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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Being Successful

Okay, this is something that I have played around with in my head for a while now - how does a student become successful in a virtual school environment?

On my AECT blogtrack blog (Virtual Schooling), I posted an entry a few weeks back entitled The Greatest Challenge for the Virtual High School. In that entry, I argued that the greatest challenge facing virtual schooling was opening up access to a greater variety of students - i.e., creating virtual school opportunities that would be available to more than just the AP kids. In thinking a great deal about that topic, I wonder if I may have been looking at this from the wrong side of the coin - do we need to create virtual school opportunities that are accessible or do we need to work with our students to ensure that they have the skills to access virtual school opportunities?

It is an interesting perspective, do we tackle the way that we design and delivery virtual schooling or do we go to the source and tackle the aspects (e.g., knowledge, skills, and aptitudes) that the students may be missing?

I got to thinking about this again from this perspective because of a couple of things that have appeared in my Bloglines recently. For example, the Allied Online High School Blog had an entry about How to Succeed as an Online Student and E-Learning & Online Teaching posted an instrument used by Peg Roblyer to Predicting Success of Virtual High School Students.

I guess my biggest concern with putting the focus upon the student and working from the assumption that they are missing something that we need to provide them with, we run the risk of using the students' ability or lack thereof as a screening mechanism to keep this opportunity from them. And let's face it, this is the kind of system that we have now. I mean how many virtual schools have a survey up front that is titled something along the lines of Is Distance Learning Right For You? And in the current system, when we don't screen students up front, we run into the problem that has consistently been an issue in distance education, particularly at the K-12 level - High drop-rates / High-demand Web courses have high drop-rate.

What is even more troubling are headlines like this - Futurist: Students unprepared to succeed in technology

So maybe it should be a two pronged approach - we focus upon both creating virtual school opportunities that are acessible to all learners and while we are doing this we do a better job of giving students the skills that they need to be successful in this type of learning environment.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Nathan Lowell said...

Most of the "Is Online Right For You" stuff has to do with making sure that the students are strong enough to make up for the course's weak design.

Everytime you see something like 'strong time management skills' that's a code phrase for "I don't know how to remind you when your home work is due like I would if you came to my class."

Whenever you see these lists of "success factors for online learning" ask yourself if those are the same factors you'd use in a classroom based class. If the answer is "Yes" then why are you labelling them "online" factors? If the answer is "No" then what do you need to learn (as a teacher) that the factor becomes irrelevant?

9:46 AM  
Blogger MKB said...

Nate,

This is what I am inclined to think as well, but there are some inherent differences when technology mediates that classroom interaction that make me wonder if we should be doing something for the students. I guess the more fundamental question is can we create an online classroom that is as rich a learning environment as a traditional classroom?

If the answer is yes, then what we have now is as you claim - poor design. But if the answer is no, then fixing the design will only take us so far.

MKB

8:10 AM  
Blogger Nathan Lowell said...

"[C]an we create an online classroom that is as rich a learning environment as a traditional classroom?"

My first response is
"why in the world would we create an online classroom?"

I have enough classrooms. I don't want any more classrooms. I want to use the affordances of the internet as a whole and the web in particular to create an enviroment that transcends the classroom -- not recreate it.

8:22 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

I won't disagree that you have enough classrooms, but if we were to boil you down to the characteristics that make you up as a learner and compared those characteristics to the average adoloscent learner there would be dramatic differences in who you are as a learner and who they are as a learners.

So the question still is do we do things to make their orientation to learning more like your's or do we make the online learning opportunities more accessible to where they currently are?

MKB

8:51 PM  
Blogger Kate Logan said...

I agree with both points of view. I think we need to create better classes and we need to have strong communication policies. The 10 questions "is this right for me" quiz isn't enough. Our high school is geared towards at-risk students where over 80% have been a drop out from another high school. They aren't AP kids.

To combat this we try to let everyone know, teachers, students, parents, etc...exactly what the expectations are. In my observations with our courses and our students the success of the student is directly related to the amount of communication between the teacher and the student. Teachers who email their students daily or every other day make a huge impact. Quick response time to assignments, authentic feed back on assessments and getting to know the kid personally, are all factors that relate to student success.

If we worried about the skills students come to us with and starting weeding them out based soley on that we wouldn't have any students. Don't get me wrong, strong academic skills don't hurt, but this education medium gives previously marganilized, overlooked, and labeled students an equal voice with all of their peers. These kids can't hide in the back row and coast through the semester with the teacher not noticing because they don't cause any trouble. All students have to participate and communicate. This is the single greatest strength of online learning.

We believe that every kid can learn and we work with them from where they are at and get them to graduation (hopefully) instead of keeping the kids out until they are up to grade-level standards.

From my point of view, communication is the key to any course or virtual high school. The courses can be hyper designed, the orientation process can be thorough, but if a student isn't communicating with their teacher on a daily basis, the student won't find success.

6:32 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Kate,

I guess my question for you would be, how do webegin to institutionalize the things that you do at a school level (so not the things that online teacher does, but what you do with your students in the school) in our virtual high schools? Or at least in all of the schools that access virtual schooling?

MKB

9:39 AM  
Blogger Kate Logan said...

MKB,

In response...I guess the first thing that needs to be done as an institution is a belief that all kids can be successfull online learners (within reason). It is the job of the school/institution to be flexible enough to accomodate more than just AP kids.

The second thing is strong communication policies. We took our direction straight from FLVS. Their teachers are required to call all of their students AND their parents at the beginning of the course, return phone calls within 6 hours, respond to emails within 24, respond to assessments within 24, etc... This is part of the teacher's contract.

We have also considered giving teachers a "monetary bonus" for every student who completes the course they are teaching in addition to the set salary arrangement. We haven't implemented that yet, but I think we will before too long.

Through policy, school climate, student applications, teacher applications, mentoring, etc... everyone needs to believe that student achievement is paramount.

Just my 2 cents

4:55 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Kate,

Do you mind if I ask where you teach? I'd like to be able to match up your personal comments with my knowledge of the various virtual schools out there.

MKB

9:31 PM  
Blogger Kate Logan said...

MKB,

I am the tech director for Fort Washakie Charter High School and our online component is called WeAVE and stands for Wyoming e Academy of Virtual Education. We are located in Fort Washakie, WY on the Wind River Indian Reservation and our student population is mainly Native American HS students, but we are starting to pull students from all over the state.

www.fwsweave.com

6:57 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Thanks Kate... I'll check out your virtual school...

MKB

7:14 PM  

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