Category Archives: online learning

Second Day of School

I teach a technology course for school leaders seeking a master’s degree. Most will become school or division leaders such as principals or curriculum specialists. Normally, the course is fully face to face during the fall semester.

This year, I am implementing a blended, mostly online approach, with weekly synchronous meetings.  We will have three face to face meetings. Last week, we met on campus to get to know each other and make sure everyone was comfortable with the tools we were going to be using to do our work during the semester. More on those tools in another post.

Tonight was our first online meeting using Zoom as our interface. There are 7 students in the class, which seems like a good number for an online meeting, particularly because I wanted to use video and audio. It was good to see their faces, and I think it facilitated conversation. My face to face class is very interactive. My students have a variety of professional experiences related to educational technology that can inform their understanding and provide diverse perspectives to their classmates. We talk a lot about how our work connects with standards and research and practice.

And, we did that tonight. We spent time making sure everyone was comfortable with the Zoom room. We used the text chat and then video discussion to explore the topic of technology transformation. My one technology glitch was that they couldn’t hear the audio on a video. I’ll explore that more this week as I do want us to have some communal viewings.

At the end, I asked what they thought, as many of them hadn’t had an online course or even used Zoom. I got positive feedback and am excited about exploring the possibilities. There are some drawbacks that I will explore in another post.

For now, I am a happy teacher: I had an engaging few hours with some thoughtful, smart educators that allowed me to be closer to my base while they could go home and relax a bit before we connected.

I did do one thing to make sure we would be successful: I am renting office space in the small town next to my farm. The internet at my house is problematic: our potential cable provider has refused to provide us with broadband so we are stuck with DSL, and it is notoriously unreliable. I didn’t want to take any chances with losing connectivity during class. It was the right decision.

I had honestly forgotten what good internet was like…I’ve already messaged the landlord about creating a co-working space. I don’t need daily access but knowing I had a place to go for important meetings and large file uploads would be reassuring.

Best Practices for Professional Development

Thanks to David Croteau, a sociology professor and member of the ALT Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University for annotating and sharing this article from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XIX, Number 1, Spring 2016 about effective professional development for teaching online. It is really a blueprint for making ALL professional development more effective with recommendations for smaller, more personalized and customized work that focuses on curriculum and teaching rather than just tools.

Articles like this are why I always check the Diigo updates from ALT Lab when browsing morning email.

Learning, Education and Snow Days

There has, as you can imagine, been lots of talk about snow days here in the Commonwealth. Jon Becker mused about how odd it seemed to have a university close despite widespread connectivity. He asked a powerful question: “Are we not supposed to work?” The comments provided examples of both K-12 and higher education organizations that managed to continue work and learning despite not being able to physically meet. My own comment was bit tongue in cheek: I teach online for two universities that were both officially closed. Our learning went on as usual. If my students, most of whom were themselves out on snow days, chose not to work on the days the schools were closed, that is up to them.  I suspect, however, most of them used the time to get caught up.

National Public Radio revisited a report from 2015 on students in Delphi, Indiana, who were expected to log in from home on snow days. Teachers had prepared ahead, creating digital versions of lessons and engaging with students. The article described some of the issues around e-learning that will resonate with anyone who has taught online: some content is harder to teach online, not all students have access, and tech support can be difficult. I was most interested in the “diminishing returns” described by the superintendent:

But he admits there is a point of diminishing returns, which he noticed during a recent string of snow days.

“You know, the first day we had about 100 percent of the kids involved in e-learning,” Walker says. “Well, then, after the fourth day, we were down to about 55 percent of the children.”

On the fifth snow day, Walker gave kids and teachers a free pass: No e-learning today.

I wonder why there was a fall off in participation? The novelty wore off? The sense of community was reduced? Or, did students have a sense that the work didn’t count? The edict that there would be “no e-learning today” reminded me of Jon’s tweet: an educator is banning learning? What if they wanted to continue?

K-12 educators  seem torn about snow days and formal learning. In a tweet chat last evening, the topic, not surprisingly, was snow day learning. Some teachers felt like these days should be breaks for the kids: have fun in the snow, hang out with family, and just take a break from the rigors of school. Others indicated they had communicated with their students and parents, sharing ideas for how to keep the learning going despite being out of school, whether it was encouraging elementary kids to read or high school kids to apply their physics learning to snow.

