Author Archives: jlneyme

Weekly Writing 6: Course objective for an Ecology Unit

The readings assigned this week made me reflect on how I use taxonomies and the UbD Facets of Understanding (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). I felt that they were all useful tools in designing student learning, but had different roles in lesson planning. I primarily use taxonomies to define objectives, while I use the Facets of Understanding to design assessments.  These two topics, assessment and objectives must be designed in concert with each other and I think that Fink’s (2005) taxonomies give a good framework for connecting the two. I think taxonomies are also important for designing learning objectives because they give us a framework in which to recognize rigor in the content. In Utah, science curriculum standards are primarily content based rather than skills based. As such, much of the content is designed at the lower taxonomic levels. The USOE (Utah State Office of Education) has added a list of “Intended Learning Outcomes’ or ILO’s that address specific skills that should also be taught, most of which require learning to take place in the upper taxonomic levels. Taxonomies allow me to integrate the ILO’s in with the desired content to create learning activities that require higher levels of critical thinking. I think the use of taxonomies is more to identify level of understanding, so that there is consistency between different instructors and also to provide opportunities for greater depth of knowledge on certain topics. I use Bloom’s taxonomies when creating all my objectives and I feel that by including objectives at several levels I can better scaffold the lesson.

I think the Ub.D. Facets of Understanding are most useful for creating formative and summative assessments (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). Though I rarely use “empathy’ in science, I find that using the other facets help prioritize what students that have achieved mastery should ultimately be able to know, understand or do. For example, in the lesson plan I am creating for this class, students will need to be able to design, conduct and evaluate an experiment. They will need to be able to explain the concepts that led them to their hypothesis and design, interpret the data they collect and apply their understanding of biogeochemical cycles, energetics, and population dynamics to make inferences about the results they find in their experiments.

I felt that Fink’s (2013) approach to taxonomies was more holistic than Bloom’s or as he states “it is not hierarchical but rather relational and even interactive.’ According to Fink’s taxonomy I would say that my lesson plan centers on the taxonomic level of “Integration.’ The subject of Ecology is primarily about understanding relationships or “the connections between different things.’ Students will also spend much of their time in this project “Learning how to learn’ by engaging in scientific inquiry and learning to be a “self-directed’ learner (Fink’s 2013) .

My online lesson plan will be titled “Exploring Ecosystem Interactions’ and will focus on the Utah State Office of Education Core for Biology (USOE 2013):

STANDARD I:  Students will understand that living organisms interact with one another and their environment. Objective 3:  Describe how interactions among organisms and their environment help shape ecosystems.

I chose this unit in ecology, because I think it requires some level of lab work and I am particularly interested in producing meaningful lab experiences for the online environment. My three objectives are also based on the USOE Biology Core and I have included the level of Bloom’s taxonomy that I believe each objective would fall under (Krathwohl, 2002).

  1. Students will be able to formulate and test a hypothesis on the effect of changing one variable upon another in a small ecosystem. (create or synthesis)
  2. Students will be able to investigate an ecosystem using methods of science to gather quantitative and qualitative data that describe the ecosystem in detail. (analyze or analysis)
  3. Students will be able to interpret interactions among biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem. (evaluate)

Student mastery of these objectives will be assessed based on the successful design and analysis of an experimental ecosystem and the summary of what is learned in the production of a well written lab report.

Works Cited

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Krathwohl, D. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy:An Overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 212.

USOE. (2013). Utah State Office of Education: Concurrent Enrollment. Retrieved from https://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/earlycollege/Concurrent-Enrollment.aspx

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Ecology Unit Obj.

