Associate Chair, Poland (again), and Speaking Engagements

For me, summer is usually a time of relaxed contemplation and completion of all those things that I just wasn’t able to get to during the hectic fall and spring semesters. Not so this year. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, excitement, and downright exhaustion since classes ended in May.

The following are my excuses for the lackluster contributions to this blog in the past month or so 🙂

In May, I submitted 5 chapters for my upcoming book to Pearson for review. The title of the book is still percolating in my brain, but the focus is on K-12 online teaching strategies with a short introduction to the landscape of K-12 online education. My deadline for final submission is in August… so with any luck, I’ll have a published book by next year.

In May, I accepted a new position as Associate Chair while our current AC is on sabbatical. This alone has been enough to keep my fingers flying furiously over the keyboard as I answer questions, schedule classes and hire adjuncts along with various other distractions. I’m definitely learning more about the administrative side of university life than I ever thought possible.

Nicolaus Copernicus University
Nicolaus Copernicus University

I was invited to speak as part of an international contingent at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland in June where I continue to nurture a budding relationship that I hope will result in a mutually beneficial partnership down the road. Since I was headed over there anyway, I decided to spend some extra time exploring both Poland and Germany by train. Although the preparations for the trip consumed more time than I had, it was well worth it in the end. I’ll never understand the complete disinterest in an efficient rail system (or lack thereof) in the U.S.

Finally, I graciously accepted two speaking invitations – one as keynote for the IDLA summer conference and the other to present the latest trends in K-12 online to the Idaho Charter School Network, including my work in the development of the now approved Idaho K-12 Online Teaching Standards. My presentations as well as the standards can be found on slideshare at: http://www.slideshare.net/krice100

Despite all of this activity, or perhaps because of it, I find that I am beginning to develop a very clear sense of purpose in my teaching and in my message. Good teaching is good teaching, regardless of the medium used to deliver instruction. However, we are beginning to realize that teaching online may be the catalyst that propels us to a new level of teaching excellence. First, it forces us to consider the needs of the learner as an individual – not as one of many that must meet a certain standard or objective in a specified period of time. Second, it forces us to think about and prepare our instruction in ways we have never encountered in the face-to-face classroom. Learner autonomy, community building, active participation, engagement, and authenticism all become critically important in online environments. Third, because it allows flexibility in how and when learning occurs, the boundaries and barriers of traditional educational systems seem meaningless. Grade levels, seat time, ticking clocks, bus schedules, lunch periods, fire drills, detention rooms – all of those artificial distractions and structures that we associate with school, really have no relevance in learning. So the focus can be on LEARNING (and the learner). And yes, technology is the medium, but it is the method that matters most. Technology affords us the opportunity to implement methods that challenge, connect, design, remix, reflect, review, evaluate and allow all learners to be successful learning in ways that work for them – which is our ultimate goal in education, isn’t it?

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New Issue Brief from Alliance for Excellence in Education

I just received a link to a new issue brief from Governor Bob Wise (former governor of West Virginia) for the Alliance for Excellence in Education. (Thank you Susan Patrick of iNACOL for the post.) The brief is titled: The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education (http://www.all4ed.org/files/OnlineLearning.pdf). The article provides a synthesis of some converging factors that stand a chance of changing the face of education as we know it.  I would also add that a critical component in all of this is a comprehensive education campaign about what quality online learning is, and more importantly, what it is not. Quality online learning experiences do NOT include:

  1. Correspondence courses involving limited or no interaction with the teacher. Correspondence courses are just that – they have their own label.
  2. Courses with excessive enrollments. I have witnessed presentations expounding the cost savings of plopping 600 students into online college courses with one professor.
  3. Courses delivered through video technologies that are only accessible from school to school. These types of courses are dramatically different from online experiences because they mimic a traditional classroom – minus direct interaction with a teacher. They tend to be teacher-directed (lecture) educational experiences.

What is online learning?

Online learning leverages the Internet to create rich, interactive, and personalized learning experiences for learners. A vast array of technology tools are used in online learning environments to:

  1. Facilitate interaction and communication,
  2. assist with skill, knowledge and project development,  AND
  3. promote acquisition of 21st century skills.

What are the transformative capabilities of online environments? Online learning CAN promote:

  1. Learner autonomy and independence – the idea that learners take responsibility for their own learning,
  2. collaboration and community building,
  3. active participation, and
  4. authentic types of assessments.

