4 Lessons We Can Learn from the “Failure” of MOOCs


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


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Recently NPR did a story that had the general title The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course. And yet the article was focused solely on MOOCs (massive open online courses). Let’s be clear that MOOCs are just one part of the so-called online learning revolution. (Don’t forget blended learning, the flipped classroom, etc). The story was a strong critique on MOOCs and their effectiveness. For instance, the article cites one case at San Jose State University in California:

But by all accounts, the San Jose experiment was a bust. Completion rates and grades were worse than for those who took traditional campus-style classes. And the students who did best weren’t the underserved students San Jose most wanted to reach.

Even Udacity’s co-founder called their MOOCs a “lousy product.” Obviously MOOCs are not as successful as was previously hoped. In fact, much of this was not a surprise to me. MOOCs can run into the same pitfall that swallows other iterations of online education. Let’s use this iteration as an opportunity to improve practice for online learning.

1. Retain the Human Element
Education is about relationships. We know this, and the creators of MOOCs have started to adjust based on this. Course mentors are being added, as well as more 24/7 support specialists. We can no longer continue with the “factory farm” model of online education and push students through it without the close relationship and coaching of a teacher. Online and blended-learning teachers need to continue building relationships with students to truly personalize learning. You can’t personalize learning with a 100:1 student:teacher ratio!

2. Foster Focused Collaboration
While MOOCs have had a lot of tools for open collaboration, engagement in these spaces may be hit or miss. Participation in discussion boards can in fact be a good metric to gauge a MOOC’s success. In order to increase participation, give students authentic issues and problems to address. In addition, create affinity or project groups, or have students self-select for these groups. This will create not only a focused cohort of colleagues, but also a focus on topics and problems.

3. Provide Ongoing Feedback
If students receive needed and timely formative assessment feedback, learning can be more personalized, and they will be getting the attention they need. There can of course be self, peer, expert and teacher assessments, along with assessment by other agents, but it must be ongoing. We need to build more of this into MOOCs and online education in general.

4. Blended Is Best
I would make an argument that one of the best ways to work on all the above recommendations is to take on some sort of blended model. There are many of these models and implementation methods. When a course is blended, ongoing feedback and assessment can happen more readily, relationships can be strengthened, and collaboration can happen in varying spaces that meet student needs. Even Coursera is seeing this as important and is building “learning hubs” that include weekly in-person instruction. Anant Agarwal makes the case in a recent TED talk that MOOCs, despite the issues we’ve discussed, can still be used to supplement instruction. In fact, Anant pairs online instruction with face-to-face, creating a blended environment.

We know these strategies and recommendations work! Another important thing to consider, however, is how we are measuring the “failure” and “success” of MOOCs. Perhaps MOOCs are disrupting the traditional mold of education and are still being measured using the quality indicators of Education 1.0. In fact, the Atlantic recently published an article that explains how “tricky” it is to measure the success of a MOOC. In addition, Anant Agarwal believes that MOOCs can still be a useful component of blended learning. And so, regardless of this rough patch, we can still learn from some of the bumps and, in learning, we can improve digital education for all.

5 Tips for Flipping Your PBL Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


I am of course a huge project-based learning (PBL) nerd and advocate. I am also an advocate for the flipped classroom, yet at the same time I also have my concerns about flipping a classroom. This model still hinges upon great teachers, and engaging curriculum and instruction. So why not combine PBL and the flipped classroom? It can be an excellent match when you consider some of the following tips. Even Salman Khan believes that the flipped classroom can create the space for PBL.

1. Short Content Videos
The key piece here is short. Kids do not want to be watching hours of content. However, short five- to ten-minute videos could be used to replace lectures in the classroom and free up space for more PBL time. These videos might be introductions to learning the content, or possibly content review. Students who enjoy the flipped classroom often comment that their favorite part is being able to watch videos over and over again as needed. Find or create these videos, and make sure to align them to the significant content you intend to teach and assess in your PBL project.