Situational Factors Impacting a High School Biology Course-ww5

I will be developing my project-based lesson plan for the high school, Sophomore Biology class that I currently teach. There are two sections, of approximately ten students each,ages 15-16. Classes are part of a 90 minute block schedule that meets M-W-F on one week and T-H the following week. Classes are delivered primarily through live classroom instruction, but some material will be accessed outside of class through online means. I would not consider this a truly blended classroom as most direct instruction will occur in the classroom. I am very comfortable with the material being presented in my course and the process in which it is being taught. I have taught Sophomore Biology in the same high school for 10 years. Prior to teaching I worked in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology and have a MSc. in Aquatic Ecology. I plan to continue to teach this course into the future as it is a part of the state core curriculum This is a public alternative high school where all students are considered “at-risk.’ Student’s are considered “at-risk’ because of a broad range of issues including behavioral, emotional, academic and motivational reasons. Classes are ethnically diverse, predominantly male and include about 25% English Language Learners (ELL). Most ELL students are considered “fluent’ while several still receive extra services, such as access to a content link class. Many of the students work part-time or have substantial roles as caregivers to younger siblings. Students are identified and enrolled in the alternative high school, based on lack of success in junior high, which is usually indicated by an excessive number of classes failed during that time. Students come to my class with a general understanding of ecology and the physical sciences. However, most students did not receive passing scores on most or all of the state mandated criterion referenced tests?past science scores. My students are transitioning between early adolescence to late adolescence and their levels of maturity and capacity for abstract thought are varied but growing. Most of the students I teach have been identified as visual or kinesthetic learners.

The expectations of society for a secondary science class include foundational knowledge of basic biological principles, understanding of the nature of science and scientific inquiry and  development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. More specifically, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) has laid down specific core content standards and intended learning outcomes that are expected of all students at this level. The Utah Biology Core Curriculum has two primary goals:  “(1) students will value and use science as a process of obtaining knowledge based on observable evidence, and (2) students’ curiosity will be sustained as they develop and refine the abilities associated with scientific inquiry’(USOE 2013).  More specifically, the state of Utah expects students to use the following list of scientific processes and thinking skills:

  •     Manifest science interests and attitudes.
  •     Understand important science concepts and principles.
  •     Communicate effectively using science language and reasoning.
  •     Demonstrate awareness of the social and historical aspects of science.
  •     Understand the nature of science

Specific benchmarks and standards are outlined by the Utah State Core and objectives are recommended within those standards.  For example the Benchmark for the Ecology unit is:

Ecosystems are shaped by interactions among living organisms and their physical environment.  Ecosystems change constantly, either staying in a state of dynamic balance or shifting to a new state of balance. Matter cycles in ecosystems, and energy flows from outside sources through the system.  Humans are part of ecosystems and can deliberately or inadvertently alter an ecosystem.

One of the standards under this benchmark is “Students will understand that living organisms interact with one another and their environment.’ The USOE has also developed objectives and recommends specific indicators that can be used to assess student understanding.

For the most part, Biology is considered convergent by nature, though there are areas that can be extended to include divergent topics, particularly when asking students to recommend policy based on science. The subject is both cognitive and skill based. There are skills of measurement, data collection and analysis requirements. The primary topics that I will address have remained stable.

I believe that the situational characteristics that will make the lesson most challenging is the general lack of understanding for the scientific process, gaps in content background knowledge and a lack of motivation from the students.  Most of my students have been unsuccessful in science in the past and there is a general lack of confidence that needs to be addressed. My challenge will be to help students adequately build the necessary background knowledge and develop their understanding of scientific inquiry so that they can confidently propose hypotheses, design, implement and analyze data in an experiment.  I think that once they have the confidence, motivation will follow.

Works Cited

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Utah State Office of Education. (2013). Biology Core Standards. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from https://schools.utah.gov/arc/curr/CORE/CoreBinder2013/index.html

Effective Online Models of Discussion-AR4

I was interested in Dixon’s (2014) article The Three E’s of Online Discussion, because of what we  discussed in our latest synchronous meeting. Over the years, I have been a part of many online classes that used both synchronous and asynchronous discussion with varying degrees of success. Being a somewhat introverted person, I often feel more comfortable with asynchronous sessions, because they allow me the freedom from time constraints and ability to think through a comment before posting it. I have also used both online synchronous and asynchronous discussions in my own classroom and was unsatisfied by the outcomes. In reading this article I was hoping to find an effective model for online discussion that would be applicable to my own secondary level classroom.

The author’s purpose was to produce a model of classroom discussion that addresses both fully online and blended classrooms that is “friendly and workable’ for practicing teachers and instructors of grades 7-12 and early college courses. The “Three E’s of Online Discussion’ are defined as “Experience, Engagement and Evaluation’(Dixon 2014). The initial step of “Experience’ is to create an online community. The author gives specific suggestions for building online communities that include giving students the opportunity to ask each other questions, converse, and by having regular contact under clearly defined expectations of “netiquette’. Dixon (2014) proposes that students be given a “trial-run’ period of discussion, before they are graded. He also suggests that this stage be used as a pre-assessment of student knowledge to later guide scaffolding of the course material.

