Author Archives: kgebauer

The Remote Proctor and Online Academic Honesty

The online courses I have participated in have not required formal exams, but many subjects require formal testing like math and science. As distance learning is morphing more and more into online learning administering formal exams is becoming a concern. Before students would report to a testing center or have an assigned proctor, but with the convenience of online learning there is a demand that testing be just as convenient. The appeal of asynchronous online courses is that the student can complete the work from anywhere and anytime. So why should a student not be able to take the required formal exams from anywhere and anytime? By offering the convenience of taking a test from anywhere and anytime comes the concerns of academic honesty and student privacy. Convenience usually comes at a price and that price might be what some would consider an invasion of privacy. In order to make sure students are not cheating without a human proctor present requires, as Dunn, Meine, and McCarley (2010) point out, a technological innovation. This means that the solution to cheating on a test is resulting in “…what could easily be called the academic version of “Big Brother’ into the online course environment’ because the proctor is now a camera (p. 4).

In the articles by Dunn, Meine, and McCarley (2010) and Robinson (2013) the authors discuss the implications of remote proctors and academic honesty. Robinson (2013) argues that academic dishonesty is more common in the online learning environment because of the distance between student and instructor. This leads to feelings of isolation and then precipitates feelings of inaccessibility, which then leads students to not seek out assistance they need to succeed. Due to stress, fear of failure, and feelings of isolation students are more prone to be tempted to commit academic dishonesty in the online learning environment (Robinson 2013). This is what is prompting new technologies to be designed to prevent academic dishonesty when it comes to testing. Troy University in partnership with The Securexam ® Corporation developed the Remote Proctor to help eliminate cheating on tests. Students purchase the remote proctor device, which has a camera, microphone, and biometric scanner. It is plugged into their computer via USB port and will lock the hard drive and Internet down so student cannot access information on their computer. The camera and microphone record the testing session and will report any suspicious behavior to be reviewed later (Dunn, Meine, & McCarley 2010). There are other ways to prevent cheating that are not as extreme as having a mini robot watch you. Instructors put time constraints on exams, make it so only one exam question is visible at a time, make exams without allowing students to go back, and requiring students to install lockdown browsers to prevent unwanted Internet browsing. Webassessor uses the built in webcam in laptops to conduct facial recognition and monitor the student visually (Dunn, Meine, & McCarley 2010). Then there is John Fontaine’s work. He is the “…senior director of technology evangelism for Blackboard Learning Management Systems [and] is currently developing technologies that create document fingerprints’ in which a student’s writing is analyzed for patterns to develop a writing style fingerprint (Dunn, Meine, & McCarley 2010, p.192).

This all seems reasonable with the increase in online learning, but is remote proctoring as convenient as it sounds? Take a look at this list of environmental requirements when using Securexam ® remote proctor device.   A student is basically supposed to be in a noiseless, bare walled, overhead lighted room. Sounds more like the student needs to invest in a cubicle. Granted when taking a test it is good to have no distraction, but based on the above-mentioned environmental requirements you could not take it in the comfort of your living room on the couch or relax in your bedroom or any room that has a poster up on the wall with writing.

The economic cost for the Securexam ® remote proctor device is supposed to be equivalent to a textbook and can be resold by the student after use. I am not convinced that students need to purchase a device in order to ensure test-taking honesty. It seems like an economic ploy and a way for colleges to get accreditation for their online courses easier. I understand the need for accreditation, but I do not think the cost should fall on the shoulders of the students.

It was also stated by Dunn, Meine, and McCarley (2010) that students did not think the remote proctor by Securexam ® was an invasion of privacy, but I think the biometrics might be going to far. The surveillance from the camera and microphone is uncomfortable to me. I do not understand how students did not make more of an uproar about the invasion of privacy. It is one thing to have the instructor watching me as I am taking a test, but to have strangers watch me and analyze the video for cheating for the instructor makes me uncomfortable. Also when others are viewing the video it comes at additional cost besides the device itself. This could cause online learning network charges to go up for students. Again I do not think the students should have to pay for the remote proctor. The convenience just comes at too high of a cost to the student. I personally would rather find a human proctor or go somewhere to take the test.

Also, I am not convinced that remote proctors are necessary to ensure academic honesty during online test taking. If the instructor has a policy regarding what is acceptable during a test students will probably be less likely to be tempted to cheat. It was found by Robinson (2013) that students had very different perceptions of what constituted cheating especially the gray area, but what impacted the perception the most was whether the instructor had a policy regarding academic honesty. All students seem to be aware of blatant cheating like having someone else take the test. Robinson (2013) states that students:

…believed that it was appropriate to use a book, reference sources, and class notes during an exam as long as the professor did not have an explicit policy stating otherwise. The same students, however, acknowledged that having another person take the exam, securing a copy of a test prior to the exam period, and text messaging to send and/or receive answers from another student was inappropriate irrespective of the presence or absence of a written policy. (p. 191)

As long as there is an explicit policy about what is and is not allowed during test taking students seem willing to abide by the rules. Of course there will always be someone who breaks the rules. Whether a human, a machine, or nothing proctors online test taking there is always the chance a student will find a way to cheat and push the boundaries of academic honesty. What seems like a solution to a problem of online cheating may only create more problems. There are economic and privacy considerations that need to be explored further. The convenience of anytime and anywhere of asynchronous online learning may not be that convenient when it comes to making testing just as convenient. This begs the question is anytime anywhere really as convenient as we think?

