Voices of the Dropout Nation: Online Learning and Changing Education

 

This post originally appeared on Dropout Nation, a site focusing on America’s dropout crisis and education reform. This is an expansion of a commentary on education that began four years ago for the Indianapolis Star with Left Behind, a series of editorials editorialist RiShawn Biddle co-wrote detailing Indiana’s — and the nation’s — dropout crisis. View Original >

 

“Online classes are not for all students.” This comment quickly incites debate in the online education community and it’s all based in real life situations. It’s true, not all students have been successful in the online classroom. Some of them lack the time management skills or the independent motivation to get work done efficiently. Some have technology skills that need improvement. However, these are all excuses. Yes, excuses consistently used to create a push-out culture for online education.

David R. Dupper has many publications that reframe issues in school in terms of push-out instead of drop-out. Drop-out implies fault of the student, instead of push-out. By adopting the term “push-out” the onus is the many factors that contribute to student success – everything from teachers to curriculum. A recently published article shows many views on why online classes are not for everyone. In fact one interviewer claims “If a student is independent, disciplined or just busy with school, work, or both, an online course might be the best option for that individual.” Another claims “Read the assignment, do what you have to do and get it done. I recommend it if that’s the way you like to learn” These statements bother me.

These are examples of statements that foster a “drop-out” framework rather than a “push-out” framework. I ask these interviewees, “Why are you creating so many requirements and restrictions for students to be successful online?”  The first interviewee is creating a list of traits that a student must have. Instead we should train out students to have these skills. The second interviewee makes a large assumption – that all courses are structured in one a specific way.

Innovators are trying new ways of structuring courses, from gaming-based to project based. They are not simply the “read and do that assignment” stereotype. It is true that many courses are structure this way, and so should serve as a warning. In fact, this assumption no doubt came out of real experience of being exposed to the same type of course framework and pedagogical model. We need to make sure not to structure all online courses in the same pedagogical models. Game based courses are starting to be created, as done by Florida Virtual Schools in their Conspiracy Code American History Course.  Many courses are trying PBL models for their learning, as well as focus on 21st century skills such as collaboration and presentation. Innovative course design needs to continue, and the assumption that all online courses are the same should be mitigated.

We have the opportunity to avoid the replication of a broken system where the culture of “read and do” exist. We must take ownership of the walls that exist for students and seek to find ways to climb. Students should not adjust to the educational system.  Instead the online education system should adjust to its students.

Project-Based Learning and Physical Education

 

This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >

 

Physical education (PE) can be a place where relevant and authentic learning can occur. I think project-based learning (PBL) is one way to not only create this, but to also show others how valuable PE can be. When done well, PBL gives students a relevant and authentic task—a problem or challenge—that they, as a team and as individuals, must explore and solve. Instead of a project that is a curriculum add-on or completed at the end, the standards-based instruction is filtered through this authentic task, which creates a need to know in students. They see why they are learning what they are learning. The students learn and complete the project concurrently, continually revising and producing a product that they will present publicly.

In my visits to classrooms across the country, I have seen some great projects that teachers have created and implemented. I am continually inspired and amazed by what they create. We “steal” from each other and use each other’s ideas in our own classrooms. In this spirit of stealing, here is an example of a PE PBL project filtered through the “Seven Essential Elements of Project-Based Learning,” a framework for inquiry shared by my Buck Institute for Education colleagues John Larner and John R. Mergendoller in a recent Educational Leadership article. Steal this project and use it in your classroom!

1. Need to Know

A group of high school students were presented with a letter from the local middle school principal. The letter asked them to create the best exercise program for the middle school students. They were asked to create sample PE units for the teachers and students and present their ideas to a panel of teachers, administrators, and other experts. They were also required to create, through their own participation and physical activity, data that proved physical exercise was occurring.

What a task to ask of high school students, and they had a lot of questions! What is a good PE unit? What do middle students like to do in PE? What are the goals of PE? These were all questions generated by the students. They had to engage in research, both online and in person, in order to accomplish this authentic task and present it to a real audience.

2. A Driving Question

For this project, students were trying to answer the question, How can we create the best exercise program for middle school students? All the work was geared toward this question. Students were reminded of the question in their daily lessons. It helped them answer the question, Why are you doing this today? when administrators, teachers, and other stakeholders visited the classroom.

3. Student Voice and Choice

Students were allowed a variety of opportunities to choose how they wanted to show their learning, but they were still graded on the same standards and learning objectives. Traditionally, teachers dictate all parts of the assessment, rather than give students power of how they can show their learning. If students are given voice and choice, they are engaged and empowered to perform the task.