The next phase of the model is the “Engagement’ phase and is defined as the “introduction of new material in a form that allows students to absorb it, examine it, and answer questions about it’(Dixon 2014). This is similar to what must happen in classroom discussion, but in online discussion, once a statement is made, it can be read again, leaving a digital footprint. It is critical that students have an understanding of the consequences of making statements that  will remain visible and connected to them long after the course has ended. The educator’s role in producing engaged discussion should involve giving students practice asking each other “open-ended questions, asking questions that focus on higher levels of cognition, and asking probing questions using the Socratic method’ (Dixon 2014). These questions should give students the chance to develop critical thinking skills by analyzing and synthesizing new information and by presenting it to each other to support their views (Dixon 2014). At the culmination of a successful discussion the educator should be able to step back and allow discussion to continue with only occasional prompts.

Finally, the Evaluation phase is used to measure the students’ clarity and comfort with the process of online discussion. According to Dixon (2014), effective evaluation requires clear expectations, in the syllabus, including types of discussion required for each section, the minimum number of posts required per week/month, the percentage of the grade reflecting participation in discussion and a rubric to guide grading.

This article should be considered an early attempt at producing a useful model, where little information is available to draw from. The author looked at two existing models created for traditional classroom discussion and one model from online discussion and tried to synthesize them into one generalized model for online and blended applications. This article gave helpful hints and ideas on creating course discussions, but in an attempt to keep the model general enough to make it useful to a broad audience, it lost much of its strength. An obvious area of improvement would be a test of the model.

Overall, this model offers a practical and flexible set of guidelines to aid in the design of online discussions. While much of the model might be considered traditional teaching practice, I feel that it is especially important to explore the “Experience’ step in the model. In an online environmentstudents given adequate time and practice opportunities to build confidence and familiarity with their online community? This is an area where I believe most courses fall short. I think it is notable that this section of the model gives us information on background knowledge and can greatly improve the effectiveness of our scaffolding practices during the “Engagement’ phase. The use of a generalized model in creating discussions can also give students a sense of familiarity that might shorten the needed period for “Experience’, when the model is used throughout a course or applied across content areas and grades.

This article inspired me to try online discussion again with my own students. I feel that by allotting more time and practice for my students to build an online community I would improve the outcomes in my own classroom. I think that more research into improving classrooms is needed at both the secondary level and higher education.

Works Cited

Dixon, C. S. (2014). The Three E’s of Online Discussion. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 15(1), 1—8.

 

Successful Hands-on Labs for Online Classes

I chose the article by Reuter (2009) Online Versus in the Classroom: Student Success in a Hands-On Lab Class because of Owen’s question “Can substantial lab-based learning experiences be designed for online courses?’ As a high school Biology teacher, I have asked myself the same question. It is hard for me to envision the type of online lab that can produce the same results as a hands-on field based lab, such as a traditional water quality biomonitoring project. Is it possible to have students conduct meaningful lab activities on their own? Is there something lost when students are asked to independently perform lab activities? Reuter’s article has caused me to rethink my previous assumptions, and indicates that it is indeed possible to create labs for online courses that give students the same, if not better, understanding of the material than their on-campus counterparts. The cost savings and flexibility that online labs could provide for students and educational institutions would be very appealing.  Rueter asks if it is possible, particularly for general education science classes that target non-majors, to offer a “hands-on, lab-based course that provides the tactile experiences that enhance student understanding of scientific concepts?’

Reuter’s study was conducted using a course titled “Soils: Sustainable Ecosystems’ for an undergraduate class at Oregon State University. This was an entry level course that satisfied either the physical or biological science general education requirement. The study used 97 students and took place over two terms, across two years 2007-2008. Students were able to select the course format that they wished to participate in. Lab activities for online students required them to purchase a lab kit consisting of a “garden-style semiquantitative soil test kit’  along with common household materials. Hands-on labs primarily covered basic soil typing such as soil collection, coloring, texturing, bulk density, pH and nutrients, soil survey, and soil profile description (Reuter 2009). Detailed lab methods were given to students and accompanied by photographs and digital video. Students were required to complete each lab independently and photo-document their work. Assessments were the same for both groups, though course information was given in synchronous lecture format for students in the face-to-face classroom and online students were given readings to provide information. Reuters (2009) found “no difference in overall grade or lab assignment grades between course formats.’ However, he did find significant differences between pre and post assessments that tested knowledge and skills from the lecture and lab content of the course. Online students outperformed on-campus students in both cases and showed a “42% grade improvement from pre- to post- assessment; on-campus students had a 21% improvement’ (Reuter 2009).