References

Dunn, T. P., Meine, M. F., & McCarley, J. (2010). The Remote Proctor: An Innovative Technological Solution for Online Course Integrity. International Journal Of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 6(1), 1-7.

Robinson, C. V. (2013). Academic dishonesty: A guide for digital instructors. In M. S. Plakhotnik & S. M. Nielsen (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th Annual South Florida Education Research Conference (pp. 189-194).

Considering the Situational Factors

Designing an online unit is new territory for me and it could be said that it is still new territory for K-12. I plan to design a small unit for 8th grade students who are reading the book The Giver by Lois Lowry. The unit will not cover the entire book, but will focus on one aspect (storytelling and memories), the final project, and assessment. According to Jeffery Wilhelm (2008) in his book, You Gotta BE the Book: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents, storytelling is “…a primary way of knowing and organizing our personal knowledge of ourselves and the world. Storying defines humanity, makes us human, empowers us in being who we are, and makes it possible for us to conceive of being more than we are’ (p. 52-53). This idea of storytelling and personalizing it will appeal to where 8th grade students are developmentally. Being able to communicate one’s life stories and memories is something society views as beneficial and it is also culturally relevant when considering Alaska Natives and the other cultures of the students. Based on the Alaska Language Arts Standards for 8th grade this will be an appropriate choice and will lend itself to many learning objectives. The content is something I am familiar with and I can better predict what 8th grade students can academically and socially handle based on my previous teaching experience.

Developmentally 8th grade students are teenagers and that means there are a lot of outside and internal factors impacting their learning. The developmental stage of an 8th grade student could include the following characteristics:

  • Egocentric
  • Is discovering their individual identity and comparing his/herself to others
  • Abstract thinking/reasoning/metacognition is beginning to develop (Piaget’s formal operations period)
  • Idealistic
  • Impulsive
  • Risk takers
  • Have difficulty with long-term planning and live in the moment
  • Longer attention span most of the time
  • Brain is going through a purge of neural pathways (use it or lose it phase)
  • Social relationships are VERY important
  • Test boundaries
  • Desire to feel independent and more like an adult
  • Like to grapple with the gray areas of life
  • Mood can be unpredictable

This is not a comprehensive list of all possible characteristic of where an 8th grade student is developmentally because all children develop at their own pace, but it gives one a general idea of what to expect. Based on this information it may not be wise to develop a completely online unit for 8th graders, but with their ability to utilize technology and the Internet I think it is possible. In my experience 8th graders I find have a new found curiosity about the world and want to understand it more completely. Online learning would give them a sense of freedom and control over their learning. Let them feel more like an adult. With that said I do not think online learning is for everyone. Not all learning styles can be effectively met in an online learning environment. A screening process for success would be required especially at the 8th grade level. In my research it appears K-12 online learning is usually only available to high school students with a good GPA and recommendations, but I think it would be beneficial to expose students to this learning environment at an earlier age where the academic stakes are not quite as high yet. A blended environment might be a way to start and with the use of Edmodo and other education friendly social networking sites many students have been exposed to some aspects of the online learning environment by the time they are an 8th grader.

The situational factors that will be most challenging to the unit’s development fall under the categories Fink (2013) describes as specific context of the teaching and learning situation, characteristics of the learners, and characteristics of the teacher. More specifically it is my inexperience as an online teacher, students’ lack of experience in a completely online learning environment, and how the unit fits into a larger school like structure that make designing the unit challenging.

The first two situational factors that will make designing the online unit challenging is my inexperience and the high probability of the students’ unfamiliarity with the online learning environment. The online learning environment is something I have been a student in, but not a teacher. I do not know what design aspects will help or hinder the students’ learning experience, but based on their developmental needs the 8th grades students will need a highly organized learning environment that is easy to navigate and helps them stay on track and not fall behind. It will also have to be a social learning environment where students regularly interact with their peers. This requires me to find an online learning management system that uniquely fits the needs of 8th graders. This leads to the situational factor that the 8th grade students will most likely be unfamiliar with the online learning environment. There are not many online learning options before 8th grade, so students will most likely not have an academic online presence. Ideally each of the students I am teaching would also be taking an introductory class about online learning that would cover appropriate online behavior, plagiarism, and the impact of their digital footprint/presence for their future.

The last major situational factor that will be a challenge is not knowing the specific context of the teaching and learning situation. Due to online learning not being very present at the 8th grade level I do not know how many students I would have or if they are enrolled in a virtual school or still attending face-to-face classes. In an ideal world I would have 20-30 students just like a regular face-to-face class and it would be a unit taught in the greater context of a virtual school’s 8th grade English course. I think the course would mostly be asynchronous online learning with periodic class wide check-ins that would be optional, but maybe have the external motivation of offering a little extra credit if attended. There is also the question of whether students have equal access to the Internet and the appropriate devices to complete an online course. Ideally the school would provide the hardware and software for students to use while taking an online course. I could also see the context of the teaching and learning situation being of a home-schooled nature. My unit could be part of an extracurricular class offered online for home-schooled students. What are your thoughts? Suggestions?

References

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wilhelm, J. D. (2008). You Gotta BE the Book: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents. New York: Teachers College Press.