2. Collaborative Virtual Work
I love it when students assign their own homework. Many times in a PBL project, the team might not quite finish all they want to do in class, and some of this work relies on collaboration. There are many digital tools out there that allow for collaboration, and this could be your chance to “flip the collaboration,” whether it’s joint research and documentation, or even reflection as a group. This virtual work can also be great documentation for assessing collaboration as one of the 4 C’s in the 21st century learning aspect of a PBL project.

3. Virtual Labs and Games
Flipping isn’t just videos, because — let’s be honest — videos can get boring after a while. As you go through the PBL process with students, use other types of virtual activities as both components to learn content and a means of formative assessment. For example, if students need to learn about parts of the body, use an interactive digital lab for them to do a dissection. Or, if students are learning about some math component, have them play a math game outside of the brick-and-mortar setting that still allows you, as the teacher, to check on how they’re doing.

4. Product Production
If you are concerned with students taking an excessive amount of time in actually constructing the PBL product, give a technology choice or choices as an element of the final product. These products can be produced and edited in the cloud, where individual students and teams can have access to them 24/7. You can ask students for these links and give them your feedback to help improve their work.

5. Consider Tech Equity
Not all of our students have access the technology. Some of us are lucky enough to have 1:1 classrooms, but not all. Because of that, you need to truly consider equity as a core issue if you intend to flip your PBL classroom. It’s difficult for students to collaborate digitally, for example, if some have access to the technology while others do not. In cases like this, consider your flipped components as optional for those students able to use them.

PBL and the flipped classroom model can play well together. In fact, PBL can make it better when students are engaged in authentic work and given voice and choice in how and what they want and need to learn. What are some of the ways you’ve used both the flipped classroom and PBL? How do you see them complementing each other?

Personalized Learning Starts with Personal Relationships


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 >



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How do we help each student succeed? One promising way is to personalize learning and put each student at the center of her learning experience. Broader than individualized or differentiated instruction, personalized learning is driven by the learner. Ensuring personalized learning for all students requires a shift in thinking about long-standing education practices, systems, and policies, as well as significant changes in the tools and resources. To address students’ abilities, interests, styles, and performance, schools need to rethink curricula, instruction, and technology tools to support giving learners choices and schools flexibility.

In our last episode of the Whole Child Podcast, we discussed personalized learning in the 21st century global marketplace with professor Yong Zhao, author of the ASCD book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. In this episode, we take a look at personalizing learning on the ground and in schools and the importance of relationships in activating students to take charge of their learning. You’ll hear from

Jennifer Eldredge, a Spanish teacher at Oconomowoc High School whose district is a member of the regional Cooperative Educational Service Agency #1, which is committed to establishing personalized learning as the prevailing approach in southeastern Wisconsin.
Andrew Miller, former classroom and online teacher and current educational consultant, ASCD Faculty member, National Faculty member at the Buck Institute for Education, and regular ASCD and Edutopia blogger.
Beth Sanders, a high school social studies teacher at Tarrant High School in Alabama who is also the cofounder and codirector of Youth Converts Culture and was named an Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013 and 2013 Teacher of the Year for Tarrant City Schools.

Tips to Relieve Your Common Core Pain Points


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

While implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), many educators—both in leadership and in the classroom—are experiencing some bumps along the way. This is to be expected, but there are some specific “pain points” that are leading to common areas of need.

Here are some of the most common pain points we see as we work with districts and schools across the country, and a few ideas to relieve them.

Pain Point: Ensuring common practices and strategies for implementing the CCSS in the classroom

Expert Tips: Of course, we want to make sure we are all on the same page in building a common understanding of what effective implementation looks like. At the start, you should understand that the standards aren’t the whole curriculum. Then assure that your curriculum is aligned to the standards. Also, have teachers and leaders identify specific instructional practices and strategies that will be used in all classrooms. These can be schoolwide practices that are already working, as well as new practices that will support student learning. Make sure that these practices focus on teaching for understanding, and that everyone really knows how to use them with fidelity. Through modeling, demonstration and lab classrooms, and effective use of reflection and feedback, the entire team will be on the same page about what the selected practices “look like” and how to use them.