I was surprised at the level of improvement found in the online classes. It is clear from this study that learning from independent, asynchronous labs is possible and can produce results that are at a minimum comparable to those found in synchronous on-campus lab activities. I have always thought that the collateral learning produced from a group lab activity would produce deeper meaning, however, Rueter’s results suggest that this is not necessarily true. Perhaps as Reuter (2009) suggests group work may allow work completion, but not necessarily retention of the knowledge needed to solve the problem independently when tested at a later time. I think that most educators would agree that retention is more important than mere completion.

Overall, I thought the study was well conducted, but could use further research and clarification in a few areas. One possible flaw to the research was a difference in age between the online and on-campus populations, (average age for the online class was 34 and 25 for the on-campus class). The author tested this possibility and found a weak correlation between overall grade results and the age of the student (R2 = 0.07)(Reuter 2009). This suggests that online students may have had greater background knowledge or experience in the area of soil science.The author also noted a difference in gender ratio (a higher female population in the online course) between the two groups, though he did not study this possible effect. Most interesting to me, was the idea that differences between the class settings might be a result of individual differences in the types of students drawn to online courses versus those that prefer to take on-campus classes. Reuter (2009) suggests that students that are successful in online classes need a greater level of maturity, time management, and ability to self-motivate and that these factors are greater measures of success than delivery mode. All three of these flaws could have been controlled by randomly assigning students to delivery method instead of allowing them to choose. While this study was not conclusive it opened up several questions for future research. Would students at the secondary level find the same success in online hands-on labs? Would strictly online labs give similar results?

Reuter, R. (2009). Online Versus in the Classroom: Student Success in a Hands-On Lab Class. American Journal of Distance Education, 23(3), 151—162. doi:10.1080/08923640903080620

21st Century skills-ww4

This week’s activity had us compare present day education to the way we were taught and then make predictions about how learning will need to change in the 21st century. This assignment made me reevaluate my own education and the way in which I teach my students. I found that many of the so-called new approaches to teaching were really examples of older theories delivered using modern devices. That being said, I feel that these technologies can help us develop new and innovative ways of approaching education.

My early education was primarily the result of a behaviorist approach, with an emphasis on knowledge as the memorization of facts. Looking back, much of the learning activities would have ranked low in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The thinking at the time was that most students would remain in one career throughout their life. As I moved into secondary and postsecondary education, not unexpectedly, the focus became more cognitivist and constructivist and activities moved up to Bloom’s higher levels. My undergraduate degree was earned at the early stages of the computer revolution, where access to information and technology was miniscule compared to today (paper journals, presentations with actual slides and gps coordinates that needed to be rectified). Did the lack of technological resources result in less rigorous coursework or skills that are not applicable to today’s world? I would say no, while the tools themselves became outdated, the skills transcended new technologies that have come and gone.  I believe that the theories and models of the past still have relevance in modern education, though perhaps certain skills need a greater emphasis than they have in the past.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2013) states that to “navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age’ students need to develop “flexibility and adaptability’. I would suggest that these characteristics as examples of career and life skills have been critical at all times in human development and are not exclusive to today’s environment. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2013) lists the “3R’s’ and the 4 C’s (Creativity and Innovation, Critical thinking, Communication and Collaboration) as  “the skills, knowledge and expertise students should master to succeed in work and life in the 21st century.’ But are these skills any different than those that would have been necessary at other times in history? Is it the rate of change rather than change itself, that we need to better prepare students to adapt to and how does one teach adaptability and flexibility?

While past theories are still relevant, I do feel there are certain areas where we can focus greater attention and improve upon learning so it is more relevant to our changing environment.  I would agree with Brown’s (2006) suggestion that we must focus on the students “capacity for independent learning, since they are likely to have multiple careers and will need to continually learn new skills they were not taught in college’. There are nearly endless opportunities for continuous education today. The ability to quickly navigate to videos, forums and even formal online courses makes it much easier to learn new skills and keep skills current. Brown (2006) suggests that education must take a new approach where  “the focus in education moves from building up stocks of knowledge (learning-about) to enabling students to participate in flows of action, where the focus is on learning through en-culturation and on collateral learning. I would also agree that en-culturation and collateral learning can raise the knowledge of both the individual and the group, creating collective growth. While this is an important characteristic of future learning, I would suggest that en-culturation and collateral learning have been part of our educational system in the past. I believe that higher education has allowed for much of this type of learning, but perhaps we have been cautious in applying the same methods in the K-12 arena. Brown (2006) describes expert gamers as having the following characteristics: “being extremely good at pattern recognition, sense-making in confusing environments, and multi-tasking’. All characteristics we might consider indicators of success in most careers.  He also stresses the importance of learning how to effectively communicate in today’s world of shortened attention spans by “using image, text, sound, movement, sequence, and interactivity?’ I would argue that while good pattern recognition and communication have always been important, the tools used to do so have evolved.