Online Collaborative Learning

As an elementary and middle school student my teachers for group work and projects always put me with “the boys’. I can honestly say that I did not work with another girl or someone at my level ever except for maybe one time. I remember one project that I was paired with a girl, but she had learning difficulties, but at least she did her part of the work. The boys I was forced to work with usually did not do their part and I was there to cover up the fact they did not care about learning. The teachers probably hoped I would rub of on them. This made me despise group work and projects. Eventually I became so fed up with the structure of my education I decided to be homeschooled and take control of my education so that it would be fun again. I have since then become a fan of group discussions, cooperative learning, and collaboration. This is what drew me to Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) article, Collaboration Factors, Teamwork Satisfaction, and Student Attitudes Toward Online Collaborative Learning. Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) use Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development to demonstrate “…that a learner cannot achieve an understanding of a new idea or concept unless he/she acquires help or feedback from a teacher or a peer (Vygotsky, 1978). In Vygotsky’s view, peer interaction is an important way to facilitate individual cognitive growth and knowledge acquisition, and the peer collaboration can help learners in problem solving’ (p. 922). Vygotsky’s social development and learning theory illustrates that the teaching and learning practice of collaboration is important to the social aspect of the nature of learning.

The purpose of Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) study was “…to extend Tseng et al.’s (2009) prior research by collecting a much larger sample size to examine the degree of relationship between teamwork satisfaction and online collaboration factors. In addition, students’ attitudes toward online collaborative learning experiences were also investigated.’ (p. 923). Data was collected over three consecutive years for an online instructional design course. There were 197 participants all graduate students most majoring in educational technology or school library education; 70% were female and 30% were male. Below are the research questions explored.

  • What are the factors that underlie online collaborative learning components as measured by the student attitude survey?
  • Is teamwork satisfaction related to the extracted online collaboration factors?
  • How much of the variance in teamwork satisfaction can be explained by the extracted online collaboration factors?
  • What are student attitudes toward working collaboratively in an online setting?

Collaboration is usually a highly beneficial teaching and learning practice, but it comes with some frustration. The online learning environment and the Internet in general offers many modes for collaboration. No matter what, communication is key to successful collaboration. The online instructional design class that was surveyed with Likert scale by Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) was conducted through Blackboard and it appears most of the communication by students and instructor was done through it too. In my own experience as a student who has used Blackboard it can be a blessing and a curse. I would find it limiting as a student if Blackboard was the only communication tool I could use. But I understand why it makes the study more reliable and fewer variables are introduced with the class being contained within Blackboard. I wonder though if the students were allowed to freely use other collaboration Internet sources if the other 40% would have like online collaboration better. One student wrote:

I find working collaboratively online much more difficult than in real life. I believe that collaboration is preferable when I can meet face-to-face. I prefer to be given assignments and just get the work done on my own in online classes, because it is so much less cumbersome. Trying to communicate with all members in a timely fashion is extra work, and if you have a weak member of a team, you feel both angry and responsible, because it feels like you have to include that person (responsible) but if they do not do the work you feel angry that you have to work so hard to include them. (p. 927)

While this student found collaboration online difficult other students found it improved their communication skills, broaden their ideas and perspective, and the final product turned out better than it would have than if it were created individually. In fact 73% stated they learned more as a collaborative group than they would have individually (Ku, Tseng, & Akarasriworn 2013). Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) found that the three factors that made the online collaborative learning environment successful were team dynamics, team acquaintance, and instructor support. These three factors all contributed to teamwork satisfaction.

I thought it was interesting that team acquaintances were one of the major factors in calculating the success and satisfaction with online collaboration. I have always dreading the getting to know you part of a face-to-face or online course, probably because I am an introvert. I never really considered how important this could be for the success of an online course. It is something I have been taking for granted. In order to collaborate effectively you need to have some kind of working relationship. It is ironic in a way because I always do community building activities with K-12 students and make sure they get to know me too. I guess it should not be any different for higher education.

One final aspect of the study that was interesting was the fact that 70% of the participants were female. Ideally the study would have had a 50/50 split. The results were very positive and I wonder if it was due to the majority of the participants being women. I am curious which gender had more negative comments or if it was even. Due to this variable and the positive results associated with it the study needs to be replicated again or a study with mostly men needs to be done to compare. It also would have been nice to know the cultural make up of the participants too. Culture and gender have always had an impact on the learning environment, but I never considered that one gender or culture would be more drawn to the online learning environment than another. Are women more likely to engage in online learning and online collaboration? How does culture affect online collaboration? Does it work better when there is a mix of cultures or when the group is homogeneous?

References

Ku, H., Tseng, H., & Akarasriworn, C. (2013). Collaboration factors, teamwork satisfaction, and student attitudes toward online collaborative learning. Computers In Human Behavior, 29(3), 922-929. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.12.019

Learning — Must it Change?

After reviewing the material for this week I was left pondering two questions. What is the nature of learning? Has the nature of learning changed because of today’s technology? The nature of learning is rather simply complex, but people through the system of education have complicated it. Learning is cyclical, social, interactive, and reflective. I have come to believe this is inherent. People have and are born with a desire to learn. Simple. Education however is a man made construct and serves people’s purposes. It is something as a culture we have been encouraged to pursue to the highest level possible (like gaming levels if you like) and yes an education is very useful, but it is the system through which it is employed that can get in the way of our desire to learn and better ourselves. Learning theories describe the simple, but complex nature of learning. In order to teach effectively one needs to understand the nature of learning. These theories give teachers a solid base to draw and learn from, but it is when we treat the theories in isolation of each other that the education system falls short. No one learning theory is perfect, but each has insight into the nature of learning. People might say they are a constructivist, connectivist, behaviorist, or cognitivist, but our understanding of it cannot be boiled down to one theory or another. Learning in the 21st century does not need to change, instead the education system that helps to facilitate learning needs to adapt, change, and create new systems for learning to take place within.

