While 46% of all districts and charters are implementing online and blended learning, we asked those that aren’t if they were currently discussing or planning to eLearn. While overall 26% said they were, the disaggregated data shows that 44% of unified (K-12) and high school (9-12) districts were actively engaged.
Online and blended learning, growing 20% to 30% yearly, have reached a tipping point. CLRN’s California eLearning Census, conducted between March and May this year, received responses from 30% of California’s school districts and direct-funded charters. While we found that 45% of all districts and charters are utilizing some form of online or blended learning, we were surprised that of those districts not currently eLearning, one-third were in the planning stages to create online or blended programs. Yes, online and blended learning are trending and many teachers and districts are jumping on the eLearning bandwagon.
Flipped classrooms and the Khan Academy have received national attention as teachers place classroom lectures online and change classroom pedagogy to include project-based work. You may even be thinking of creating an online or blended course yourself. After all, you’ve taught for many years and you’re a master of your curriculum and teaching craft, so those skills should benefit you in creating an online course.
Remember how, during your first year of teaching, you spent countless nights creating lesson plans and units only to throw most of them away the following summer? Remember how difficult that first year was? Multiply that times 10 and you’ll have your first year of online or blended learning. I’m not saying, “Don’t do it.” I’m saying that you should go in with both eyes wide open, following the advice I’ve shared below.
We speak from experience. We know a lousy course when we see one. The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN), a state-funded technology service, reviews online and blended courses for their alignments to the Common Core standards, California’s original standards and to iNACOL’s Standards for Quality Online Courses, which we helped write. Under a new partnership with the University of California, online courses must be CLRN-Certified before U.C. will consider them for A-G approval. However, to date, only 25% of the courses we’ve reviewed have received our certification. So, if commercial publishers have so much difficulty creating a high-quality, engaging, and interactive course, what makes you so special?
By all means, dream large. Online and blended learning provide opportunities often unavailable in small and medium sized districts. Opportunities to take an AP course or any world language should be available to all students, not just those in large or affluent districts. Begin with the end in mind, though.
Most successful projects begin with a thorough planning process that engages stakeholders, reviews research, and carves out a plan that solves a specific problem. Planning for online or blended learning is no different.
This year’s Keeping Pace , an annual census report and analysis of the online and blended landscape, includes a proposed 18th month planning process with specific tasks for each phase. In the Systemic Planning stage, you bring together stakeholders and perform a needs analysis that asks: 1) What’s the problem you hope to solve? 2) What is your educational goal? 3) Who are the intended student groups? and 4) What are your district’s capabilities and desires?
That’s just the beginning, though, because before creating a solution, you also need to assess your technology infrastructure, your students’ and teachers’ technology skills, the availability of quality, standards-aligned resources, and teacher professional development.
But, assuming you’ve completed a planning process and targeted specific student groups or courses to affect, what’s next?
Normally, I’d suggest at this point a discussion about whether to build or to buy. Should you build courses from scratch (and do you have the capabilities to do so) or should you shop for quality courseware that you can pilot for a year or more?
But, you’ve already made the decision to create a lousy course, so let’s proceed.
Get Thee a Learning Management System
Whether you rent an existing course management system like BlackBoard or install an open source solution like Moodle or Course Builder, an LMS is a framework that contains your content, activities, and assessments, allowing you to track student progress and conduct online asynchronous and synchronous meetings. Whichever direction you choose, spend time mastering all the LMS’ components: installing curriculum, creating class rosters, embedding outside activities, and setting up discussion groups. Don’t start without an LMS, though.
Standards-aligned, engaging content can be purchased from a publisher, found in open source repositories, or created in-house. With iNACOL standard A2 stating, “The course content and assignments are aligned with the state’s content standards..”, you want to make sure that the content you provide students not only teaches (demonstrates) a skill, but also provides students opportunities to practice and assess each skill or standard. CLRN’s reviews include these three components of each standard identified for a course.