I am not sure that our response in education has been able to keep up with this changing environment. Mazur’s (2012) classroom is a good example of how to use peer interaction to create whole classroom engagement and promote collaboration. This type of peer instruction is fairly common place at the secondary level, but in an age where self-instruction is becoming more of the norm, is it still valuable? The Khan Academy also blends traditional learning theory and practices with modern technology. I think that the Khan Academy provides a valuable resource for continuous education, but I don’t think that the methods employed are new or revolutionary. They have added learning badges recently as a game based motivational strategy, but I think that it does not emphasize the 4 C’s of interactivity that one might expect in a 21st century learning platform. These are both steps towards changing the learning landscape, but they do not seem to move out of the realm of what is already common place.

Works Cited

Brown, J. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change, 38(5), 19—24.

Khan, S. (2014). Khan Academy. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from https://www.khanacademy.org

Mazur, E. (2012). Eric Mazur shows interactive teaching. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wont2v_LZ1E&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2013). Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved from https://www.p21.org

 

Impact of Online Learning on Performance Gaps-AR2

I reviewed the article by DiXu and Jagers (2014) titled “Performance Gaps Between Online and Face-to-Face Courses: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas.’ I was interested in this article after reading the USDOE (2010) meta-analysis of online learning, which presented the idea that differences in content could have significant results in learner outcomes in an online environment. This article looks specifically at the interaction between differences in content and also addresses the differences between learner types and their success in this environment. As an educator working in a district with a pronounced achievement gap between the majority and minority population, I was particularly interested in finding out if online education can help reduce this gap or if it might in fact be increasing the gap.

Di Xu & Jaggars (2014) conducted a large scale (500,000 courses taken by over 40,000 students) analysis of content and learner type comparisons from community and technical colleges in Washington State. Students were tracked from the fall of 2004 to Spring of 2009 for course persistence and grade performance. The authors chose course persistence and grade as fundamental measures of success for community college students reasoning that students who “withdraw from a course mid-semester run the very real risk of never returning to successfully complete the course, thereby prohibiting progression to the next course in the sequence’(Di Xu & Jaggars 2014).  Results from this study, showed an “online performance gap’ across the board, indicating that all types of students performed more poorly in online courses than they did in face-to-face courses, implying that online instruction is more difficult for the average student. This gap was especially pronounced for “males, younger students, Black students, and students with a lower prior gpa’ (Di Xu & Jaggars 2014). Even more worrisome was the finding that in courses where student subgroups differed in terms of their face-to-face course outcomes, those same differences tended to be exacerbated in online courses.  The study also found noticeable gaps between subject areas taught. Online courses in the following subject areas demonstrated significant online performance gaps: the social sciences (e.g. anthropology, philosophy, and psychology) and the applied professions (business, law, and nursing). The authors proposed that these subject areas may require a high degree of hands-on demonstration and practice or intensive student—instructor interactions and student—student discussions, which may be more difficult to effectively implement in the online context (Di Xu & Jaggars 2014).  I wonder if some of these gaps would have narrowed if a blended approach would have been utilized.

I was very impressed by the way the authors conducted their analysis. I did not see many flaws to the design of this study, other than it could be expanded to other states, types or educational institutions and perhaps younger age groups.  With the multitude of possible confounding factors that could be influencing a dataset such as this one, the authors made a concerted effort to control for many of those factors. The authors controlled for differences amongst courses within a particular subject and variation in instructional quality and support. They also built in robustness checks to  address effects that might be a result of whether the student had previously taken an online course, if they were employed while they were taking the course and how many hours they may have been working while taking the course. This was especially important given that many of the students in this study were considered “non-traditional’ students (e.g. over 25 and balancing work, family and their education).

