Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Online Learning Design



Before starting my Ed.S. courses through Montevallo, I had limited experience with virtual learning. My prior experience entails yearly required professional development teachers have to complete each year. Previously guest speakers would come to faculty meetings several times a year to present information on topics such as: harassment, special education laws, new information on illegal drugs, and signs and warnings for physical abuse. The meetings were informative but they took much needed time for school planning which normally occurred in faculty meetings.. As a result, administration decided to move the required inservices to an online platform, Moodle.
This experience was not ideal for my first online experience. The first hurdle encountered was technical difficulties. The teachers were sent a password for their accounts, but if they forgot the passwords, they could not reset them independently but rather had to email their tech coach for assistance which was time consuming. Also, the format, Moodle, was only a familiar platform for the high school teachers and did not have an intuitive interface for the elementary and middle school teachers.
The second hurdle was an issue of content. Moore and Kearsley (2012) outline general design principles for virtual learning including: “good structure, clear objectives, small units, planned participation, completeness, repetition, synthesis, stimulation and variety, open-ended, and feedback and evaluation” (p.121). The modules had very clear objectives and were divided into small chunk-sized pieces. The lessons had a good structure which included videos and presentations. The content, however, did not involve any open-ended activities or discussions which is a major factor in an online lesson.  Brinthaupt, Fisher, Gardner, Raffo, and Woodard (2011) state “in the online environment, lecture need not and should not be the primary teaching strategy because it leads to learner isolation and attrition” (p. 518). The module included all lecture with no interaction or assessment for understanding.
To remedy the issues with this online course, I recommend including prompts to encourage student engagement such as posting on a Google Classroom feed or a presentation synthesising the information. Moore and Kearsley (2012) recommend “one way course designers can achieve some degree of student participation is to present questions or problems that require a response; for example, at the end of the unit” (p. 115).
In contrast to this course, I have been very fortunate with the courses I have taken through the Ed.S. program. All of our courses have been well-developed and thought out not only as individual classes but as a program as a whole. A specific example of this would be the course I am in currently, ED 610, Management Distance Learning. Using the design principles listed above described by Moore and Kearsley (2012), the course fulfills all of these principles (pp. 120-121). The structure of the class is predictable based on previous classes, the modules are in concise chunks, and are balanced according to how much time is it is expected to accomplish the tasks. The objectives are listed at the beginning of each module and are listed for the entire class in the syllabus. The planned participation is what makes the course highly effective. Each module includes the creation of a blog post and members of the class are expected to reply on each other’s blogs. In addition to the comments, a discussion board was setup to reflect as a class.  Completeness is demonstrated by a wide-variety of materials including peer reviewed articles, descriptions, videos, and multimedia presentations. The modules include assignments which are open-ended and allow students to adapt to their own experiences and context. The assessments and feedback are directly tied to course objectives, are assessed by rubrics, and include individual comments for improvement or feedback. (Moore & Kearsley, 2012, pp. 120-121).  The Educause video below (2013) echoes the need for online courses to include explicit instruction and giving specific feedback which is another reason this course is superior in design.



References




Brinthaupt, T. M., Fisher, L. S., Gardner, J. G., Raffo, D. M., & Woodard, J. B. (2011, December). What the best online teachers should do. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(4), 515-524.


Educause. (2013, May 06). 8 Lessons Learned from Teaching Online. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp4BG4Me7TU


Moore, M. & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance education: A systems view of online learning.  Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.


Image retrieved from: http://forum.montevallo.edu/

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reflections on a Virtual School Policy