Your textbook is not a course though. While textbooks are aligned with the standards and may include practice activities and assessments, placing your book online, be it commercial or open source, is amateurish, at best.
Quality courses will include text though, but not entire chapters printed screen after screen. The better courses CLRN have reviewed include portions of text mixed with video lecture clips, streaming video, simulations, games, and short formative assessments. Creating quality online lessons is a much more time-consuming task than creating face-to-face lessons. Provide ample lead-time to create online lessons.
Online course standard B3 states that course instruction and activities must engage students in active learning, including authentic projects and activities that challenge students beyond knowledge and comprehension. Rather than focus primarily on multiple-choice tests for assessments, it’s best to provide students knowledge work where they create, evaluate, and analyze. Students should regularly participate in online discussion groups, be they synchronous or asynchronous.
Just What Part of the “Accessible” Memo Didn’t You Get?
All teaching and learning materials must be accessible to all students. Period. If you’re creating video lectures, streaming video clips, or providing narrated presentations, each must either have closed-captions or a transcript. Online standard D10, and the Department of Justice, expects it and your students deserve it. Sites like Universal Subtitles are easy to use and allow your captioned videos to play from their site, or you may download the time codes to upload to YouTube.
While you may feel like you’ve mastered your craft when teaching face-to-face, teaching an online or blended course requires a different skill set and mastery of different tools. In an online poll we conducted, online teachers recommended that newly converted online teachers master the following tools before beginning to create an online or blended course: 1) SlideShare or a similar online presentation tool; 2) Collaborative meeting tools and related skills to set-up and conduct online discussions; 3) Portfolio creation tools for students to assemble examples of their authentic work; 4) Synchronous presentation skills because teaching “live” to online students offers completely different challenges and requires new solutions; and 5) Universal Subtitles for creating closed-captions.
One avenue of professional development is the Leading Edge Certification (LEC) for online teachers. The 45-hour LEC course includes units in online pedagogy, building an online community, accessibility, assessment, and preparation. Based on iNACOL’s Quality Standards for Online Teachers, LEC provides an opportunity to become a highly-qualified online educator.
Online and blended learning are growing quickly for a reason. These courses can help personalize learning, allowing schools to vastly expand their course catalogs, and providing students the opportunity to learn any time, any place, any path, or at any pace. We understand your eagerness to provide an online or blended option to your students. Before jumping into the water, though, we just ask that you learn to swim. Anyone can create a lousy course. It takes time, talent, and perseverance to create a great one.
Last spring, CLRN collaborated with the Evergreen Education Group to create the California eLearning Census, an project to collect accurate virtual and blended learning populations, report the blended models in use, understand the distribution of course publishers in California, and inform the California state profile in Keeping Pace 2012. 30% of all California school districts and direct-funded charters participated in the census, which was conducted between March and May, 2012.
The California eLearning Census found that public school districts and direct-funded charter schools are quickly adopting online and/or blended learning ranging from offering individual courses to students, such as AP Calculus, to full-time virtual courses. Census data reflects 45% of districts and direct-funded charters who participated in the census reported students participated in online and/or blended learning in 579 schools, affecting a critical mass of districts and charters. The data, though, shows that while implementation is fairly wide, it is currently a relatively shallow pool, affecting just 3.4% of the total California student population. A significant number of districts and direct-funded charters (33%) had less than 30 students participating in full-time virtual learning, and 30% had less than 30 students participating in blended learning. This is to be expected with any disruptive innovation. While Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns predicted that online learning would reach a tipping point in 2013, and with eLearning growing up to 30% each year, census data seems to indicate that this revolution is either trending towards or may have already passed a tipping point, particularly when accounting for the large number of census respondents (33%) that indicated they were in the planning stages to implement virtual or blended learning.
The California eLearning Census was created by CLRN as part of its mission to inform K12 educators about high-quality, CLRN-Certified online courses; highlight eLearning’s steady growth, trends and resources; and understand districts’ needs so that we can continue to provide relevant services to our customers.