This study has some serious implications for the way we use online education in the future. In my own case, as an educator working in a district that is actively trying to address a pronounced achievement gap between the largely caucasian majority and its minority Latino student population, I am concerned what the results of this study indicate. If the pattern observed applies to K-12 students, it implies as the author suggests “that the continued expansion of online learning could strengthen, rather than ameliorate, educational inequity’. Working in a district with a one-to-one initiative, can we point to this new use of technology as a means to widening the gap or closing it. I would like to think that there are steps we can take to better these programs, rather than assuming they will broaden the gap. The authors suggest we take at least three approaches to improving online performance: screening, early warning, and scaffolding. For screening, schools could limit or eliminate the supply of online sections for course subjects where students do poorly. Scaffolding could also be increased, by incorporating the teaching of self-directed learning skills into courses. This idea has the greatest potential, within secondary schools and I would propose that it become part of the curriculum at this level, so that students would find more success at the college level. As the authors point out “these skills may not only help close the online performance gap, but may also improve students’ overall performance and long-term persistence in college’(Di Xu & Jaggars 2014).

Works Cited

Di Xu, & Jaggars, S. S. (2014). Performance Gaps Between Online and Face-to-Face Courses: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas. Journal of Higher Education, 85(5), 633—659.

 

Implications for K-12 Online and Blended Classroom Environments-ww3

The USDOE (2010) meta analysis was well conducted, as a means of comparing online to blended learning conditions for undergraduate and graduate students. I felt that the authors were rigorous in selecting studies that included control groups, though this limited the analysis to a relatively low number of studies (n=45) for a meta-analysis.  As the authors suggest, the meta analysis is less effective for K-12 students, because of the lack of useable studies for this age group. In light of the lack of evidence, we might look at the findings of this study more as possible suggestions rather than conclusive findings. With that being said, there are certainly some valuable suggestions to be found in the report, that I will implement when designing my own courses. The article itself, is a good reminder that we need more research into this topic and that research should be well designed and rigorous if it is to be used for making policy decisions.

I was surprised by many of the findings in this paper, and wonder if these findings would be different for K-12 populations. One of these findings was that “Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction’(USDOE 2010). I expected that there may be no difference found between traditional and online classrooms, but not better performance in an online situation. This finding appears contrary to other research that suggest it is the instructional design, not the mode of instruction that increases learning (Bonk and Reynolds 1997). The paper was unclear on why this difference may have been found.  The authors researched specific activities that may enhance online learning environments, but the content and presentation varies between experiments which probably influenced the results. I was also surprised that “the addition of images, graphics, audio, video or some combination’ did not affect learning outcomes in a significant way. The presentation of material using different modes is often suggested to improve processing of information (Ally 2008).

While the effectiveness of the practices studied in this report were inconclusive, I think that this report made several important suggestions for best practices that I would try to incorporate in my own classroom. Overall, it appears that the activities that produced positive results increased student control, interactivity or metacognition. These include increased learner control in media, incorporation of metacognitive activities, individualizing instruction and the inclusion of elaborated questioning.These findings seem to support constructivist theory that the learner should be active rather than passive in the learning process. According to the report, passive media such as videos and static graphics had no significant impact on learning, while learner controlled media did have a positive effect on learning. It is perhaps the interactivity, rather than the media that produced positive results. Though the report found only two studies of the effects of individualizing instruction both found a positive effect (USDOE 2010).  Adaptive instruction caters to each student’s needs and encourages greater activity. Not unexpectedly, the results of three studies exploring the effects of including different types of online simulations were also modestly positive. Once again supporting constructivist theory and the role of the active learner. One of the best supported finding in this report found that metacognitive “tools or features prompting students to reflect on their learning’ were effective in improving outcomes and suggests that promoting “self-reflection, self-regulation and self-monitoring leads to more positive online learning outcomes’ (USDOE 2010). Equally as interesting, is the finding that graphic organizers and concept maps, as well as embedded quizzes did not have any positive effects on learning. These techniques are often suggested as ways to improve metacognition  in online courses. Many of the online courses I have taken rely heavily on these activities, and I have also used them in my own classes. The findings of this report have caused me to rethink my use of these tools.

The conclusion I reached from reading this article, was that more studies need to be conducted, particularly from the K-12 environment. There is a large push in secondary education to produce online and blended learning environments and while this may offer students an academic advantage, there’s virtually no research to suggest so. With the amount of attention that is being placed on online and blended learning, I am surprised at how little statistically significant evidence there is to recommend it.

