Sunday, March 30, 2008

Conquering the Content by Robin M. Smith

I received this notification from Amazon last week. Conquering the Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Online Course Design by Robin M. Smith will release in April. It looks interesting. I'm anxious to see if it relates directly to our virtual school observations. I'm hoping to get the book before the end of the term.

Amazon's description states:
Product Description
Conquering the Content is a practical resource for faculty who tackle overwhelming amounts of course content that must be tailored for Web-based learning. This important guide offers step-by-step instructions for creating online learning experiences that are manageable, effective, and of the highest quality.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Essential Question - Bonus Post

This is a bonus post for the week. A thought keeps surfacing as I work on this project. I want to get this down before it becomes mired in the muck of my mind. I could be completely off base here. But, I hope that further exploration and observation will help me address these thoughts.

The virtual school is a model for other schools. This status allows the school to sell courses to other virtual schools around the world.

Assumptions (Further research needed for support):
  • Consistency and portability are essential for mass distribution.
  • Online courses could benefit from the use of certain Web 2.0 tools (e.g. blogs, wikis, Voice Thread, Footnote, etc.)
  • In order to sell a course, it must contain original material to meet copyright criteria. This is why content is created by internal instructional designers.
  • Using outside sources or web applications could constitute intellectual property or copyright infringement and/or make distribution more difficult.

Essential Question:
Does the reselling of virtual courses prohibit the use of certain web applications and restrict the creativity and potential effectiveness of the course?

Follow up to AP U.S. History Review Observation

I received answers to a few more of my questions about the virtual AP U.S. History study/review session (see post below). I was pleased to find out that the interactive Elluminate presentation was designed by the teacher. From my perspective, giving up design control is one of the down sides to virtual teaching. As I pointed out in earlier posts, instructional designers create the courses. While teachers occasionally provide input, their job is primarily to facilitate the content and grade assignments. I was thrilled to see that teachers could supplement the content with study sessions and additional activities to support the lessons. This is not required. But, the students who participated seemed to benefit from the experience.

There were only 4 students in the session I observed. The teacher explained that she had recently taken this class over from another teacher who left before the semester was over. Those students were not familiar with her study sessions, so fewer attended. She generally has 10-12 students participating at a time for her American Government class.

Next week, we are going to meet to walk through the course from a course management perspective. I've had the opportunity to review all of the lessons. But, I don't have access that allows me to see students. I'm hoping to get a better understanding of assignment submissions and grading as a result of our meeting.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Observation: Virtual School AP U.S. History - Study Session

Last evening, I observed a virtual study/review session for AP U.S. History. The topics were Ronald Reagan and The Clinton Years. Four students were in the session. I was impressed by the level of enthusiasm on the part of the students and the teacher. One student commented in the chat area, "I like these sessions. We should have them more often".

The teacher had an energetic virtual presence. Her voice was upbeat, and she clearly enjoyed the subject matter. Since the content included the mid-80's, the title page of the presentation showed a picture of the teacher's high school graduation. What a great way to relate to the students. They got a big kick out of the 80's style.

I was impressed that students had a number of opportunities to interact with the content. An interactive table was posted on the Eluminate whiteboard in which the students defined their personal history by filling in music, clothes, politics, events, and technology of their time. We all enjoyed comparing answers. Students also had an opportunity to use the whiteboard to vote on which 2 events (Watergate, Clinton Impeachment, or Iraq War) posed the most serious threat to progress during the modern era. A thoughtful discussion followed.

The session lasted about 35 minutes. Students were able to ask questions and make authentic connections to the content. Every student was engaged. I submitted some questions to the teacher after the session including:

  1. Is this session optional for the students? I'm assuming it is since there were only 4 participating.
  2. Did you design the Eluminate presentation or is it part of the prescribed curriculum?
  3. How often do you hold Eluminate sessions? The students seemed to really like the interaction.
I will post her answers when I receive them.

Another Resource:

Christopher Sessums, Director of Distance Education at the University of Florida recently posted "Notes on Workload Management Strategies for Online Educators". I found some useful resources for managing my own online courses.

I was particularly interested in Teaching courses online: How much time does it take?
It stated that online courses generally take between "3 1/2 and 7 hours per week" (Lazarus, 2003, pg. 53). However, I find that I'm spending slightly more than that. I'm still anxious to hear if that rings true for the k12 virtual school.