Online and blended learning, while not new, have continued to grow consistently as districts and charters seek new ways to serve their students. With this revolution trending towards, or surpassing, the tipping point, eLearning enters its adolescence. Like all teenagers, continued guidance will be necessary to ensure it becomes a responsible adult.
As a recap of last week’s events, here is the posted University of California press release announcing our partnership.In five years as CLRN’s director, this may be our most important event yet and one more marker on our path “north”.
The University of California this week launched a partnership with the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN), a state-funded technology service of the California Department of Education, to certify high school online courses that may fulfill UC’s “a-g” subject requirements for admission. CLRN has reviewed supplemental electronic learning resources and free Web information links since 1999.
“This new partnership will ensure online courses are reviewed by the experts at CLRN for key elements of quality online delivery, before those online courses come to UC to be reviewed by our experts in the ‘a-g’ subject areas,” said Michael Treviño, UC’s director of undergraduate admissions at the Office of the President. “Our shared goal is to set standards of excellence for any online course that prospective students might take when preparing to apply to UC.”
The partnership is the result of a policy revision approved in May by the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), a committee of the UC Academic Senate that oversees the “a-g” requirements. BOARS Chair George Johnson led the charge to analyze the online policy and streamline the approval process for online courses.
“The faculty care very strongly about not just the content of ‘a-g’ courses, but also how courses are taught, who is teaching them and what supports are available for everyone involved,” said Johnson. “UC needed a better mechanism to assess whether online courses meet the faculty expectations for online learning, and we appreciate CLRN’s interest in collaborating with us to address course quality.”
UC course analysts will continue to evaluate the academic content for “a-g” purposes, but CLRN will oversee the initial approval of online courses, ensuring that they are aligned with both content standards and with national standards for quality online courses. Such standards define the knowledge, concepts and skills students should acquire at each high school grade level. This policy revision will allow UC staff to reduce the backlog of online publishers and schools that would like to submit their courses for “a-g” approval.
“My Education Technology Task Force recently came out with a report that identified online learning as a key tool in helping kids learn anytime, anywhere — an exciting innovation that some districts around the state are already beginning to use,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “The UC-CLRN partnership, in turn, will also be a key tool by ensuring that kids who graduate high school in California go on prepared to succeed in college and careers.”
“The CLRN certification process will help spotlight high-quality courses that provide multiple learning paths, engaging curriculum and activities that require students to analyze, evaluate and create,” said CLRN director Brian Bridges.
The University of California aims to ensure that students have enhanced access to a broad range of rigorous “a-g” courses, including online courses, a fast-growing method of teaching and learning.
One should probably never publish a blog on a Friday afternoon, but i’ll be pushing out three posts next week, so here’s my chance to rant before the weekend.
Ok, so it took me a month to find the NY Times Op-Ed, “The Trouble with Online Education”, and while I’m sure many of my fellow eLearning conspirators have addressed the editorial’s flaws, I’d like to share my view.
The contributor, Mark Edmundson, is a college professor who thinks deeply about what it takes to conduct a great face-to-face college course and he writes sincerely about understanding the group of students that are in front of him so that he can take them from where they are to where he’d like them to be intellectually. He speaks to the importance of dialogue, varied assessments, and reading his audience so that he can adjust his course on the fly. All traits of a great teacher.
Mark believes, though, that online education is “one size fits all.” I must say that college courses could be the same: boring lectures that haven’t been updated in years; assessments limited to multiple choice tests that are easy to grade; and impersonal. College courses and professors come in all flavors.
So do online courses. You can look at the world of online learning and see specific courses that fit Mark’s description: boring lectures; little or no opportunities for formal or informal discussions; teaching and learning activities that rarely go beyond knowledge and comprehension; limited assessment types; and the inability of the course, because of its construction, to understand where students are starting. Just as there are terrible college professors and courses, there are poor online courses.