Works Cited

Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., pp. 15—44). Athabasca, AB Canada: Athabasca University.

Bonk, C. J., & Reynolds, T. H. (1997). Learner-centered web instruction for higher-order thinking, teamwork, and apprenticeship. In B.H. Khan’s (Ed.), Web-based instruction (pp. 167—178). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.(USDOE) (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Washington, D.C.

 

The online classroom:unique benefits, unique challenges

While I believe that quality online instruction starts with the same fundamental principles of effective classroom instruction, I agree with Ally (2008) that the online learning environment does hold some distinct needs that are not found in a traditional classroom. Many of Ally’s “implications for online learning’ can be considered examples of quality instruction and can be universally applied to traditional, blended or online learning environments. My belief that the online environment has its own set of distinct needs is based on my recent experiences in my own classroom.  I teach secondary science to 10-12th graders, in a district with a newly adopted one-to-one initiative, in what might be considered a blended environment. While my class is not a true online class, much of the class can be conducted asynchronously. I have taught in the blended environment for three years now and have seven years of teaching in the same subjects in the traditional environment to compare with. By addressing the distinct needs of online learning and providing students with the opportunity to work within this environment we are teaching them the skills they will need to grow and adapt in the modern work and educational landscape. According to Siemens (2005) “As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.’ Access to and comfort with finding and building upon others’ knowledge using the online environment is a key skill that students need to acquire.

Like Ally, I feel that the online environment offers some distinct benefits to rival traditional classrooms. I would suggest that the online environment has the potential to provide superior differentiation for individual learners, when compared with a traditional classroom. As Ally (2008) suggests, in “a traditional lecture, instructors contextualize and personalize the information to meet their own needs, which may not be appropriate for all learners. In online instruction, learners experience the information first-hand, which gives them the opportunity to contextualize and personalize the information themselves’. Online assessments can also be adaptive, testing students at their individual level and making sure each student is challenged. These assessments can cater to “individual differences by determining a learner’s preference and providing appropriate learning activities based on that learner’s style’(Ally 2008). Online courses can also allow students greater choice in assignments, deepening understanding by giving students the opportunity to select and apply concepts to areas of interest to themselves. The online environment can provide information in multiple modalities at once so that it is processed better. An example from science might be that a student could be viewing a diagram of an atom, while listening to a podcast that describes ionic bonds or even listening to an audio reader while reading a passage about the structure of an atom. Students can also determine the sequence of learning, timing and venue for learning. I feel that the ease of differentiation that an online environment creates has been particularly successful for the diverse needs of the population I work with. As Ally (2008) suggests “the delivery method allows for flexibility of access, from anywhere and usually anytime, but the learning must use sound instructional design principles.’ The self pacing aspect and continual availability of resources has allowed for an environment, where accommodations are built in, and students have greater control and ownership of their learning.

The benefits to online instruction have come with their own unique set of challenges. Ally (2008) identifies feedback and motivation as challenges to online instruction, and while the challenges are also found in the traditional classroom, the severity and response to these challenges is different in the online environment. I have found that both of these challenges are present in my blended classroom. One of the greatest benefits of a traditional synchronous classroom is the availability of immediate feedback from the instructor as well as from peer interaction. The instructor can continuously monitor the understanding of students by observing, questioning and listening to student discussions in a traditional class. The instructor can quickly pick up on misconceptions or lack of understanding and alter their method of delivery to rectify the situation.  In an asynchronous environment the student often has immediate feedback from the content through self quizzes, but when quizzes do not adequately measure concepts, misconceptions can develop and persist, without proper feedback. Ally (2008) suggests that feedback can be effective in online instruction if there is an emphasis on frequent self checks and interactions “between learners, between the learner and the instructor, and between the learner and experts to collaborate, participate in shared cognition, form social networks, and establish social presence’. I use online discussion in my own classroom, but find that it is a skill that needs to be explicitly taught and in many ways is not as effective as a class discussion.

The other challenge faced in online instruction is motivation. While motivational challenges exist in a traditional classroom the availability of outside distraction is perhaps not as easily accessible. The online lesson must compete with all the other information and activities online. My students struggle to focus their attention on the lesson when presented with games, Youtube and online shopping. Ally recommends Keller’s ARCS (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction) model to overcome motivational challenges. This model is a universal model of good instructional design, but in the online environment, where the instructor cannot provide immediate clarifications and feedback, it is perhaps more important to have flawless instructional design in place.