Now to the question, has the nature of learning changed because of today’s technology? No. Technology has not changed the nature of learning, but rather has highlighted the fact what the nature of learning is. Technology is illustrating for us that we do not necessarily need the same education system of yesterday to learn, but that we need each other and varied systems of education from which to learn within. This led my thoughts to gaming and John Seely Brown. The education system can be a huge motivator for encouraging learning however it is constructed. The connection between gaming and learning that John Seely Brown makes illustrates how the system of education can be like an assemblage of levels to be passed. The levels could be preschool, K-12, and then higher education. Think of the eternal student. Why do they keep going back for more? Are not we all eternal students of learning?

But this preschool to college game so to speak does not work for everybody in the 21st century. Lucky for us technology has opened up new roads or levels for people to pursue the lifelong game of learning. Khan Academy is helping facilitate some of John Seely Brown’s ideas about gaming, learning, and education. It is free, global, measures your progress, and celebrates your mastery with badges, energy points, and avatars. Khan Academy may not always facilitate John Seely Brown’s vision of learning to be instead of learning about, but it could if used in the right context. If Khan Academy mini lectures are used within the K-12 classroom the social organization he refers to can take place in and outside the classroom because of social media. Khan Academy and the teacher could be the catalyst for the students beginning to make the shift from learning about to learning to be. The information is given to the students; they grapple with it (discuss, analyze, reflect, apply, explore further, ask questions), and slowly learn what it means to be a mathematician, scientist, artist, citizen, anthropologist, writer, reader, etc. In K-12 it is the teacher’s job to help students wear many hats and this allows students to see what their strengths, weaknesses, and passions are. Learning to be is something to work towards. Not every K-12 student knows what they want to be when they grow up and in today’s world they will most likely grow up to be many different things. John Seely’s Brown (2006) states, “By proceeding along this path, a student bridges the gap between knowledge and knowing’ (p. 20). This gap is also being help through the increased use of technology in the education system. The 21st century student as John Seely Brown (2006) describes, “In today’s Internet environment, learning to be literate in multiple media is an important tool in learning to be’ (p. 20). One of the greatest disservices educators can do to their students is not use technology with good teaching practices. Teachers need to be good role models for the 21st century student

Speaking of good teaching practices, when I watched the Eric Mazur YouTube video, Eric Mazur shows interactive teaching; my first thought was what is so special about this? Eric Mazur is just practicing good teaching. The peer instructional method is nothing new to me and it is something that may be underutilized in education, but it is simply just good teaching practice. It I something I have used and I imagine it is much easier in a K-12 setting than a large lecture hall. In order to learn people need to interact, discuss, reflect, and do it all over again. There it is the nature of learning. The only thing that was absent from the video was the fact no students were using technology to formulate an answer. In a classroom today, 21st century students would have whipped out their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. I could see students tweeting their questions and thoughts and having it projected onto a screen for everyone to view. There would be mini discussion going on as well as a whole group discussion in this peer instruction situation. What sets the 21st century student apart is their ability to break free of the traditional education system and create new systems of learning.

This leads me to Partnership for 21st Century Skills. I found P21 nothing new and was skeptical of it when I saw who the founders were, Apple, Microsoft, AOL, Cisco, Dell. It screamed of business and money sticking their nose where it does not belong. Then I looked at P21’s learning framework and that reeked of common core. The 3Rs and 4Cs are nothing new. Individualized education should be they way of the future, but this may be too idealistic for our current educational state. When I looked a little deeper into P21 it seems like it could possibly bring out what could be the positive impacts of the common core. It still appears to be a little to economically driven for my liking. Business should not be influencing the education system like it is, but that has been the main driving force behind our educational structure for centuries.

Must learning change for the 21st century? Or is it just trying to break free with the help of technology?

References

Brown, J. (2006).  New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge.  Change, 38(5), 18-24.

Eric Mazur YouTube video, Eric Mazur shows interactive teaching

Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/

Partnership for 21st Century Skills https://www.p21.org/

Caring in the High School Online Learning Environment

In the article, Caring in a Technology-Mediated Online High School Context Velasquez, Graham, and Osguthorpe (2013) conducted a small study about how two teachers and four students perceive caring in the online learning environment of the Open High School of Utah. It was the goal to show that caring affects both academic and moral learning although the former was the focus of the study. Velasquez, Graham, and Osguthorpe (2013) also note that it is important to know that all participants were Caucasian because “…care has been determined to be a phenomenon influenced by culture (Thompson, 1998)’ (p. 100). The data was obtained through three interviews for each participant and then the interviews were coded for themes. The themes identified by Velasquez, Graham, and Osguthorpe (2013) were, “…shared experience, continuous dialogue, vigilant observation, structuring learning environment, attending to students’ individual academic needs, attending to students’ well-being, and student reaction’ (p. 102). The study found that it is very important to have caring teachers in the high school online learning environment and recommends that caring pedagogy should be included, such as Nel Nodding’s work, when designing online classes.

