently winning the search engine war, followed by Google, MSN, and Technorati bringing up the rear. Outside of search engines, it appears that people have come across us from http://del.icio.us/topps (and I'm not sure what that is), http://althouse.blogspot.com/2005/04/virtual-high-school.html (an entry from another blog), http://blog.core-ed.net/derek/archives/2005_04.html (somewhere in Derek's blog), and http://www.durandus.com/blog/?p=132 (and an entry on Nate's blog). Thanks to Althouse, Derek, and Nate.

Finally, the average visitor will still spend less than 5 seconds, which more staying for in the 30 seconds to 5 minutes (and even 4 staying for longer than an hour). See you at the end of next month...