Online learning presents challenges to both the educator and learner, but they provide practical experience with the same challenges that students will eventually face in the work place.  Students and workers of the future must be able to work with diverse networks and navigate through endless streams of information and be able to “identify important information from unimportant.’

Works Cited

Ally, M. “Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning.’ In The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, 2nd ed., 15—44. Athabasca, AB Canada: Athabasca University, 2008.

Siemens, G. “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.’ International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2, no. 1 (2005).

 

 

Barriers to Online Learning

I chose the article “Student Barriers to Online Learning: A Factor Analytic Study’ by Muilenburg and Berge, because I was interested in the weekly writing question that asked whether the online environment holds instructional challenges that are distinct from the traditional classroom. The Muilenburg and Berge (2005) article was written to address the possible barriers that students might encounter in online learning. The purpose of their study was to identify which students would face barriers when attempting to learn online, what those barriers would be, and how individuals can be helped in their learning by understanding and ameliorating their particular obstacles (Muilenburg & Berge 2005).  I felt that the study addressed what the perceived barriers to online learning are, but failed to adequately identify which students would face the barriers or how those obstacles could be overcome.

This was a large scale study (n=1,056), that was mindfully constructed after an initial pilot study was conducted to refine the barriers chosen for study. The authors chose 11  independent variables to represent the perceptions of the students surveyed. These included: gender, age, self-reported ethnicity, type of learning institution they attended, ability and confidence with online learning technology, learning effectiveness in the online environment, learning enjoyment in the online classroom, the number of online courses completed, the number of online courses dropped, likelihood of taking an online course in the future, and whether or not students experienced prejudicial treatment in the traditional classroom due to cultural background, disability, or other personal characteristic (Muilenburg & Berge 2005). The overall results indicated that the greatest perceived barriers to online learning were a lack of social interaction, administrative/instructor issues, time and support for studies, and learner motivation. Surprisingly, respondents rated a “lack of technical skills and academic skills’ as very low obstacles to learning online (Muilenburg & Berge 2005).

I thought this article was informative and the study was well designed. I was not surprised that the greatest perceived barrier to online learning was a lack of social interaction. This is something that I have experienced when taking online courses myself. I think that instructors have come a long way in trying to ameliorate this barrier and the improvements in technology have allowed for better synchronous and asynchronous online social interaction. However, I do feel that something is lost when students cannot interact with their instructor and peers synchronously. Perhaps this perception diminishes with the number of courses taken as indicated by the study. The study was successful in collecting a relatively conclusive set of responses on student perceptions of barriers and I was impressed by the results showing a dramatic decrease in perceived barriers amongst students who had taken one online course.

The study did not adequately identify the students that face online barriers, primarily because the methods for selecting respondents were based on electronic mailing lists for people involved or already affiliated with online instructions. The survey respondents were primarily graduate students, which might be better equipped through experience and previous education to overcome some of the learning barriers that exist. The study also showed the respondents were overwhelmingly female and caucasian/non-hispanic.    The study raises excellent questions but should focus on students that experience barriers. If the authors wish to test if students of different gender and ethnicity may experience greater barriers to online learning, than these user groups should be better represented. Selection of the respondents could have been done in a more balanced way. I think that further study could focus on the perceptions of secondary students, at-risk students and more freshman undergraduate students. If the purpose of the study is to identify students with potential barriers, it seems natural to target students that may be new to online learning or more likely to drop online courses. I also think that it would be interesting to survey  online educators to see if they have the same perceptions as their students.

The study also fell short in its proposed goal of determining how barriers to online education could be overcome. The authors suggest that educators provide better, more frequent social interaction in courses, but fail to suggest practical means to doing so. While the authors themselves indicate that none of the results in the study indicate causation and that further analysis is needed, some immediate steps to increasing social interaction might be scheduling more online discussion and using collaboration tools such as VoiceThread or Google Hangouts.

While the study is just a beginning in identifying barriers to online learning it does offer valuable insights into the perceptions of students and encourages educators to provide better social interaction opportunities within their courses to create greater confidence in, and retention of students.

Works Cited

Muilenburg, Lin Y., and Zane L. Berge. “Student Barriers to Online Learning: A Factor Analytic Study.’ Distance Education 26, no. 1 (May 2005): 29—48.