The theme that was surprising to me as showing caring was the theme of structuring the learning environment. I know teachers put a lot of time and effort in making class information easily available and accessible and they see it as a caring for their students’ success throughout the class. I would not have thought the students viewing it in a caring way because it is just expected that when you take an online class that it be designed to meet the students’ needs. As a college student I expect that the online class be designed effectively. It has never occurred to me that this is done purposefully so that I know my instructor cares about me. It is just the way it is. The students in the study perceived their teachers as caring because of the way the online class was structured. Velasquez, Graham, and Osguthorpe (2013) state:

When asked how they knew their teacher cared about them, all student participants indirectly mentioned the courses’ flexibility and student options. One student mentioned how he highly valued the flexibility of working at his own rate and planning his schoolwork around his personal schedule. Other students mentioned flexibility in choosing how to complete an assignment. Most of the students mentioned flexibility in deadlines and the ability to retake quizzes and resubmit assignments multiple times in an effort to improve their grade. (p. 107)

This was not something Velasquez, Graham, and Osguthorpe (2013) anticipated either and their interview questions were not designed to probe for this information. It was interesting that it was the flexibility of the online class structure that the students found most caring, especially concerning deadlines and ability to retake quizzes or redo assignments. This flexibility can be time consuming on the teacher’s part.

As I read how much time the teachers set aside for contact with students, at least four hours a day and then sometimes more, I wondered how this impacted their lives outside their work day. The students commented on how caring their teachers were because they could feel free to contact them anytime. The teachers stated response time was usually within 24 hours, but it was also found they monitored students online activity too on top of everything else. A teacher commented that “While being available for her students is a priority, the accessibility that the online context facilitates made it difficult for her to disconnect and find a balance between being accessible and achieving a healthy balance in her personal life’ (Velasquez, Graham, & Osguthorpe 2013, p. 111). I think caring in the online learning environment is important, but a teacher could easily get carried away with it. The teachers interviewed not only cared about their students’ academic success, but also actively sought to inquire about the students’ lives to demonstrate caring and create a connection to help motivate the student. It is a tricky balance because if students become to comfortable with the caring relationship a 10 minute phone call to help with an assignment could turn into an hour. It is necessary to connect with students because it can be a huge motivator.

One last aspect of the study that I found interesting was that the “…study suggest that K12 online education should place greater priority on learner-to-instructor instruction, rather than learner-to-content instruction’ (Velasquez, Graham, & Osguthorpe 2013, p. 112). When the teachers initiated contact this improved the students’ learning experience and created the sense of caring. The students just did not interact with their learning content, but a good portion of the time was spent interacting with their teacher clarifying material, assignments, and working on solving problems. This made it clear to me that online learning in K-12 still requires the guidance of a teacher and their presence needs to be evident. This is unlike college students in an online class who given a framework can usually function without constant contact with the instructor. It is more of a learner-to-content instruction.

So when considering implementing online learning in K-12 whether it is in a virtual school or not the caring factor needs to included in the pedagogical approach. Students need to know their teacher cares about them personally and academically. K-12 online teachers need to make it clear to the students that they are concerned about their success and are there to help and guide them through the learning process. This asks the question of quality in online learning. As Velasquez, Graham, and Osguthorpe (2013) suggest it is cheaper to just have a student interact with the content rather than both the content and the teacher. It makes me wonder what a good student to teacher ratio is in the online learning environment for K-12 because you hear of these massive online courses with hundreds of students enrolled in one class. How can one teacher implement a pedagogy that includes caring in such a situation? This may work for higher education, but if we are serious about effective online learning I think the teacher to student ratio would have to be small, but maybe not.   I could not find a definitive answer in this article or with a quick search online, but I encourage you to check out Mountain Heights Academy, formerly Open High School of Utah. It does not appear that the school has any more staff than a normal face-to-face small high school would have, but not sure what the typical enrollment is.   I found one piece of information from US News & World Report Education that the student to teacher ratio is 17:1 and it does not look like there are more than 300 students enrolled.

References

Velasquez, A., Graham, C. R., & Osguthorpe, R. (2013). Caring in a technology-mediated online high school context. Distance Education, 34(1), 97-118. doi:10.1080/01587919.2013.770435

Are there Teachers in the Future?

In my own research I have found it difficult to locate research regarding online learning in K-12 education, so I can empathize with Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) difficulty in finding sources of information that fit their meta-analysis criteria. However, I feel if they did not limit the meta-analysis based on their quantitative requirements and being number driven some interesting insights would have been found. Of course this report was not written with educators in mind, but policy makers and politicians. It is a government document. Although not a practical document if one is looking for a guide to online learning best practices, it does make the case that more research needs to be conducted before any formal conclusion can be made, especially regarding K-12 online learning. But one with common sense and life experience in the education system could probably draw the same suggestive conclusions that Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) did from their meta-analysis.   The one concluding thought I did not expect to draw was whether teachers will be needed in the future like they are needed in the present. But lets start at the beginning.

I appreciated that Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) referenced distance education at the beginning of the report because it gave a historical basis for their research and a starting point to ask the right questions. Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) state:

Overall, results from Bernard et al. (2004) and other reviews of the distance education literature (Cavanaugh 2001; Moore 1994) indicate no significant differences in effectiveness between distance education and face-to-face education, suggesting that distance education, when it is the only option available, can successfully replace face-to-face instruction. (6)

This helped raise the question of whether this is true for online learning and face-to-face instruction too. The authors found that online learning like any other form of learning environment has its advantages and disadvantages. Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) found that the meta-analysis overall tended to point towards the positive “…with online learning (whether taught completely online or blended) [and] on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction’ (18). Just like distance education pure online learning can be just as effective as face-to-face classroom instruction, but it is the blending of online learning and face-to-face instruction that had the most interesting and useful results from Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) meta-analysis. According to the meta-analysis the blended learning environment seemed to have more benefits and more positive outcomes than the stand-alone pure online learning and face-to-face learning environments. At the college level from my own experience both pure online learning and blended classes make no difference to me I will learn one way or another. I think in the K-12 learning environment a blended learning environment might work best. The blended learning environment will work best because it will cater to more learning styles and allow for more differentiation of material, content, and assessment. It would be more inclusive and hopefully provide fewer barriers to learning if done well.   But as I have come to realize through my reflection this might be a selfish viewpoint and hope because I am a K-12 teacher.   I have come to realize I may not be necessary in the future.