Lazarus, B. D. (2003). Teaching courses online: How much time does it take? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3): 47-54. Retrieved 24 March 2008 from

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Questions for a Virtual School Teacher

Tomorrow evening I will have my first online meeting with a virtual school class. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to explore an AP U.S. History and American Government course. As a result of this exploration, I had a number of questions for the teacher. Some of her answers follow. I did not publish answers that were confidential or offered from a more personal point of view.

  1. Do the courses ever incorporate emerging Web 2.0 activities like blogs, wikis, or Voice Threads for assignments, or are all activities available within the learning management system?

    This is one that is "in the works". We know that these things are essential for our students but we have not yet determined how to best use them. This has especially been a focus in the American Government course since collaboration between the students is required. We are trying to find ways to make the process easier for them.

  2. What is a web inquiry? Is this like a WebQuest? I couldn't see that activity because it was in the SAS section of the course?

    Yes, they are similar.

  3. How often do you use discussions in the course? I saw a reference to the College Board discussion. Do they provide guidelines or discussion topics for the AP courses?

    We only use the internal course discussion board minimally. I think it was designed to be used with greater frequency but students tend to want more immediate response from us or each other and will use email or IM. Also, yes, the college board site does provide a wealth of review information for the students.

  4. Is the lesson content based on a certain text, written by the course designers, or created by another service or company?

    The lesson content is written internally. All our courses are based on the state standards.

  5. What is the percentage of students who successfully pass the AP test?

    The school has a tremendous pass rate over all (through our AP courses).

I'm particularly interested in learning more about how Web 2.0 tools might be incorporated in future offerings. I imagine that some of the difficulty lies in the lack of control.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A hundred bucks to go to virtual school?

I would love some input on this one. South Dakota received a $2 million National Math and Science Initiative Grant to pilot a program in which students receive $100 upon passing AP math, science, and English courses. The course must be taken through the state's virtual school. Apparently, the teachers will also receive $100 , though it is not clear whether they receive $100 for each child who passes, a one-time $100 reward if anyone passes, or $100 reward if everyone passes. Hmmm. Without revealing my personal opinion about this, I wonder:

  1. Will this program motivate students to take an AP course who would otherwise not consider this path?
  2. Will it motivate students to take an online AP course if it is not offered at their home school?
  3. Will it motivate teachers to teach differently in the hopes of having more students pass the AP test?
  4. Is this the best way to spend a $2 million grant to enhance math, science, and literature education?
  5. Does this in some way diminish the credibility of AP courses and/or virtual schools?
  6. What does the research show regarding payment for passing grades?
  7. Is this incentive likely to increase attendance in AP courses, increase attendance at the state's virtual school, both, neither?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Should virtual school teachers have special certification?

While exploring Virtual High School Meanderings I found an article from The Journal discussing the need for K12 online teaching endorsements. K-12 Teaching Endorsements: Are They Needed suggests that "skill sets acquired for teaching in face to face settings are not adequate preparation for online teaching or online course development" (Deubel, 2008). Experience required for the endorsement might include online professional development (this ensures that the teachers have experience learning in an online environment); understanding of legalities around copyright, intellectual property, accessibility, and privacy; and working knowledge of learning management systems and Web 2.0 tools. Georgia is one of four states that already have online teaching endorsements. I wonder if other states are considering this requirement.

Patricia Deubel. K-12 Online Teaching Endorsements: Are They Needed? The Journal. January 2008 : Retrieved March 19, 2008, from

An Ed Tech Professor's Virtual School Blog

Michael Barbour is a native of Newfoundland, Canada who recently earned a Ph.D from the University of Georgia. He currently works at Wayne State. His blog, Virtual High School Meanderings, offers a number of valuable resources including a Virtual School Wiki and a Virtual Schooling Ning networking space. I'm hoping to explore these sites further to determine if there are resources that will provide background for the internship observations.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

European Virtual Schools

With all of the talk about virtual schools in the U.S., I started to wonder about virtual schools in other countries. The European Journal of Open, Distance, and E-Learning published an overview of Online and Virtual Schooling in Europe.