For this project, each group was allowed to choose its PE unit, whether it was focused on a racket sport, conditioning, or a combination. However, they had to prove that this unit would meet the needs of physical education, whether the needs were created by the PE teacher or to align with specific standards and learning targets. In addition to the group work, each student was required to create another engaging PE unit for middle school students, but showcase it in a format of each student’s choice (for example, podcasts, videos, flyers, or demonstrations). This ensures accountability of the same learning targets for both the group and the individual.

4. 21st Century Skills

Students were engaged in two 21st century skills: collaboration and presentation. Unlike group work, which is activity based, they would work together to create something over a few weeks. Rather than one day, they would engage in collaboration like professionals in the workforce. These skills are valuable across disciplines and in the postgraduate world. Teachers trained students to do these skills well, whether in a team-building activity in PE class or help from the drama teacher in the art of presentation.

5. Inquiry and Innovation

Because the task is authentic and open-ended, students are constantly engaged in the inquiry process. They are finding and being armed by the teacher with the information they need to accomplish the task. Students are also creating something new. It is not simply a regurgitation of knowledge, but instead using that knowledge and newly created data to design an innovative PE unit.

6. Feedback and Revision

The students had to test-drive each other’s units, which meant they were engaged in a variety of physical activities. However, they were also looking for feedback from their peers, from teachers, and from the middle school students. They learned that continuous improvement is possible, and that revision is a great thing to do.

7. A Publicly Presented Product

Students presented to a high-stakes audience, both for the individual and group products. They shared their data, demonstrated their units, engaged in persuasive rhetoric, and shared the stage with each other. After the presentations, there was a sense of relief as well as a sense of accomplishment. They had successfully completed a project that they would remember for the rest of high school. Not only that, but they came to their own understandings of many PE content standards, as well the importance and need for a physical education program.

I encourage physical educators to think about the possibilities with PBL. The project can be geared toward any standard and any audience. Its focus can be narrow or broad, and it can last anywhere from several days to several months. The payoff is engagement. Students will see the relevance for their learning in PE through the authentic task of a PBL project. You must give up power in order to empower your students; empower them in their physical education.

Rethinking Time in Online Learning

 

This post originally appeared on edReformer, a community of advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, policy makers, philanthropists and investors seeking to promote excellence and equity in education through innovatation.  edRefomer serves as a catalyst for innovation in education by encouraging and  promoting public and private investment in new learning tools, schools, and platforms. View Original >

 

In online learning, we often tout how one of its best attributes is flexibility. We talk about how online learning will allow students to learn at their own pace, and how we will meet them where they are. A case of this was talked about recently on CNN, an echo of the other report in USA Today. Students were engaged in online class for credit retrieval. Students had to meet standard and complete course work using an online course. It has given students, who previously had felt hopeless, the opportunity to graduate on time. This is one instance where is seems time is truly flexible for the student to achieve.

However, the reality is that most online schools and course operate within strict time constraints. Courses need to account for a certain amount of hours and days, all in order to be considered part of the Carnegie Unit. This leads to some contradictory messages. On the one hand we say that online learning is truly flexible, but we also construct strict pacing guides and completion dates in order to ensure that students are doing work in a timely matter and also to ensure they are doing “enough” work. The effort is not of bad intent, but out of the need to cater to student needs and governmental policies.

study was put out a few years ago by Kathy Holmes of the University of Newcastle that examined asynchronous discussions, which we know are designed to facilitate conversation just like in the face to face classroom. In in a discussion took place for a course of 48 days for full time students and 18 days for part time students. For anyone who has taught online, this might seem odd. Most of the time discussion boards are used as quick assignments that occur over a few days. However over the course of this larger discussion the students were engaged had higher learning taxonomy. Holmes asserts ” Not only should instructors ensure that online learning tasks are sufficiently open-ended, engaging and unambiguous, but they should also be familiar with the intricacies of managing online discussions and with viable methods of augmenting student learning within this framework.” This example of what we want in online learning runs contradictory to the constraints of time many online instructors face.

In addition, iNACOL published a briefing around Competency Based Pathways, where a discussion is around the reform needed in online education in order to have true student-centered learning.

“Frequently, competency-based policy is described as simply flexibility in awarding credit or defined as an alternative to the Carnegie unit. Yet, this does not capture the depth of the transformation of our education system from a time-based system to a learning-based system.”

