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 a committed virtual learning advocate. As an experienced virtual teacher, I have seen students thrive where they’d previously failed. I have seen students who didn’t have access to certain courses gain not only college entry requirements, but also innovative electives to support their passions. At the same time, I am also a thoughtful critic of virtual schooling. We have an opportunity to innovate with online learning; we also risk stepping into pitfalls of doing the “same ole thing.” We run the risk of the “factory model,” where we put as many students as possible through a course with a large student-to-teacher ratio. So where are we now? After many of years of experimentation and implementation of various models, what are some challenges that still remain?
Statistics of Virtual Schools
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) continuously updates their statistics and facts about virtual school in the United States and worldwide. In their document of Fast Facts About Online Learning, some of these statistics highlight the growing prevalence of virtual school. For example, during the 2009-2010 school year, there were 1,816,400 enrollments in distance education. There are currently 27 state virtual schools, and fulltime online schools in 31 states and Washington D.C. Florida alone had over 303,329 course enrollments during the 2011-12 school year, making it one of the largest schools in the world. Some of the top reasons for this rise in blended learning include course credit recovery and giving students access to otherwise-unavailable online learning opportunities. It’s clear that virtual school is here to stay and will continue to become more prevalent.
Quality Online Courses
There are so many different providers of online courses, and some schools elect to create their own content to fit their model. But even then, the quality of instruction seems to vary. I’ve seen many online courses that look like the same “sit and get” structure with added multimedia attempting to conceal its quality. iNACOL has excellent standards that explain and can help evaluate not only rigorous courses, but also rigorous and effective online instruction. As more and more teachers are asked to teach in blended and online environments, it is critical that they’re provided professional development and targets allowing them to teach this way effectively. Parallel to that, the courses must draw on effective pedagogical models and not replicate ineffective learning environments that don’t meet the needs of all learners.
Misunderstanding of Blended Learning
Allison Powell, iNACOL’s Vice President for State and District Services, says, “We are seeing/hearing more blended learning happening, but the majority of people who say they are doing blended learning are really just integrating technology into their classrooms.” I too see this when I work with schools. Blended learning is not simple technology integration! At the same time, there are many implementation methods for blended learning, from the flipped classroom to the “A La Carte” model. The Clayton Christensen Institute (Formally Innosight Institute) has an excellent publication that explains and gives examples of the various models of blended learning. It is important that we venture down the path of blended learning, that we’re actually doing blended learning, that we’re clear in our model, and that we share common language.
Shift to Competency-Based Pathways
This is a major reframe of education. Instead of relying heavily on the Carnegie Unit, which requires seat time as an indicator of learning mastery, competency-based education focuses on mastery and competency as the critical piece of virtual school. It reframes grading and further personalizes instruction. We know some students take longer to learn and master material, just as some of our students take less time. Competency-based pathways honor this, seeking to advocate and build structures where this can work for students. However, with the Carnegie Unit still used as an assessment standard in many states, any newer model is a challenge to implement. To learn more about competency-based pathways, visit CompetencyWorks, an organization that dedicates itself to this reframe.
While it is clear that online and blended learning is becoming a norm for educators, it is also critical that we embrace this learning model with a demand for quality and innovation. We cannot replicate a broken system, and there are many challenges we need to overcome if we’re going to ensure that we do not.
Posted by Andrew K. Miller on Dec 8, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments
This post originally appeared on CompetencyWorks, a group designed to support the development of a community of people knowledgeable about competency education. View Original >
Typically, teachers launch projects after students have learned concepts and skills, or as a culminating activity in a lengthy unit of instruction. Also traditional projects generally follow a scripted, one size fits all design. What would happen if a project were launched the first day of a unit of instruction? What if unpacking that project resulted in students determining what is important to know and do in meeting the criteria for the product and presentation?
Welcome to project based learning that allows students to meet multiple competencies! As teachers struggle to work with the rigorous performance assessment demands of the Common Core State Standards, a well-designed project can be the vehicle for highly authentic, rigorous, and personalized learning experiences for students.
The Buck Institute for Education, one of the preeminent organizations with expertise in Project Based Learning, describes the eight Essential Elements of a PBL Project. Included in these elements is inquiry. We are all familiar with inquiry-based learning as an effective framework for the classroom, and similarly, the Project creates the inquiry to learn targeted competencies that integrate both content and 21st Century Skills. Instead of giving the project at the end of a curriculum unit, the Project is presented up front to students to create the “need to know,” the inquiry to engage in the project. In addition, this work is the frame around the learning while engaging the learner in the driving questions. This work is presented to a public, authentic audience. Students are given voice and choice in how they present their learning of competencies to allow for personalized and differentiated instruction. Students become the centers of learning, rather than the teacher. In turn, the teachers arm students with the skills and knowledge needed to meet competency through a variety of instructional activities.
The planning and preparation for a project that is designed to meet multiple competencies can provide teachers with the tool kit they need to retune their curriculum, assessment, and instruction paradigm to the new expectations of the Common Core State Standards.
The presentation and product of a project based learning opportunity allows students to demonstrate they have transferred the knowledge and skills of multiple competencies identified as essential in the project design.
The project IS the learning!
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post, an internet news and commentary website. The Education section features updated on college, teachers, and education reform, where I regularly contribute. View Original >
Virtual Schools Symposium has once again come to a close this year. There were many sessions, talks, and workshops on a variety of subjects including curriculum and instruction, virtual school models, and competency-based pathways. One of the overarching, as well as focused subject, was around this question: How do we prepare educators to teach effectively in the blended learning environment?
This is not a new question. There have been concurrent sessions at past conferences, and there were sessions on the same subject at this year’s conference. Yet, educators are still looking for answers. There are some things we already know about the role of the teacher in the blended classroom in terms of best practices. We know the teacher becomes the facilitator. No longer is the teacher the sage on the stage in the blended learning classroom, but the guide on the side. We know teachers need training on the technology tools as well and innovative ways to use them. We know that teachers need to know the content and standards to target for instruction and assessment. We know teachers will need to look at data to best meet the needs of their students. However, there is a better way to address all of these concerns, in more holistic and synthesized way.
We need to provide teachers with practical professional development in learning models. When we focus on the model, we focus on all the concerns and best practices articulated above. When we teach these best practices in “silos,” teachers may or may not see how all the best practices and tools work together. Consider Project-Based Learning as an example.
Project Based Learning is a model that provides teachers with practical strategies to engage students. Teachers who are doing PBL in the blended learning environment carefully pick the digital tools to use with their students because these serve a purpose within the PBL project. They use it for collaborative purposes or as performance assessments, rather than simply using the tool for engagement. They learn best practices in management of the classroom that support the PBL learning environment. They differentiate instruction based on the needs of the students within the project. When teachers learn PBL and use it, it ties all the best practices of blended learning “in a bow” (for lack of a better term). More importantly, PBL contextualizes how to teach with practical steps and strategies. All the work that the blended teacher does with students makes sense.
Of course, there are other practical learning models out there, from authentic learning to game-based learning. If we invest in professional development for teachers on these practical and engaging models, teachers will learn all the best practices needed to facilitate a blended classroom. Let’s create a practical context for teachers to be the best blended learning educators.