Some of the European examples from this article include:

Examples of current and recent projects include:

  • Netd@ys Europe: An initiative promoting the use of new media (multimedia, Internet, videoconference or new audio-visual facilities) in the area of education and culture culminating in a showcase of online and offline events. Recent developments have focused on the quality and educational content of associated ventures and promotion of partnerships between educational and cultural organisations
  • myEurope: A safe web-based project designed to raise children's awareness of European issues, via innovative class activities and school projects
  • Celebrate - a project based on what electronic content may look like in the future. The project includes the provision of an online database that will include learning objects for education
  • Xplora - a gateway for science education for teachers, students, scientists, and others, containing activities, resources, tools and community links
  • Spring Day in Europe - project in which schools learn about EU developments and incorporate them into the curriculum. It emphasises cooperation, communication, and the sharing of ideas between teachers and schools across Europe.
Russell, Glen, (2005) Online and virtual schooling in europe. European Journal of Open, Distance, and E-Learning. Retrieved March 16, 2008, from

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In the Headlines - See Newsreel in Sidebar

I added a newsreel in the sidebar to track virtual schools in the news.

Notable today:

Status of Wisconsin Virtual School's 3500 students - Wisconsin Radio Network.

Roanoke Considering Virtual School System - Roanoke Times

Side note - Google Alert for "Virtual School" turned up a classmate's virtual school blog along with mine. What do you know, it works!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Virtual School Kick Off

The kick off meeting for the Virtual School internship was last night. I had the opportunity to partner with an AP History teacher. She is conveniently located right across the Bay from me. As I listened to the presentation, a number of questions came to mind. I'm going to list them here in the hopes of reflecting on them later in the process.
  • Teacher/student ratio is between 100 and 200. The teachers take great pride in the personal connections they make with the students. There is an administrative process in place that is managed from the virtual school website. It appears to be very organized. I'm interested to see first hand how these contacts are managed.
  • Courses are developed and designed by curriculum specialists. The teachers have limited input on lessons and how they are presented. This is one of my favorite aspects of teaching. I wonder if teachers miss the creative process.
  • FVS is a leader among virtual schools. Curious about other virtual schools, I did some research and found that many states also have similar programs including Georgia, Texas, Minnesota, Louisiana, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oregon and the list goes on. I'm interested in learning a little bit about different virtual school philosophies.
  • I set up a Google Alert for "Virtual Schools" to keep track of current press and blog coverage.
  • I found Dr. Cavanaugh's Development and Management of Virtual Schools. I hope to use it as a resource.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Exploring a Virtual School

The blog will take a slightly different focus over the next 8 weeks. Instructional Computing II is one of the courses I'm taking in the Educational Technology graduate program at the University of Florida. As part of the course, I have a unique opportunity to intern with a virtual school. This school is part of the Public School System. It is currently serving nearly 100,000 full and part time students who are taking over 90 courses in grades 6-12. (View demographics.) During the internship, I will be observing an online AP History course. This is especially valuable because I will be teaching AP Human Geography for the first time next year. There will be an online component, so I'm especially interested in course design and management.

I will share my reflections and insights here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Does the Research Support the Plan?

In 2004, the United States Department of Education, in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, submitted seven major recommendations for a National Technology Plan. Suggested steps included strengthening technology leadership, developing innovative budget plans, providing professional development for teachers, increasing eLearning opportunities, expanding broadband access, relying more on digital content versus textbooks, and integrating district, state, and national data systems (US Department of Education, 2004). A review of the research on computers in education uncovers a debate that has been brewing for over 20 years. It also offers insight into the components of the plan by providing evidence that weighs in favor of technology use in the classroom while highlighting issues that slow its progress.
Computers and Instruction
Nearly 100% of public schools have Internet access (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005), Yet, traditional instructional strategies persist. Only computer and business teachers report using computers in the classroom more than 50% of the time (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003). This is not surprising considering that the concept of school is deeply ingrained over a lifetime of attending school and teaching the way one has always been taught. Larry Cuban is famous for his position that the benefit of computer use does not outweigh the cost. He further argues, “kids don’t need years of computing exposure to succeed. People with no computer background generally catch on in a few weeks – a few months tops” (Cuban, 2001, p. 1). However, he also concedes that the “actual impact is limited by virtue of the fact that teachers tend not to incorporate computers in their instruction” (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 3). Whether teachers are using computers effectively versus the potential value of computers in the classroom are very different arguments. Cuban’s concerns are well founded if the measure is the actual use of computers. Personal experience supports the notion that numerous computers sit untouched during an average school day. When one considers the expense of such equipment sitting idle, it makes sense to question the investment.

