Virtual School’s Symposium 2012 Summary

The student panel at the Virtual Schools Symposium 2012

 Over 2,000 conferees assembled in New Orleans, Louisiana for iNACOL’s edition of its Virtual Schools Symposium held October 21-24, 2012. Across the program, presentations looked at research in the field, instructional models, administrative successes, and policy proposals.

This year’s conference focused on the trends in the field that includes blended (hybrid) learning.  In their session iNACOL’s Rob Darrow and Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn clarified that in blended learning models, teachers have the ability to look at student achievement data daily, a feature not available in traditional classrooms.  Blended learning is a mix between traditional instruction and student control and self-pacing.

In the opening general session, iNACOL CEO Susan Patrick and Gates Foundation Stacey Childress discussed the trends in non-traditional learning:

  • Student-centered personalized learning.  In this view, students have the ability to learn at their own rates and choose their own learning paths.
  • Students will receive credit when they learn a major concept, not at the end of the course or semester.
  • Smart learning systems will be developed that learn as students use them.

During his presentation, John White (twitter: @Louisianasupe), Louisiana Superintendent of Education described the tension between traditionalists and reformers.  He asked that both sides come togther and develop a system that meets today’s needs.  The workplace and the family have changed so schools should follow.  He cautioned technologists that schools are not ready to implement technology.  Infrastructure is not ready in many parts of his state and  across the country.  White thinks that control needs to be local, that other forms of schools can be successful (vouchers and charters), and certification stops innovation.

In research provided by the Marzano Research Laboratory and Plato Learning students in online courses have greater success the more time that teachers are in the courses interacting with students and their work.  For teachers who are logged in for over 530 hours, students’ end of semester score averaged 81% compared to 62% for teachers who logged in less than 39 hours.

In a session about quality, Susan Patrick and Evergreen Education Group’s  John Watson outlined the issues.  Quality has been defined as course inputs; that is, quality courses have certain features.  Patrick and Watson described the move to performance metrics, such as portfolios, individual growth, college readiness, career readiness, and others.  They called for pilot programs to test these ideas, and to influence policy and legislation.

In another general session, Karen Cator  of the U.S. Department of Education described the need for high end assessments, multiple measures for success, and multiple proof points specifically calling for policy makers to focus on educational issues that is about individual student learning.

The student panel always highlights valuable statements from students about how they are learning in online and blended models.    In these settings, it appears that nobody speaks for them.  The discussions are usually around adult perceptions and views.

In my all-day preconference session, Judy Bauernschmidt (Colorado Department of Education), John Canuel (Blackboard), Holly Bryzcki (CAIU), and Phil Lacey joined me in taking participants through the process of starting an online program.  Our slides follow.

The field is beginning to mature in its thinking.  Policies, practices, and results will determine the success of this innovative movement.

Next year’s VSS is in Orlando, Florida.

Successful Online Courses

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The SLATE Conference is October 11-12, 2012 at the Northern Illinois University campus in Naperville, Illinois.  The conference brings together conferees who are interested in non-traditional forms of learning, especially in electronically supplementing traditional courses or implementing online courses.

My presentation is about factors for successful online courses.  They include:

  • issues of curriculum, instruction, and technology
  • the target audience
  • research about successful online students
  • multicontent tracks in courses
  • quality components
  • promising practices

The slide deck is below.

 

Innovation and Democracy

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Is innovation a democratic process?

Innovate:  to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. (reference)

In Disrupting Class, author Clayton Christen informs school boards that introducing digital learning into schools may be hampered by purposeful democratic processes that are part of schools’ cultures.  Cooperative tools like “financial incentives, negotiations, vision statements, training, performance metrics, and even litigation . . . don’t work most of the time. . . . [L]eaders often waste their credibility, energy, and resources when implementing change.  The efficacy of any tools in eliciting the cooperation needed to march in a new direction depends in two variables:  the extent to which the concerned parties agree on what they want, and the extent of their agreement on how to get it.  We have concluded from examining school through this lens that democracy itself — as practiced in most school boards — is a fundamental barrier that will block implementation of many of the changes [needed for successful digital learning] unless leaders deal with it correctly (p. 227).

Reflect on this question:  When was the last time  innovative emerged from a school committee?  I am referencing issues that really improved (changed) learning for kids?  Never seen it happen in a curriculum committee and certainly never in a “technology committee.”  Legislative mandates force certain changes upon schools.  Innovation in schools does not happen from within the established system.

Real innovation occurs with through a visionary leader who gathers like minded supporters that are committed to helping the vision become reality.  Look at the picture at the top of this posting.  Was the light bulb developed by a committee?

Many of us can name innovators  of goods and services from the past two decades.  Can you name a educational leader who really changed learning in schools in the past two decades?   Not one.  Most are historic figures from the early 20th century.  (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have not innovated education.  They provided “tools” that allow teachers to do the same things electronically.  The delivery, the context, and the result are from the early 20th Century.)

As schools consider new ways to bring digital learning opportunities to their students, they need strong leadership and perhaps undemocratic methods to make this a reality.  Otherwise are kids will remain early 20th Century learners.

Social Media In Schools

 The fourth component of emerging issues in schools is social media.  It’s easy for technology directors to block all social media.  Yet, it is more difficult to apply social media in the classroom. That means that students can blog, work on wikis, and use social media web sites for educational purposes.  There’s every reason to use social media for learning, school communication, and community service. 

Blogs can be used for writing assignments and journals.  Clearly students must learn what’s appropriate for the public Internet, but it’s still easier to block it than to teach it. 

Microblogging can be used for quick communication among class members.  Teachers can use such application sites to solicit feedback and questions during class, yet we’ve banned personal technologies in schools.  It all goes together. 

Students can use wikis for community course study guides and book studies, but it’s still easier to block it than to teach it. 

Photo sharing sites allow students to collect or share their own photos for a myriad of ideas, such as biology, astronomy, history, architecture,  and art, to name just a few.  Yet, it’s still easier to block it than to teach it. 

 Educational technologists need to help schools find the safe path through rather than restricting it.  It is our role to help teachers and students, rather than creating barriers to learning. 

Like any other technology application, the use of social media in schools begins with a solid curriculum plan that has clear objectives and modes of evaluation.  This with a test implementation, followed by formative evaluation that leads to full implementation is a good first step.  Distributed implementation across the school’s curriculum makes social media an important cog in learning and leading.