This leads to the best practice and recommendation from Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010), which is to use teaching methods that promote self-reflection, self-regulation, and self-monitoring. This is true whether teaching online or in a classroom.   But notice how the best practice advice for online learning is to just let the students learn.   They do not recommend teacher-reflection, teacher-regulation, and teacher-monitoring.   Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) confirm this by stating, “Attempts to guide the online interactions of groups of learners were less successful than the use of mechanisms to prompt reflection and self-assessment…’ (48). Can add another one, self-assessment not teacher-assessment. It was interesting when Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) suggested that some of the research states that the students in an online learning environment “…provide scaffolds for one another (Suh 2006)’ (48). This raised a question I did not feel was answered by the report, is a synchronous or asynchronous online class more effective? Should an online learning environment have both? Does synchronous or asynchronous lend itself to this student scaffolding effect? If students can scaffold for each other how much teacher involvement should there be?   Do we need teachers in an online learning environment? Reflecting on my own experience I find I benefit when both synchronous and asynchronous characteristics are present because it provides structure and freedom to learn at your own pace. Also in my past online learning experiences (and in class for that matter) I found it annoying when I was told what exactly to discuss and think by the instructor’s script instead of the instructor just giving us a starting point to go from for the discussion. Based on their meta-analysis Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) state that students’ learning experiences “…were less positive when instructor involvement was low…’ and became “…more positive, up to a point, as instructor involvement increased. At the highest level of instructor involvement (which would suggest that the instructor became dominant and peer-to-peer learning was minimized)…’ (53). Regardless of whether it is online learning or face-to-face the teacher has an impact on students’ learning and if that teacher does not allow students to reflect on their learning and own it the quality of the class whether online or not decreases. This research that some teacher involvement is good for the online learning experience has given me hope that in the very least teachers of the future will be guides.

After considering the report further by Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones (2010) I guess it is not surprising that what affects the classroom environment also affects the online learning environment. What works in one will most likely work in the other. The technological mediums used might enhance learning and provide more opportunities, but when it comes down to what makes online learning an effective learning choice it is the sound pedagogy behind it, but as we have read even that is changing and evolving. It is the proven teaching practices, the teacher-student relationship, and sense of community that holds a class together not the technology. Technology provides another structure to teach from, but ultimately it is sound teaching practices and learning theories that determine how good learner outcomes will be. What needs to be researched further is how to apply what we already know about learning and combine that with online learning tools to K-12 education. Then it needs to be decided how far it should be taken with the whole human and machine relationship that connectivism suggests. Should we have totally virtual schools? Should those schools be synchronous or asynchronous? Is a blended approach better? Or do we need both blended and pure online learning environments in order to reach all types of learners and their unique needs? Here is even a scarier question and thought. It was found in the meta-analysis that some research suggests students can “…provide scaffolds for one another (Suh 2006)’ (48) in an online learning environment. If this is true do we need teachers and schools in the traditional sense if the future of learning is completely online? I encourage you to watch this TED Talk: Build a School in the Cloud, which will broaden your thinking about online learning in K-12.

References

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. US Department Of Education.

Online Learning — Beyond the Classroom Walls and Textbooks

The most important need in the online learning environment is that it can be done anytime and anywhere. Four walls cannot keep in check the online learning environment like the traditional classroom environment. The online learning environment requires a mobile flexibility that is not necessary in the classroom. Ally (2008) states, “Online learning allows participants to collapse time and space (Cole, 2000)…The delivery method allows for flexibility of access, from anywhere and usually anytime, but the learning must use sound instructional design principles.’ (16). Online learning breaks down the walls of the traditional classroom. This flexibility of anytime and anywhere allows students to be able to work and not have to adjust their lives to revolve around school. Instead school is worked into students’ daily lives becoming a part of it. School is not a destination, but a life style choice. For example, as I am writing this paper I am riding in a van on my way to Anchorage for an AWANA conference with a small group of youth. Normally I would be working on my school work from the comfort of my home, but circumstances this week require me to be able to take my school with me and be able to access it from anywhere and anytime. If I had to report to a building for school this would not be possible. My online learning environment has made it possible that my classroom for the next several hours is on four wheels, which highlights the fact that online learning needs to be mobile.

Even when online learning requires a synchronous session it can be done anywhere. Ally (2008) describes this by stating, “For learners, online learning knows no time zones, and location and distance are not issues. In asynchronous online learning, students can access the online materials anytime, while synchronous online learning allows for real-time interaction between students and instructors’ (17). Last week I had a synchronous session for my other online class this semester on Wednesday evening, which in my life means I am at the church getting ready for AWANA that starts at 5:30pm. Because it is an online learning environment I was able to attend my class while at the church before AWANA and leave it just in time. I did not have to go to a classroom or have to leave early in order to get to my evening commitment or cancel. The flexibility of the online learning environment allows me to continue my work with K-12 aged children while attending college. Where as if I had to attend a class in Fairbanks I would not be able to be a game time leader in AWANA or be able to live in Healy for that matter. A four hour round trip drive for one class is just not cost or time effective.