Online experiences can be found in:

  1. Traditional face-to-face classrooms (what we call blended or hybrid),
  2. Self-contained virtual charter or cyber schools (often with a parent or guardian acting as a learning coach or guide), or
  3. Single course offerings through a state supplemental program.

iNACOL is a wonderful resource for information about K-12 online learning. If you are unclear about what online learning IS, visit their site and take some time to educate yourself. If you’re a fan of Project-Based Learning, you may have recognized many of the same characteristics in quality online experiences that you would expect to see in PBL. This is no coincidence. Check out http://pbl-online and The Buck Institute for Education for more on PBL.

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Loss of funding for Idaho Digital Learning Academy – what are they thinking?

Recently, in my very progressive (in terms of educating its students) state of Idaho, our online state supplemental program, Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) has come under attack with a proposal from Governor Butch Otter to phase out its funding. IDLA is in a precarious position in that it is in essence a political entity – created and funded through state legislation. Add to this a somewhat confusing designation as neither a school nor a district, IDLA is outside the bounds of traditional school funding and protection. What this means is that IDLA is reliant on the whims of our illustrious politic and all that that entails. I do not mean to offend or malign those who serve the best interests of Idaho’s citizenry. Obviously we have had some outstanding support for innovative programs in the state or we wouldn’t have IDLA in the first place. However, I also believe there is a great deal of misunderstanding regarding online learning in general and IDLA in particular. Perhaps some clarification would assist those in power in providing material for thoughtful consideration before making a decision to undo what has up until now been a tremendously successful program, providing equitable education opportunities for each and every student in the state of Idaho.

First, supplemental online programs are not just curriculum providers, although that can be an added benefit. When implemented effectively, as I believe IDLA is, they are true partners that work within the fabric of a state’s educational system. IDLA, created through legislative action in 2002, has evolved into a valuable resource through careful and thoughtful leadership. It is truly one of Idaho’s gems and sets us apart from other states in innovation and leadership. IDLA currently serves the needs of 98% of Idaho’s districts (about 14,000 enrollments – and this number doubles every year). The 160+ courses that IDLA provides to Idaho schools are taught by highly qualified teachers in online environments that are interactive and provide ultimate flexibility to learners. Teachers for IDLA are certified, just as they are in any Idaho public school. They require the same knowledge and skills as traditional teachers with the added element of knowing how to teach effectively in online environments. Enrollments are limited to similar numbers as those in traditional classes so that students receive individualized attention. Curriculum is both purchased and created by talented teachers and staff who are knowledgeable about their subject-matter. The IDLA staff and its teachers complement traditional classrooms by filling critical gaps in educational opportunities for students in rural schools, providing technical support to learners and teachers through extended network and outreach programs, saving limited district resources, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in education through transformative and innovative technologies. In addition, IDLA has been a valuable partner with my university (and others) in providing a rich resource for research initiatives into effective teaching practices (http://www.idahodigitallearning.org/bbcswebdav/xid-477912_4).

Although I am not as informed as I would like about a new entry into Idaho’s technology infrastructure, I have a feeling the Idaho Education Network (IEN) – a very recent commercial enterprise in the state created to provide broadband access to every school in the state in a partnership with Qwest and Education Networks of America (ENA) – may be the impetus for this sudden decision to disband the hard work of hundreds of individuals. My understanding is that IEN will provide VTC (Video Teleconferencing Capabilities) to schools for synchronous resource sharing. This form of learning is not true online learning in the sense that I understand it. It requires equipment (at great cost), a physical classroom, and a scheduled time for delivery. So for example, an instructor would lecture to one class while being broadcast to another (or several) classes across the state. Although there may be some value in shared resources, I see many disadvantages in this type of educational experience.  It is a far cry from the interactive, flexible, individual, and transformative experience in a true online course. How will instruction reach a student in the hospital for example, or one that must travel for athletics? What about students who rely on IDLA to alleviate scheduling issues? For credit recovery? VTC will never be an adequate replacement for IDLA – in fact it is an outdated technology with a heavy cost that is completely unnecessary given the affordances of true Web-based technologies.

I believe part of the confusion stems from misinformation among government officials. In a recent article in the Idaho Statesment (http://ow.ly/12hCp) Governor Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna contradicted each other regarding the role of IEN:

“Otter also says it’s likely the academy could end up duplicating the work of the Idaho Education Network, an agency established by the Legislature in 2009 to bring a dedicated broadband network to all 200 Idaho high schools by 2012. Broadband access would eventually allow schools in rural parts of the state to take classes in real time with instructors in other districts and even colleges. Otter says he doesn’t want to duplicate spending….

