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Friday, April 07, 2006

Teaching How To Teach Online

Okay, so I am in San Francisco at AERA this week - specifically from 7-11 April. AERA is the American Education Research Association - or the biggest educational research conference in North America. Unfortunately this means that there are only a small number of sessions that involve virtual schooling. One of those sessions was early today. According to the schedule, it was slated as:

Preparing Teachers for the Distance Learning Classroom: Evaluation of the Teacher Training Goes into Virtual Schooling (TEGIVS) Project

Sponsor: SIG-Technology as an Agent of Change in Teaching and Learning

Session Participants:

Chairs: Ann D. Thompson (Iowa State University) and Dale S. Niederhauser (Iowa State University)
Discussant: Robert L. Blomeyer (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory)
Participansts: Niki E. Davis (Iowa State University), Rick Ferdig (University of Florida), Margaret D. Roblyer (University of Maryland University College), Raymond Rose (Concord Consortium), and Zahrl Schoeny (University of Virginia)

Abstract: As a result of the growth of virtual schools across the United States, K–12 school courses and diplomas are increasingly offered, either completely or partly, at a distance. In light of this increase, it is apparent that there will be demand for teachers who are prepared to teach from a distance and counselors who can support distance students. This symposium describes: (1) a model teacher training program developed by a consortium led by Iowa State University; and (2) the evaluation designed to establish its effectiveness, including dissemination through a national community of practice, instruments to measure institutional adoption, and longitudinal surveys of preservice student teachers and graduates.

In reality, the discussant and the participants changed. What happened was that Lynne Schrum (University of Utah) was the discussant. The participants that were there included Ann Thompson, Dale Niederhauser, Chad Harms, Lily Compton, and Margaret Roblyer - along with a recorded Powerpoint presentation from Rick Ferdig.

Overall, it was an interesting session. The basis of the presentation was an update on the status of this FIPSE-funded project, which is designed to provid pre-service teachers training on how to teach in a virtual school environment. This is actually a project that Cathy Cavanaugh first mentioned here in this blog as a comment on the very first entry that I posted (see Welcome to my Blog on Virtual High Schools).

What I found interesting about it was twofold. The first was the fact that this program for pre-service teachers was based upon social presence theory - or at least an interesting operationized version of it. My understanding of the way in which social presence theory was operationalized, at least as outlined by Short, Williams, and Christie (1976) was based upon two variables: intimacy and immediacy. The operational version of social presence theory that this TEGIVS program was based upon had six variables:
  1. Co-presence - being aware of others involved in the interaction
  2. Attentional allocation - the amount of attention that one allowed and that one received
  3. Perceived message understanding - basically to quote from Jackie Chan in Rush Hour, "Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth."
  4. Perceived affective understanding - understanding the feeling implied by the other person involved in the interaction (i.e., empathy)
  5. Perceived affective interdependence - how that sense of empathy affects how others feel
  6. Perceived behavioural interdependence - how people respond to others' involved in the interaction

This was the first time that I had ever seen social presence theory outlined in this way - according to the presenter, based upon their review of the literature.

The other that I found interesting was the way in which this group operationalized their proposed virtual schooling field experience (n.b., not the student teaching experience, but the practicum field experience). Basically it was two hours of observation of archived virtual school classes (I assume that they meant synchronous classes), followed by two hours of lurking during the real-time teaching of virtual classes, and then followed by two hours of lurking in a subject area specific virtual class. What I found interesting about this was that it seemed like just scratching the surface and also focused very heavily on the synchronous component (although I could be wrong on the second aspect). However, if it is focused upon only the synchronous instruction, I can't see much logic in this - as much (I would argue most) of the teaching in a virtual school context is down in an asynchronous manner. Further, there are many virtual schools that are based on largely or entirely asynchronous model - Florida Virtual School being one of them (and the University of Florida is one of the partners).

But those are just some initial thoughts on the first day and the only virtual schooling session thus far. I'll report on others that I attend either here or, if they are more research focused, one my AECT BlogTrack Virtual Schooling blog.

Tags: AERA 2006, , , , , ,


Blogger Kate Logan said...

I find that most people can't get past synchronous learning. I think compressed video classes or state-wide synchronous video networks (Wyo and Montana come to mind) have colored the perception of virtual education. While some of these types of courses were of high quality, most were and still are crap and very difficult for the learners and teachers.

I completed a BS degree and 3/4 of a Masters program totally asynchronous.

On the k-12 side, our virtual high school is asynchronous with face to face supplementary classes (weight training, art, tutoring, sped, etc...) We don't even attempt distance synchronous learning. There are too many tech problems, scheduling problems, etc...

I think people don’t understand the power of a threaded message board and an email address. 9-12 VHS’s need to make a larger effort explaining and demonstrating the power of asynchronous learning. But it seems that we area all trying to keep our heads above water dealing with exponential student growth. I know that we are.