It doesn’t have to be, though. Memorable online courses can provide a collaborative space for teachers and students. Great online courses and the learning management systems that contain them can offer a variety of discussion areas; offer rich curriculum and multimedia with links to extension activities; and they can be singular when students need to learn or study on their own or they can provide frequent meeting opportunities “live” or asynchronous in nature. Great face-to-face learning activities can be transported online so that students are challenged to evaluate, analyze, and create. Or not. Online courses come in many flavors.
Mark ends his Op-Ed by saying, “Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.” I know. I’ve taken lots of face-to-face college courses where I felt alone in a room of 300.
Great face-to-face courses, and great online courses, are made, not born.
Children are cute. We spoil them, tell stories about how perfect they are, and ignore their imperfections. We’re amazed at each new skill they learn: rolling to crawling; speaking their first words; potty training; and learning to read. We just love that they are in our lives.
And then they become teenagers, and their flaws become all too apparent.
In real life, there are two types of parents: those to see their teen’s flaws and work to help their child become a responsible adult; and those who turn a blind side to their child’s imperfections, preferring instead to complain about others who bring their child’s flaws to light.
And so it is with online learning.
Online and blended learning is about to leave childhood, where it often looked cute and cuddly. People would stop and complement how nice it was that eLearning had entered our family, making it more complete and providing comfort to our non-consumer students.
But, eLearning was a child, growing a little more each year; learning new skills while expanding in size. We all thought it was so special, this child that came into our lives. Like all children, we often ignored eLearning’s flaws, focusing instead on its specialness. Some didn’t appreciate our child’s behavior, though, and felt we should discipline it more. Many of us, though, wanted to create the conditions where eLearning could grow and thrive.
Yes, eLearning is special. So were digital cameras in 1999, just before its tipping point, but I wouldn’t ever want a 1999 version of a digital camera. We knew digital photography was special, and recognized it would change our relationship with picture taking. Still, 1999 cameras were low resolution, expensive, clunky, and had few features. We loved them anyway, while acknowledging their flaws. We had great hopes that, over time, they would mature into the healthy adult they are today.
And so it is with eLearning.
Online learning is entering puberty. We dotted on it as a child and saw in it such potential as an adult. Too many of us, though, continue to ignore this child’s flaws, even to the point of criticizing those who dare to point them out. But children, disruptive innovations in their own right, become established sustaining innovations, growing and changing each year, up to and through adulthood.
As a teenager, eLearning’s limitations are coming to light. Many courses tend to be text-centric; their assessments primarily multiple-choice; and their activities rarely going beyond knowledge and comprehension. That doesn’t mean I don’t love this child. I do and I see the incredible potential this child has. However, if I want eLearning to mature, it’s my job as a parent, it’s our job as a village, to help this child mature. We all have a stake in this child’s future. How, or if, online learning matures depends on the type of parent we choose to be. A parent that continues to spoil the child, discounting flaws and turning a blind side to facts; or one that loves the child but sets the conditions and creates an environment for the child to grow and mature.
As one of the village members watching eLearning transition into adolescence, I see its great potential to be an incredible adult. I believe formative assessments will actually determine a student’s path through the content, reteaching using different examples or pedagogies and providing multiple learning paths until a student becomes proficient. I believe courses will have challenging, authentic activities, requiring students to create, analyze, and evaluate. I believe courses will include a combination of text, short lectures, rich media, interactive simulations, and online discussions. I believe that multiple-choice tests will be just one type of assessment in future courses and that assessment types will be determined by the skill being assessed.
More importantly, I believe our eLearning adolescent won’t reach adulthood unless we create the conditions for its transition into adulthood.That includes being frank about both it’s strengths AND its problems.
Disclaimer: Before moving to the Stanislaus County Office of Education, I taught English, Drama, and Computers at a junior high for 20 years. Each of those 20 years brought many examples of children transitioning through childhood into puberty. Some children were better prepared for the transition; some were ready for adulthood; and some, I suspected, would take longer to “bloom.” Still, my job as a teacher was to help my students, my customers, mature into responsible adults. Yes, teenagers have flaws: they’re awkward; they’re trying out friends; and they’re shedding childhood. They’re not perfect, though. We, teachers and parents, do them great harm by not helping them prepare for adulthood.