Hoover City Schools has had students participating in online ACCESS classes for many years, but it wasn’t until this past year that the district developed a clear Virtual School Policy. When the State passed ACT No. 2015-89 requiring each district to develop a Virtual School Policy, Hoover was ready with the foundations. In 2008, Hoover launched ELI (Engaged Learning Initiative). This put a device in the hands of every student from grades three through twelve. With the initiative, the way teachers were instructing their students was changing. Teachers at the high school level were implementing various Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle. With the shift to a more blended learning environment, teachers were modeling the district’s goal of “Learning for Life”. According to Moore and Kearsley (2012) it is important “at the institutional level strategic planning begins with defining a mission” (p. 175).  This mission statement was evident throughout the 1:1 initiative and demonstrated by students and teachers with their willingness to try new initiatives. With the creation of new technologies, teachers were willing to move towards systems which were more engaging to the students. With the creation of ACCESS students were now able to access many different courses virtually. When the district moved to Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom was created, more teachers started to move toward a blended environment with the new LMS. During this time, Canvas was created and was launched as the main LMS for the high school level. The teachers, previously using Moodle, enjoyed the easier to use interface.
In order to prepare for the implementation of ACT No. 2015-89 and 2016 SB 229, Hoover gathered the high school technology coaches, administration, and a few teacher representatives to create the district’s Virtual School Policy. The goal for the creation of the policy was to make it specific enough for parents and students to understand and yet, general enough so it would not limit the district to a specific platform which may change overtime. The main wording provided in the document came directly from the State Bill.
The next step was to get the Board to approve the Virtual School Policy which happened in the Fall of 2015. The technology department also decided to create a brand for the Virtual School in order to get the students excited about the new opportunity. An informational meeting was created to discuss the program with interested students and their parents. Information including the presentation from the informational meeting, the district’s Virtual School Policy, common questions and answers was posted on the Hoover Technology Page (www.hcseli.com).
While reflecting on my district’s, Hoover City Schools, Virtual School Policy I kept in mind the strategic planning process described in Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning  to gauge best practice in creating the policy (Moore & Kearsley, 2012, p. 175). Moore and Kearsley state the strategic process involves several factors including: defining a mission, choosing available resources of great quality, continuously assessing trends, tracking upcoming technologies, and reflecting on the budget (Moore & Kearsley, 2012, p. 175). I believe Hoover’s plan does all of these things. Hoover kept in mind the mission statement and goals for the district. They also chose resources the district was already implementing and were working efficiently for the teachers and students which also kept the budget in mind. Implementing the policy was a reaction to upcoming trends in technology to provide online learning options for students. I believe with the addition of monitoring feedback from all stakeholders in the future, Hoover will continuously be able to reflect and respond to needs.
Full implementation of the Virtual School will launch this fall 2016-2017. The next steps will be to monitor and assess the success of the program and to change anything that needs to be changed. More classes will be developed using Canvas in response to students’ feedback and needs. More quality teachers will be coached and recruited to instruct more online classes if the need arrises. In the future, I hope to see more professional development directed at teaching online courses. According to a recent study, “research is needed that indicates the characteristics of quality virtual school teachers” (DiPietro, Ferdig, Black, & Preston, 2008, p. 28). Hopefully in the future there will be more information on these qualities in order to inform the recruitment efforts of online teachers.
I believe the impact of this Bill will be minimal as this was the direction Hoover was going already. I believe the support of the State and the policies set forth will only pave the way for more innovation and implementation of virtual learning.

References
DiPietro, M., Ferdig, R. E., Black, E. W., & Preston, M. (2008, Spring). Best practices in teaching K-12 online: Lessons learned from Michigan Virtual School teachers. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 7(1), 1-26. Retrieved from http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/pdf/7.1.2.pdf

Moore, M. & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance education: A systems view of online learning.  Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

3...2...1...





While reading Moore and Kearsley’s Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning  (2012), many new concepts surprised and concerned me about virtual learning.
Three things that surprised me were:
  1. Virtual learning takes forethought and planning in order to be successful. As a learner, I have often experienced online courses but have not slowed down to think about the development needed to create a successful online learning community.  Moore and Kearsley (2012) recommend a systems approach and outlines the use of an “author-editor model” or a “course team model” (p. 101). In both of these models, “academics who are specialists in different aspects of a subject writes outlines of what should be taught in their particular specialities, and engages in negotiations regarding the allocation of the student’s time budget for study in the course” (Moore & Kearsley, 2012, p. 101). By having specialists examine the curriculum with certain instructors acting as editors, the curriculum can be robust, appropriate, and engaging for the learners. Many things need to be addressed in order to create an online course including: teacher pedagogy, good web design, creation of activities, and how to encourage interaction in a virtual environment. All of this must be carefully constructed and organized.
  2. Alabama has a robust virtual learning  program in high schools. Through this unit, I enjoyed watching video interviews with Hoover High School teachers as they discuss their involvement with Alabama’s Access online learning program. (Raulton, 2016).


The people in the video are colleagues, but I had no idea what was involved in developing an ACCESS course. I learned that regular high school teachers are employed to run the virtual classrooms. The courses are setup in advanced and could include students from high schools all over the state. I was surprised to know the enrollment for the online courses could be higher than a typical classroom.
For more information about ACCESS, visit the ACCESS Virtual Learning link.
  1. Good virtual teaching can be different from good classroom teaching. Good teaching is good teaching regardless if it is online or in the classroom, but there are subtle differences instructors must pay attention to in order to have a successful course. Online instructors must get to know their students and encourage communication among the students. “Student participation is a core requirement of most successful distance teaching.” (Moore & Kearsley, 2012, p. 101). By creating an environment which encourages communication, instructors can increase motivation, engagement, and participation.

 
Three things that concerned me about Virtual Learning are:
  1. Virtual Learning may not be for all students. Some students may not find success in online learning because of the lack of study skills or time management. Some students may not feel as connected to peers or instructors as a face-to-face environment might provide. Course development may not be robust enough to hold the student’s attention or be too demanding to the point of frustrating the student. Moore & Kearsley (2012) emphasize the importance of guidance, facilitators, or counseling services in order to help students be successful (pp. 167-169). However, some students may be more successful in an online environment compared to a traditional classroom. According to a research study written by Ya Ni (2012) “...participation may be less intimidating and the quality and quantity of interaction may be increased in online classes” (p. 212).
  2. Virtual Learning may not be for all instructors. Because of the level of  interaction and skill needed to create a successful online course, instructors should be carefully interviewed to make sure they have the skills necessary to encourage interaction and to assist students who might be having difficult with the online format.