On the other hand, the nature of computers provides a virtual playground for constructive learning. If teachers start to view the computer as a constructivist learning tool through which students can explore, experiment, create, and gain access to current content, the potential becomes much more valuable. Once we move beyond drill and practice, the evidence begins to weigh in favor of educational technologies. More research is needed, but Gavriel Salomon highlights current research that may support computer use (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003). If learning is viewed as a constructivist process where problem solving provides a means for synthesizing knowledge, then the computer becomes a doorway to that learning experience. Social networking and online collaboration may serve as tools that facilitate learning as an interpersonal process. Finally, learning “should take place within rich and complex real world contexts” (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 5). Salomon points out that the educational potential of technology “depends largely on whether we view the use of the computer as an end in itself, or we see it as part of a larger educational vision” (Salomon as quoted by Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 5). If seen as a tool to support and execute the latest research outcomes, technology becomes extremely powerful. Further more, the combination of open source and countless user-friendly web applications provide even more opportunities for using the computer as a learning tool. When viewed from this angle, research in support of educational technology far outweighs the counter arguments.
The National Education Technology Plan
If we assume that there is great learning potential in the use of technology, then we must revisit the other side of the issue. Teachers aren’t making the most of the computer’s potential. “The barriers to teacher use of computers most frequently mentioned in an NCES survey were lack of release time for teachers to learn how to use computers, not enough computers, and lack of time in schedules for students to use computers” (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 6). Two components of the National Education Technology Plan address this challenge. The plan suggests that strengthening leadership through an investment in “leadership development programs to develop a new generation of tech-savvy leaders at every level” (National Education Technology Plan, 2005). There is also a full section on improving teacher training. In this regard, the writers of the plan recognize this as a key element in increasing the use of technology.

The plan further confirms that there must be an infrastructure in place to support all of this technology. It calls for increased broadband access and compatible data systems. To some extent it recognizes the need for funding, however the phrase “innovative budgeting” leaves a lot to the imagination. Suggesting that districts consider “reallocations in expenditures on textbooks” (National Educational Technology Plan, 2005, p. 40) offers an option for locating funds.. It is further supported by the recommendation to move toward digital content.

Finally, the report calls for expanding eLearning and virtual schools. It highlights the importance of both student and teacher access, as well as proper accreditation and teacher training.

The plan makes sense. However, it could go even further by stating the importance of technology as a global communication tool and specifying that as an outcome of both student and teacher training. Culture and attitudes are other components that must be addressed in order for change to occur. Yet even in the absence of these recommendations, the plan provides a foundation for further discussion moving forward.

Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920. Teachers College Press.

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and Underused: Computers in Classrooms, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved March 7, 2008 from

National Educational Technology Plan (2005). Retrieved March 7, 2008 from

No Child Left Behind Act (2001). Retrieved March 7, 2008 from

Peerless, S., Feldman, E., & German C. (Spring, 2003) Digest of Literature on the Impact of the Computer in Instruction, Jewish Educational Leadership (1:1). Retrieved March 5, 2008 from

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Hiking Metaphor

My posts are always inconsistent. I've been so busy this semester that I haven't had time to put together coherent thoughts much longer than my 140-character Twitter posts. But, I was recently inspired by a grad student who marveled at the transition from teachers telling students what they need to know to students taking more of the responsibility and rewards of their learning. The following is my response. It's posted here so I don't forget the vision. We're all on this trail together. Some of us are just up ahead paving the way for the others.

I have really changed my view of teaching and learning through this educational technology journey. I see all of us, teachers and students, as co-learners navigating a complex terrain with lots of side trails and potential dead ends. The only difference between us and the children is that we are the guides. We've seen parts of this trail before. We have enough experience to recognize some of the dead ends, even though we haven't been to that exact spot on past hikes. If we get lost, it's ok to tell our group and ask for ideas that will help all of us find our way back on the "right" track. For this trip, every hiker is important. Every hiker must contribute, and every hiker is responsible for getting us to our destination. Once we get there, we all celebrate our collective success!