….But Luna said the Idaho Education Network doesn’t duplicate the academy. The network is building the broadband infrastructure for high schools, and the academy could be one of the agencies to use that network to bring its classes to students, Luna told the Legislature’s budget committee last week.”

It would be enormously helpful to have a clearer understanding of exactly what the IEN is and how it intends to function within the state.  If the IEN is seen as a duplicate – then my question is, Why was the project approved in the first place? IDLA has been in existence since 2002 while the IEN was approved just last year. If anything, we should be examining the decision to fund IEN.

As with anything in the political realm there are often a multitude of complex and complicated systems pushing and tugging at each other. Caution should be exercised before making decisions that, in the short term, seem attractive, but in the long term may be detrimental in terms of cost and added value. It’s pretty simple really… if it looks to good to be true, it probably is. The IDLA is an investment in our state and its capacity to serve the educational needs of its citizens well into the future, with a network of Idahoans who believe in what they do, working for a quality education for every student. Why would we ever want to turn over the best interests of our state’s greatest natural resource, our children, to commercial interests? What are they thinking?

Learn more about how IDLA serves Idaho’s interests: http://www.idahodigitallearning.org/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_412_1

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The cost of education

I received an email from a doc student asking me to comment on the cost of education. This really started me thinking about how we measure “cost” so thought I would share my response here.  I’ve included his email and my response below.

Email…

Professor Rice,

I enjoyed reading your article published in “Educational Technology & Society, 12 (3), 163–177.” Do you consider that educational cost will likely decrease because of greater e-education? I would like to use your response for my working dissertation, if you were to be so kind as to reply. I would like to show that technological advancements for e-education will rely on collaboration and the sharing of resources to control cost. I currently am a student at Thomas Edison State College, New Jersey, studying to become a teacher as a new career.

Sincerely,

My response….

First – I think the question you ask is somewhat leading. It might better be asked in a more objective way – “How will the continued growth in elearning impact the cost of education?” – or something like that. (This is the teacher in me  and just can’t be helped.)

The simple answer to your question is yes but probably not for the reasons you think. Yes, open source content and software will cause a reduction in the monetary cost of  technologies used in education. In my opinion, this is really beside the point. I prefer not to look at cost as an isolated economic consideration. Cost can be thought of in ways other than money. For example, what is the cost (or value added) to human potential through the movement to elearning? What is the cost (or value added) to human potential if we choose not to embrace elearning as a viable educational alternative? One way to look at it is to think in terms of “relative advantage”. This is a term that Peggy Roblyer uses in her book Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (2006; 2010). Essentially, it means; is there an advantage in one way of doing something, relatively speaking, over another. She uses the term as a way to help teachers determine if the use of technology (whatever it happens to be) provides added value over a traditional way of teaching. The same way of thinking can be applied to elearning. Is there a relative advantage to elearning environments over traditional educational environments? When thinking about relative advantage, I think it’s critical that the discussion includes all forms of value and cost. Money, certainly, but also learning outcomes, affective outcomes, parent satisfaction, etc. In addition, what are the affordances (value-added) of elearning that we simply cannot replicate in face-to-face environments (costs). These include the unmatched opportunities in data collection and analysis of learner behaviors, extended learning times of blended environments, and the movement to individualized learning environments. It also must take into consideration some of the disadvantages of elearning environments (costs) that are mitigated in traditional environments (value-added) – isolation, lack of interaction with the instructor, delayed feedback, etc. Weighing all of these elements is the only way to discern a meaningful answer to your question.

VSS 2009

I have returned from yet another iNACOL Virtual School Symposium and find that I can’t begin to say enough about the quality of the conference – including the outstanding presentations, sessions, food, and definitely the extensive level  of networking with colleagues from around the globe. I don’t know if it’s just a result of our common experience and passion for K-12 online learning or the exceptional conference management, but the level of energy I experienced is not something I see often at conferences.

Dr. Lisa Dawley and I presented on the progress we have made on phase III of our Going Virtual! research series examining professional development of K-12 online teachers – to a very lively and packed audience. Thanks to everybody who participated in our discussion on the complexities of evaluating the effectiveness of professional development – particularly when attempting to make linkages between training and improved learner outcomes. Through a series of pilot program evaluations we are attempting to define common data sets that might be useful when looking at effectiveness from a national perspective (given the limitless number of program and school models in existence). Thanks also to those program representatives who volunteered to participate when we decide to go national with this phase. You can view our presentation and phase I & II reports on the conference wiki site: http://vss2009.wikispaces.com/rice. To the best of my knowledge all session were recorded, but it doesn’t look like they have been made available yet.