 One question I still have about Virtual Learning is:

  1. Can virtual learning be successful at the elementary level?  Because of the time management skills needed to participate in an online class, do students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade have the maturity to handle the only online environment?






References

Moore, M. & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance education: A systems view of online learning.  Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.

Raulston, C. (2016, February 15). Virtual Learning- Part II. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M8knGzu298

Ya Ni, A. (2012). Comparing the effectiveness of classroom and online learning. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 19(2), 199-215. Retrieved from http://www.naspaa.org/jpaemessenger/Article/VOL19-2/03_Ni.pdf

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Choosing an LMS: One District's Journey

What is the best learning management system for my organization? This question was at the forefront of our conversations last year as a tech department. When Edmodo was introduced many years ago, our district was very excited to launch this Learning Management System (LMS) and most teachers picked it up quickly and were using it frequently. At the time, I was a fourth grade teacher and loved the basic, yet more complex features it provided. I loved being able to have a conversation with my students after hours, having a place that would allow me to send out digital assignments, and having an organization for our work. We had 1:1 devices (Nook tablets) at the time and while not very efficient, it did provide our students with wireless access throughout the day. Edmodo was the perfect compliment to where we were technologically. Much has changed since then.
Currently, I serve as a technology coach in three elementary schools. Last year, while we were deciding which LMS to recommend to teachers we considered many factors. First, we wanted an LMS which would serve a blended classroom (some instruction online and some instruction face-to-face) because of the age of our students. Moore and Kearsley (2012) define distance education is when “technology is the sole or principal means of communication” (p. 3). While our high school coaches were considering an LMS for distance education, the elementary coaches needed something different. We wanted something that would work well for our students’ ages but also to prepare them to participate in virtual education in high school as this is the trend at our two local high schools and nationally.  According to Moore and Kearsley (2012) “70 percent of public schools in 2008 had one or more students enrolled in a fully online course” (p. 55).
Joshua McGregor’s video below (McGregor, 2016) is a wonderful synopsis of the conversations we had as a tech team while trying to decide between Google Classroom or to stay with the more familiar platform, Edmodo.



When evaluating the LMS we would choose for grades 3-5 we also evaluated Google Classroom and Edmodo using the criteria in the image below which describes “a framework for transporting learning into the 21st Century” (Phillipo & Krongard, 2012, p.5)
  • Systems Components: Both Edmodo and Google Classroom were free to use and professional development would be provided through the tech coaches regardless of which LMS would be chosen. Edmodo did have to be maintained somewhat by the district with Google Classroom being managed by the individual teachers.
  • Learner Centered and Data Analysis- Both LMS platforms would allow the teachers to customize the standards and assessments. Edmodo had more in-depth assessment options but Google Classroom still met the needs of the teachers with basic grading functions and could be expanded upon by using Google Forms for assessments.
  • Digital Learning Dashboard-  Edmodo was fairly easy to use but some teachers had a hard time getting on board because of the robust nature of the LMS. With features like added Apps, the backpack for files, and the ability to join other global classrooms, Edmodo had a tendency to scare away reluctant tech users. In contrast, Google Classroom had limited features which made the software much easier to use. Some features were not available in Classroom which were available in Edmodo such as Parent Portal and the ability to create small groups in a classroom. This was a downside when teachers evaluated the LMS platforms. The ease of use of Google Classroom, however, was a major factor with the teachers. All teachers felt successful with the Google Classroom platform. Many teachers were also familiar with Google Apps for Education and adding Google Classroom to the suite of products was an easy transition.

After our evaluations and talking with teachers it was clear to see the best LMS for grades 3-5 would be Google Classroom. The teachers' familiarity with Google products, the ease of use with the platform, and the cost (free) made this an obvious choice. The students would be able to be successful with Google Classroom, and it would set the groundwork for more robust LMS in their learning journey. After a full year of implementation, it is clear to see our choice was successful. We see a larger percentage of classroom teachers using Google Classroom and many of our instructional support, air, music, and enrichment teachers have jumped on board after classroom teachers and students recommended the LMS.



References

McGregor, J. (2016, June 03). Choosing an LMS: Edmodo vs. Google Classroom. Retrieved June 08, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d29E7AcqaqY

Moore, M. & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance education: A systems view of online learning.  Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.

Phillipo, J., & Krongard, S. (2012, March). Learning management system (LMS): The missing link and great enabler. Center for Educational Leadership and Technology, 1-7. Retrieved June 8, 2016, from http://www.celtcorp.com/resources/1/celt_lms_article.pdf