With online and blended learning growing at double-digit rates and sliding past the tipping point, publishers and schools are both getting into the course creation business. It’s a little bit of the Wild West out there and we expect new publishers will appear on a regular basis. Remember when there were dozens of textbook companies? Eventually, the market consolidated to the three primary textbook publishers we see today, but until that happens, we’ll be tracking eLearning’s evolution. Still, like early digital cameras just before their tipping point, some eLearning courses are primitive, two-dimensional, and, well, boring.
There. I said it. Some emperors have pretty ugly clothes.
However, as this disruptive innovation continues to mature, we strongly believe that courses will increase in complexity and sophistication. Capitalism and competition will drive publishers to increasingly raise the bar, offering more engagement, media, and assessment choices.
For now, though, through our experiences with a wide variety of online and blended courses, I’d like to share some thoughts about what a great online course should (and should not) be, whether you’re creating your own or if you’re about to go shopping for one.
1. A Textbook is not a course
What if a teacher threw a book at you and said, “Read this and take the tests at the end of each chapter. When you’re finished, you’ve passed the course”? Would you choose that teacher or curriculum for your child? Would you recommend that course to others? What are the odds that an average or struggling student would complete the course, or better, be proficient in its skills? What do you think the AYP of this class would be compared with an engaging face-to-face course? A great course should include textbook content, but if teaching and learning doesn’t extend beyond the page, and the course is primarily limited to reading, you’re better off throwing a kid a book and locking her in a room with it.
So, if a textbook isn’t a course, why do so many courses look and feel line one?
2. Your course should be better than the worst teacher in my school.
The Ferris Bueller clip below is my generation’s idea of a boring teacher.
Aim higher than this economics teacher. Much higher. Please. Because in some cases, I’d rather send my child to this f2f class.
3. There can’t be quality outputs without quality inputs.
I understand the outcomes-based performance indicators movement promoted by iNACOL, Michael Horn, and others and I look forward to an agreed-upon set of evaluation criteria that can be applied to both virtual and brick-and-mortar schools. Still, until these metrics are created and standardized, we’ll all be subject to our current criteria: course completions, graduation rates, drop-out rates, and Annual Yearly Progress (AYP).
But for me, it’s Garbage In, Garbage Out. You can’t have quality outputs unless you begin with quality inputs. As Charles Babbage was asked, “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?”
Students learn more from active discussions than from traditional lectures, and they need instructors who can engage them in the material, notes Diane Johnson, assistant director of faculty services at the Center for Online Learning at Florida’s St. Leo University. “Teacher quality is still a very important part of success in an online course, but so, too, is the course design,” Johnson says.
Teacher quality & course design. Quality In. Quality Out.
4. Just what part of the “Accessible” memo didn’t you get?
Your school built wheel chair ramps even though you may not have had any students with that need because some day a parent, student, or teacher WILL have that need. You also did it because the Federal government made you, but it was the right thing to do, yes? Of course. We want all students to have equal access to a quality education.
Should that be any different with online courses? eLearning’s equivalent of a wheel chair ramp is accessible media, particularly narrated presentations and video lectures.
Accessibility requirements for electronic media was confirmed by a US Department Of Justice letter to college presidents. In it, the DOJ reviewed its lawsuit against universities that had piloted the Kindle DX, which the DOJ won because the Kindle DX did not have a text to speech function. The letter states, “It is unacceptable for universities to use emerging technology without insisting that this technology be accessible to all students.”
Accessibility criteria for online courses was pioneered by the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) which has created a detailed site, TxVSN Accessibility, with advice, criteria, and check lists. Here are their Accessibility Guidelines.