This leads to the other distinct need of the online learning environment, the reality of the human and machine relationship, which is highlighted in the learning theory of connectivist. As Ally (2008) explains, “What is needed is not a new stand-alone theory for the digital age, but a model that integrates the different theories to guide the design of online learning materials’ (18). This is what the connectivist learning theory aspires to accomplish, but what sets it apart is this learning theory relies on technology. In the online learning environment students must interact with technology and realize that they are not just learning from a distant instructor, but from the technology itself. For example, autocorrect is not the instructor helping you compose a message it is a machine, the technology. GPS is another example or the assignment reminders and alerts on BlackBoard telling you something is due or the instructor/fellow student made a comment. This is a distinct need in the online learning environment. Students need to be able to learn, interact, and adapt to a machine being part of the learning experience.

Lastly, unlearning is a unique need of the online learning environment. Ally (2008) describes the need for the unlearning process in the online learning environment:

Some information and procedures become obsolete because of changes in the field and innovation; learners must therefore be able to unlearn old information and mental models and learn current information and mental models. The information that is valid today may not be valid tomorrow. (34)

This is not to say this does not take place in the classroom when curriculum is updated or new technology is introduced. In the online learning environment material, software, and programs are constantly being updated. If you do not update your computers software you may not be able to attend a synchronous session successfully. Two years ago I was taking an online class and the synchronous sessions were not required, but attending them was always beneficial and developed a sense of community. I thought I had updated everything and even tried to connect to the eLive session on BlackBoard way before the session started. I tried for hours to figure out what I was doing wrong. It ended up that my Java was not updated and when I went to download the update I had further issues. In online learning it is a need to be always checking for updates and it is not just an instructor’s responsibility, but also the students. In a classroom the students do not have to worry about updating the textbooks or other learning materials.

To sum up Ally (2008) describes the online learning environment as where:

…learners must be allowed to connect with others around the world to examine others’ opinions and to share their thinking with the world. Mobile learning promises to help learners function in a networked world where they can learn at any time and from anywhere (Ally, 2005). (34)

Online learning equals anytime from anywhere. It also requires you to adapt to technology being a part of the learning experience and sometimes part of the teaching too. This is what makes online learning truly distinct from the traditional classroom environment. The online learning classroom takes place in cyberspace, at home, in a van, and anywhere your computer or Internet is available. Anytime. Anywhere.

References

Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning. In Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd ed., pp. 15-44). Athabasca University.

Insight into Online Learning in Rural Schools

The traditional K-12 classroom is evolving or should one say expanding? Online learning is entering the K-12 classroom via the Internet. The symbol of the school bell tower could now be emitting wifi signals instead of ringing bell tones. Brown (2012) describes in his article “Rural Districts Bolster Choices with Online Learning’ how this movement towards online learning is affecting the K-12 realm, specifically in rural schools in the Lane County school districts located in Oregon. Unlike online learning in higher education, online learning in K-12 is monitored on cite and highly structured. Students have mentors that help guide their online learning experience. The online learning classes offered are usually ones not taught at the school and are tailored for specific groups of students, which include the gifted, students with high GPAs, and students who need to recover classes for graduation. These students are usually juniors and seniors. In some cases students with IEPs are allowed to take online learning classes like in the Crow-Applegate-Lorane District with 310 students (Brown 2012). Even though online learning is making inroads into K-12 education there is still aspects that can be built on, barriers to get over, and improvement to be made.

It was surprising that the online learning classes were limited to select groups of students. Even in small school districts, like Lowell School District with 280 students, students need to be recommended by a teacher. Brown (2012) states that in the Creswell School District “They established a tiered approach to enrolling students in online courses, with gifted students getting top priority, followed by juniors and seniors who had at least a 3.5 grade point average (GPA) and wanted a course that was not available at their school’ (14). The reasoning behind this is sound, but in a perfect fair world one would hope that a GPA would not be the main deciding factor in limiting or broadening a student’s education. Too much of the time education is crunched down to the numbers and the human element can easily be forgotten. This is where the teacher recommendation helps improve the review process, but it could still be limiting to students who could benefit from online learning. In the Crow-Applegate-Lorane District students with IEPs are allowed to take online learning classes as well as opposed to the students who are gifted and college driven. It is understandable why the GPA is a major factor in deciding whether a student can qualify for an online learning class; the school needs to make sure it is investing its money in the right student. As with many arguments one can see both sides of how openingly available online learning should be for students.

Interestingly in the Creswell School District students’ success in online learning was attributed in part that they had to pay 10% of the online course’s fee. Money can be a motivator, but should students be required to pay for their education when attending a public school? I think for an online learning program to be truly successful there should not be any financial barriers to the students or the school district. Brown (2012) found that in the Crow-Applegate-Lorane School District that “Removing the financial barrier allowed students and staff to try things out and gave them time to develop policies and procedures’ for online learning (16). When money is not the driving force behind education pressure is taken off of teachers and districts. When the financial worry is taken care of teachers can focus on student learning and doing what is best for the students rather than seeing if it is in the budget. This is especially true for online learning courses because materials need to be updated more regularly than school wide curriculums and materials are.

In all the considerations for online learning in the K-12 education system it did not occur to me it might affect teacher employment as Brown (2012) pointed out in his research. In my student centered thinking it never occurred to me that online learning could take jobs away from teachers in the school building. This brought to my attention if online learning is going to be seriously offered in a K-12 setting the teachers employed by the school will also need to be able to design and teach online classes either for the students in their school or students from other schools in the district. In rural schools teachers do double duty as it is. This article makes me appreciate this class even more because me desire to teach in a rural school in Alaska will probably require me to both be able to teach an online learning class or be able to monitor students taking online classes.