11:05 AM  
Blogger MKB said...


I think that asynchronous is nice and has historically been the backbone of virtual school, with the advances in technology and bandwidth synchronous communications are just becoming that much easier to do and more accessible for both students and instructors. And I see that as a good thing, as many students do not have the autonomous learning characteristics necessary to be successful in a fully asynchronous environment.

Having said that, there is nothing in this particular program that I am aware of that focuses upon the synchronous over the asynchronous. My understanding is that they simply want to get to a position where pre-service teachers are aware of what online teaching looks like, have had some experience with it, and (if they so choose) some form of certification which would include student teaching in this environment.


10:54 PM  
Blogger Lily said...


Thanks so much for starting this blog. I really appreciate the opportunity to follow-up on the TEGIVS project, particularly regarding the field experience. You're right about the observations of virtual environments as scratching the surface. Because of the time limit, I wasn't able to share the bigger picture of the project. I see now that lack of the bigger picture may have caused some confusion. Please allow me to elaborate here.

With our CI280A course, it's an introductory level to student teaching, hence the title "Pre-student teaching experience". This is by no means the students' teaching practicum. Our goal with the lurking and observation is to expose them to different virtual environments and approaches to virtual schooling (VS). That means we will showcase both asynchronous and synchronous environments. I think we want to make our student teachers aware that there are different approaches and environments to VS and there are advantages and disadvantages to each of them as well as some that are more effective for certain courses depending on the course content and how the course is run. We are still working on the logistics and plans for the 6 optional hours and would love any feedback from you or your audience.

In the future, we hope to incorporate actual VS teaching experiences where we place our student teachers with VS teachers in reputable VS institutions or "traditional" institutions that offer VS courses. At this level, we will be helping our student-teachers practice how to teach in VS environments. Like traditional teaching practices, we want to give our students actual experiences in teaching in VS environments. However, before we can reach that level, we have to make sure we've given them enough information about VS and the necessary skills to teach in that environment.

Again, I want to thank you for this wonder opportunity to dialog with you. I would love for you and your audience to continue the conversation with me and our TEGIVS collaborators.


12:45 PM  
Blogger MKB said...


Thanks for the additional information. This is a project that I will be watching over the coming months and years with great interest.

Since you and your project have found this blog, I was wondering if you could direct or guide the gentleman who discussed social presence theory to my other blog (the one that I am maintaining for the AECT BlogTrack on online learning that the Univeristy of Georgia is participating in - http://mkbvs.edublogs.org/ ) around the middle of next week. I had planned to post an entry about the notion of social presence that he presented over there - as that conference blog is supposed to more research oriented.

Thanks for the comments and feel free to join any of the other conversations that are going on here or at the other virtual schooling blog.


1:58 PM  
Blogger Niki Davis said...

Lily and I (TEGIVS project leader) certainly will direct Chad Harms to your AECT BlogTrack on online learning - http://mkbvs.edublogs.org/. You might like to note that this was a focus of his doctoral research and our paper including this and a description of roles in Virtual Schooling is in press in the Electronic Journal of Communication.

In addition, please let me note that we have complementary optional courses within TEGIVS to develop students more - http://www.ctlt.iastate.edu/scholarship/Research%20Projects/Projects/tegivs/homepage.html E.g. I teach one 3 credit course on the Principles and practices of distance learning that increasingly focuses on a K-12 range of experiences some live, and what a range! One archived set is from a prior project that developed case studies to inform Iowa Learning Online - http://projects.educ.iastate.edu:16080/%7Evhs/index.htm. We are also working on a set of standards to incorporate within programs that will hopefully link with ISTE’s technology standards for student teachers.

Lots to do and collaboration much appreciated, including this Blog, Thank You!

11:33 PM  
Blogger MKB said...


I see a lot of value in what you guys are doing, not only for the intended purposes, but also for potential spin offs.

For example, in another entry in this blog I have discussed the difficulties of evaluating teachers who are working in virtual schools. One immediate spin off value I see of your project is the ability to use these principles and standards that you are working on as the basis for an evaluation tool(particularly as you guys are looking at both asynchronous and synchronous instruction).


P.S. Thanks for giving Chad a heads up. I'm done some work on social presence theory myself, and tend to rely upon a colleague - Nate Lowell - who completed his dissertation work about two years ago on transactional distance theory, in which he incorporated a great deal of research into social presence theory (among other variables of transactional distance). As the purpose of this BlogTrack is to get an extended conversation going prior to the conference with people both in and outside of the AECT community on research issues around a thematic issue (i.e., in the UGA case, online learning), I see an entry on Chad's discussion as social presence a great conversation starter.

7:14 AM  

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