One of CLRN’s requirements when reviewing courses is that all narrated presentations and videos include transcripts or Closed Captions.
So, yes, when you’re constructing an online course, your customers, and the Office of Civil Rights, expects that course materials are accessible. There are free resources to assist you, including Universal Subtitles, which can be used to embed captions within YouTube videos.
Make use of them.
5. Consistency between courses is key
We’ve noticed that often two online courses taught in sequence, like English I and English II or Algebra I and Geometry, have very different levels of interactivity and engagement, as if they were created by two very different teams who weren’t talking to each other. While one course may have a variety of media, narrated presentations, and video lectures, the companion course would not. The basic pedagogy of each course would be the same, as if course developers were working from a template, but one course would be significantly weaker than the other.
My advice? Hire great educators to develop your courses and make sure a separate person is in charge of quality control. Include textbook snippets, but make sure lessons are embedded with short video lectures, discussions, collaboration opportunities, and media.
6. Formative Assessments Should Inform Instruction
Too often, as in most cases, they don’t.
If a student is struggling, a formative assessment is where we first discover his difficulty in grasping a concept or idea. If, after failing a formative assessment, your course just passes the student on to the next unit without 1) reteaching or 2) informing the teacher there may be a problem, you’re competing with my worst teacher for last place.
There’s a reason teachers love “clickers”. They enable teachers to instantly assess whether students comprehend concepts and they offer “just-in-time” teachable moments if students don’t.
Formative assessments, generally short multiple-choice quizzes, don’t have to be graded. They DO need to be an opportunity to determine whether a student is grasping a concept. When students have difficulty, the course should attempt to reteach using new examples or new methods until the student is ready to move on.
Otherwise, your course isn’t much better than a book.
7. Vary Your Assessments
You do know there are other assessment types besides multiple-choice, yes? Then why do so many courses use multiple chose tests exclusively? It’s fairly common for a course to have frequent formative assessments, consisting of a few multiple-choice questions that gauge a student’s progress. That’s great, and often appropriate. However, when multiple-choice tests are used exclusively in a course, you’ll never know whether a student has synthesized course concepts.
There’s a reason principals frown when teachers park themselves at the school Scantron machine scoring quizzes. Sometimes a multiple-choice test IS the best way to test knowledge. However, it’s never appropriate to use it exclusively. A great online course should have a variety of assessments, some which provide feedback about knowledge and comprehension, while others challenge students to apply, create, analyze and evaluate. The less a test is “Googleable”, the better chance you’ll have of actually evaluating student progress.
Here at CLRN, we’re beginning to review the California eLearning Census data in preparation for a white paper to be released late summer. To augment current census numbers, we’re beginning to inport virtual school attendance data from California’s annual school census taken each October and released in late spring. The California Basic Educational Data System results for all schools can be accessed through DataQuest, which is where we found virtual student populations for the 14 virtual schools that didn’t participate in the eLearning Census. Being a snapshot taken in early October, it doesn’t reflect growth during the school year. For example, the October count for California Virtual Academy @ Los Angeles was 4897 while the spring eLearning Census report was 5100. Still, CBEDS & DataQuest allow us to track student attendance over time, which is the focus for this brief post and a taste for what you can expect in the white paper.
Let’s start with how attendance has increased at the 10 California Virtual Academies, all independent direct-funded charter schools managed by K12, Inc. Attendance in 2009/10 was 10,379, which grew to 11,256 in 2010/11, an 8% increase. This year, the Academies report 13,125 students, representing a year-to-year growth of 17%. The chart below tracks their growth.
Compare the above chart with those below representing growth at the Rocketship schools, direct-funded charters emphasizing the Rocketship rotation method of blended learning. Of the five Rocketship schools, only two have been open three years. Their year-to-year growth was 10% in 2010/11 and 12% this year.
Three Rocketship schools have been operating at least two years, and the chart below represents their 17% year-to-year growth, which is identical to California Virtual Academy growth. Being a two-year chart, though, skews the growth line.