Pain Point: Using formative assessment effectively while implementing the CCSS

Expert Tips: Just as there needs to be a common understanding of instructional practices, there also needs to be a common understanding around the use of classroom formative assessment practices. Make sure teachers are integrating formative assessment for learning and checking for student understanding practices into what happens in the classroom on an ongoing basis. What the standards are requiring of students makes a balanced approach to classroom formative assessment even more important. These formative assessments should include self and peer assessment, performance tasks, projects, and constructed responses. In addition, formative assessments should support students in making the leap to apply what they have learned to new and different concepts, situations, and subject areas. Whether your state is a member of PARCC, Smarter Balance, or developing their own summative assessments, adopting a balanced approach to schoolwide formative assessments will help ensure student success.

Pain Point: Including schoolwide, collaborative, and job-embedded professional learning practices supported by teachers and leaders

Expert Tips: It is crucial that staff members are given time to learn together and to collaboratively develop units, lessons, and assessments aligned to the CCSS. These collaborative opportunities also help to build common instructional practices and classroom “look fors.” Part of making sure collaborative work is successful includes the use of selected protocols for examining student and teacher work and creating instructional decisions as a result. The use of common protocols across the school helps to build community and keep the focus on instruction and student learning

Pain Point: Integrating the use of technology effectively while implementing the CCSS

Expert Tips: It’s easy for technology integration to become fluff, rather than targeted toward effective instruction and assessment. Make sure to align technology to formative and summative assessment best practices. Use technology to increase collaboration in professional learning. Also, make sure that technology is used to enhance the common instructional practices that have been agreed upon by the professional learning community. The standards require instructional rigor that supports integrating technology tools in the classroom, so make sure you are targeting technology integration practices aligned to ensuring intentional learning. Create policies that support the use of technology as a tool for opening classroom doors, encourage collaboration and classroom visitation, and build a community of sharing and learning.

Bringing Authenticity to the Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Authenticity — we know it works! There is research to support the value of authentic reading and writing. When students are engaged in real-world problems, scenarios and challenges, they find relevance in the work and become engaged in learning important skills and content. In addition, while students may or may not do stuff for Mr. Miller, they are more likely to engage when there is a real-world audience looking at their work, giving them feedback, and helping them improve. This is just one critical part of project-based learning. However, maybe you aren’t ready for fully authentic projects. Where are some good places to start taking the authenticity up a notch in your classroom?

Authentic Products
Does the work matter? Does it look like something people create in the real world? It should. Much of the work we do in the classroom may not be like the real world. Wouldn’t it be great if it were? Now, I’m not saying you need to make every piece in your classroom completely authentic, but consider having your major summative assessments reflect the real world. If you truly want the work to matter, make your products not only look authentic, but actually be authentic. Follow this link for a list to consider.

Needs Assessment
How do you make the work be authentic? One way to is to conduct a needs assessment of your community. You can facilitate students to conduct this needs assessment by having them design the type of data to be collected, collecting and analyzing that data, and then developing action plans. These action plans can include real-world projects that you help your students align to curriculum standards. Paired with authentic products, the work now matters to the community and can make a difference.

Authentic Audience and Assessment
Edutopia has a great section on Authentic Assessment that you can use to get started. It goes over definitions, features videos, and includes tools to help make the assessment process more authentic. Part of this is having an authentic audience to give your students feedback. Sometimes that audience can be parents, but often it’s made up of people who, in their everyday lives, do the same or similar types of work to what your students are doing in the PBL project. So instead of just a public audience, make it an authentic audience. Remember, this audience doesn’t just participate at the end of the work, but is engaged throughout.

Authentic Tools
When you partner with an authentic audience that can give honest feedback about the work, they may also be able to provide you with authentic tools. These tools might be construction-type materials, or they might be technological. Different work calls for different tools, and having the right tools can help students do more authentic work. As you plan your work and projects, find those real-world connections, and ask them what tools they use.

Whenever I build PBL projects, I try to make them as authentic as possible, not only because it helps engage students, but because the students start becoming social change agents. Education shouldn’t stop at engagement in learning — it should be about engagement in our world in community!

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