The research conducted by Brown (2012) in rural Oregon schools on the use of online learning is interesting, but also demonstrates that there are some barriers to it being a complete success, such a money, teacher job security, and equitable access. Maybe one day there will be an online learning option or track in schools for students to choose, but at least it is becoming more readily available to students. K-12 teachers need to recognize that online learning could have a greater impact on job security and descriptions in the future, especially in the rural school districts.

References

Brown, D. (2012). Rural districts bolster choices with online learning. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(6), 12-17.

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Learning is a Lifelong Process — Revisiting the Novice Learning Space and Relearning to Walk

Recently I broke my ankle and did not walk for three months. As a child I learned to walk at about eight months (my mother says it was more like I ran). This experience was new something I had observed others do with ease and it was more efficient than my level of mobility, so I learned to walk. It was novel and probably confusing at times, but eventually I became an expert in the skill of traversing different surfaces upright. Now to say I returned to a novice state when I “learned’ to walk again after breaking my ankle may be going a little too far, but it is not completely untrue. I had to learn how to walk with a tight rope, a devise fusing my tibia and fibula together, limiting my ankle flexibility. My learning to walk experience was not the same as when I was eight months old, definitely not as fun. At times it was novel, in a painful way, and confusing. I was an expert walker returning to novice territory where some of the rules had changed. One never thinks they will have to relearn to walk, but learning is a lifelong process and cyclical, and sometimes requires revisiting a novice space as Benander (2009) argues.

Benander (2009) states, “Experts negotiate the learning space differently from novices’ (36). One could argue that we are all expert learners with certain experiential expertise and skills that help us navigate all different kinds of learning spaces including ones that are new or have content we are unfamiliar with. Having some unfamiliarity with content or a skill does put one in a novice like state, but you can on be a true novice when the learning is completely new and unfamiliar. I did not learn to walk again like I did at eight months old when it was completely new. I approached the relearning experience from an expert’s perspective, but at times felt like a novice. I revisited the novice experience. It wasn’t a true novice experience, but I still learned some valuable lessons and had to take risks like any novice. Benander (2009) states, “A teacher who is an expert in his or her discipline can gain teaching insights from revisiting the novice learner experience’ (36). This revisiting the novice experience does not mean one becomes a complete novice again, but partakes in the experience to gain further insight and reflective perspective on their current position as an expert. Revisiting or relearning a novice experience is done to become a more efficient learner and teacher.

I have been through two teaching internships, one for elementary and one for secondary. In my elementary education internship I was a novice and treated as such, everything was very new and novel. My anxiety level was also high too. In my secondary education internship I was in a novice experience, meaning I was experiencing new territory and some new content, but most of it was familiar enough I was traversing the learning space more as an expert than a novice. I and the other interns were not treated as complete novices nor did we approach the experience from a novice perspective. In my first internship I was struggling and grappling with content while trying to apply what I had learned as a student to my practice as a new teacher. There was struggle and anxiety through the learning process. My second internship was centered on a reflective process, refining my teaching skills, and transferring my former experiential teaching knowledge into a new space. Struggle and anxiety were present, but it was handled with a confidence and experience I had gained from my true novice experience.

Also during my revisiting a novice space as an expert learner my mentor teacher treated me more like an expert based on my previous internship experience. To my surprise my mentor teacher looked to me for guidance on how to be an effective mentor teacher because the mentor teacher and student teacher relationship and experience was new to her. She wanted to see the experience from my perspective in order to do a good job. She did not go from a teacher to a student position, as Benander (2009) describes, but took the underlying ideas and reflective process Benander (2009) suggests that are beneficial to revisiting the novice experience again. That was one characteristic of my mentor teacher that I admired, she was always open and willing to try new teaching strategies and ideas. She went looking for novice experiences through professional development, PLCs, and personal research. This is where I think the novice experience in the teaching profession fits best. The purpose of professional development and PLCs is to keep teachers up to date on the newest and latest. This is how learning is kept fresh, new, and novel for teachers. Without this interaction among expert teachers in sometimes novice spaces of learning the education profession can easily become an isolated lonely place. Education is as much an academic experience as it is a social one. Cox (2004) corroborates this by stating, “The isolation of college teachers in the 1920s was reported by Waller (1932). Even now, ‘The heart of the crisis in American education is the lonely work of teachers who often feel disconnected from administrators, colleagues, and many of their students’ (Baker, 1999, p. 95)’ (6). Expert learning and teaching does not take place without social interaction and one could argue that Benander’s (2009) professor to novice student experience was beneficial because it helped the professors understand his or her students better, which then informed his or her teaching, thus developing a learning community where both the teacher’s and student’s perspectives are valued.

Benander’s (2009) article may seem like diving in the deep end of the pool, but it is really only splashing around in the shallow end. The ideas may seem extreme, but it only is highlighting the nature of learning that it is lifelong and cyclical. Every once in a while one needs to revisit novice learning spaces as a reminder of what it is to be a student before becoming an expert in a field and to reflect on one’s on learning and teaching. Most importantly it reminds us where one needs to start in order to help develop students into expert learners that can traverse any learning space to find value and reflection. Learning is a lifelong process and one never knows when they will find his or herself in a novice learning space again.

 

References

Benander, R. (2009). Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Journal of  the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(2), 36—41.

Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. New Directions For Teaching & Learning, 2004(97), 5-23.