Online educators need to rethink how we use time. If we are truly student-centered, and want rigorous discussion, then time needs to become less of an immovable force.

From Drop Out to Push Out in Online Learning

 

This post originally appeared on edReformer, a community of advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, policy makers, philanthropists and investors seeking to promote excellence and equity in education through innovatation.  edRefomer serves as a catalyst for innovation in education by encouraging and  promoting public and private investment in new learning tools, schools, and platforms. View Original >

 

“Online classes are not for all students.” This comment quickly incites debate in the online education community and it’s all based in real life situations. It’s true, not all students have been successful in the online classroom. Some of them lack the time management skills or the independent motivation to get work done efficiently. Some have technology skills that need improvement. However, these are all excuses consistently used to create a push-out culture for online education.

David R. Dupper has many publications that reframe issues in school in terms of push-out instead of drop-out. Drop-out implies fault of the student, instead of push-out. By adopting the term “push-out” the onus is the many factors that contribute to student success – everything from teachers to curriculum. A recently published articleshows many views on why online classes are not for everyone. In fact, one interviewer claims “If a student is independent, disciplined or just busy with school, work, or both, an online course might be the best option for that individual.” Another claims “Read the assignment, do what you have to do and get it done. I recommend it if that’s the way you like to learn” These statements bother me.

These are examples of statements that foster a “drop-out” framework rather than a “push-out” framework.

Innovators are trying new ways of structuring courses, from gaming-based to project based. They are not simply the “read and do that assignment” stereotype. It is true that many courses are structure this way, and so should serve as a warning. In fact, this assumption no doubt came out of real experience of being exposed to the same type of course framework and pedagogical model. We need to make sure not to structure all online courses in the same pedagogical models. Game based courses are starting to be created, as done by Florida Virtual School in their Conspiracy Code American History Course.  Many courses are trying PBL models for their learning, as well as focus on 21st century skills such as collaboration and presentation. Innovative course design needs to continue, and the assumption that all online courses are the same should be mitigated.

We have the opportunity to avoid the replication of a broken system where the culture of “read and do” exist. We must take ownership of the walls that exist for students and seek to find ways to climb. Students should not adjust to the educational system.  Instead the online education system should adjust to its students.

Related articles

Supporting Student Voice and Choice Leads to Equity

 

This post originally appeared on edReformer, a community of advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, policy makers, philanthropists and investors seeking to promote excellence and equity in education through innovatation.  edRefomer serves as a catalyst for innovation in education by encouraging and  promoting public and private investment in new learning tools, schools, and platforms. View Original >

 

Recently, an article in Educational Leadership provided a window into student ownership in the Project Based Learning methodology. In it John Larmer and John R Mergendoller of the Buck Institute for Education point out that there is one essential that moves us towards more student ownership and engagement for all students: Student Voice and Choice. In it a teacher explains what it looks like from her perspective:

“Once her students’ interest was piqued by a challenging question, Ms. McIntyre explained the requirements for the “Don’t Close the Beach” project, which included an individually written paper, an oral presentation of students’ work accompanied by media technology, and a product of students’ choice created by teams. Students chose to develop media kits, public service announcements, web pages, brochures, and letters to government and industry officials, among other products.”

Educators have continually turned to Howard Gardner and his theory on multiple intelligences as means of providing equity for all students. They’ve focused on assessments and curriculum that focuses on the student’s personal tastes and abilities. A teacher might provide an assessment product that would be artistic in nature and at the same time hold students accountable for content standards and learning.

However, these have never quite ensured equity in terms of assessment of student learning. Why? Because ultimately it is teacher-directed. The teacher is still choosing the method in which students display their learning, even though they may have provided an option that will ensure certain students will flourish. If we want true student construction of knowledge then we must allow for more student voice and choice in their learning. Why shouldn’t it be in the assessment?

Giving student’s the autonomy to choose their learning product and the opportunity and means to create that product is just one way Student Voice and Choice in PBL leads to student ownership and engagement. Student Voice and Choice leads to options that foster technology literacy, oral communication and creativity — excellent 21st century skills.

In addition, the teacher had a traditional paper — most likely to ensure individual written construction of knowledge — to fulfill requirements of the traditional education system, which is still in force. There is still control, but there is also student ownership. How can the teacher manage this type of assessment? Because the teacher knows exactly what she is assessing. She can assess the same content standards in a variety of formats produced by the students. Equity is present because students are given a variety of products to choose from that address multiple ways of knowing, and ultimately they are engaged.

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