As with the students and teachers in Indiana, there were some constraints. Not all students had Internet access and even for those who did, accessing the school ecosystem could be difficult on a non-school device. Some questioned the use of non-school communication systems like Twitter as being against the AUP.  And, ultimately, making kids and teachers work on a day off still didn’t make the day “count” towards state attendance requirements so there was a sense that it was all just optional.

That last problem underscores the disconnect between bureaucracy and technology as the latter moves much more quickly than the former. Ultimately, if snow day learning is going to catch on in K-12 at least, bureaucracy is going to need to catch up.

Dipping In: Twitter Stories About Online Teaching and Learning

I am somewhat a veteran to the world of online learning, having taught ADMS 647, Educational Technology for Administrators, for five years. I am web veteran as well, blogging on and off since 2003 and tweeting since 2007.

But you are never too old or experienced to learn more and I was fascinated doing Twitter searches on online teaching and learning. I quickly realized that I have been using Twitter in a very superficial way. The advanced search helped reveal stories in a way that can be tough when you’re just browsing a feed, particularly one that may be glutted with too many different sorts of folks.

Quick searches on “online teaching” and “online learning” yielded surprisingly different results. Online teaching seemed to focus on making money as an online teacher. Here’s a quick screenshot of the photos that came up.

Online Teaching Money


Clearly, I’m not doing this right. Although they don’t say you’ll make a lot of money, just that there is money to be made. For me, it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of online teaching and learning.

The online learning search results were more focused on the education aspects and, at the time I searched, included several tweets linking to an article from Forbes speculating on what is next AFTER online learning:

I thought, really? We’re already on what’s AFTER? We still haven’t figured out online learning. Let’s not be so quick to move to the next thing. However, it turns out that the article didn’t include the word AFTER. That was the headline added by OLCToday in their tweet AND on the article they reprinted from Forbes. The original article was titled Online Learning: What’s Next and  was basically a report about a recent survey. The speculation about what’s next was not earth shattering:

“All will agree that the experience of taking a course on-line versus in a classroom is different and both types should continue to be offered. I predict that the day will soon come when we will not distinguish courses by their teaching modality and employers and others will not ask whether the program was on-line or in person. On-line courses will continue to expand access to education to those without the time or money to attend a traditional on-the-ground class as well as well as to those who prefer this modality.”

A lesson learned about primary sources on the web. The simple addition of a headline can skew the meaning of an article. The original article has its own power in terms of encouraging educators across the spectrum to explore online learning and highlights the timeliness of the Online Learning Experience. Again, the message is that we’ve come a long way but there is more journey ahead. The tweet searches focused mostly on industry and higher education. I didn’t really get into K-12 online learning until I substituted “blended learning” for the search. The general search yields lots of conversations about using blended learning in the classroom. There are resources, frameworks, and, perhaps, a little bit of hype. That’s why Scott Macleod’s tweet of Philip McRae’s essay on the hype, harm and hope of blended learning made it into this post. We need to be thinking hard about these kinds of technological changes and get beyond the “this will revolutionize education” mentality.

But it was when I tried out the search suggestion about adding a pronoun that I really got to the heart of how people are using online courses to access education as well as some of the possible fears:

There’s the convenience, which seemed to focus on being able to learn with or without pants:

As well as the opportunity to time shift the learning and doing it from anywhere:

And then there’s this:

I don’t think online learning is any more open to cheating than regular learning but it is a potential fear.

I think the bigger issue is helping our students learn how to learn online:

This post is already too long so I’ll end it with an observation that came out of all the searches. There is a WHOLE LOT of online learning going on. If you want to learn something, there is a course for you:

From reorganizing your home:

To having better relationships with your pets:

To making the most of Ramadan:

As the Forbes article suggests, online learning is a part of our lives now. Thinking about how to make it a better experience is essential and may just have lessons for our face to face classes as well.

Does This Count As A MOOC?

Yesterday, I “joined” an online book club. The quotes are there because joining the club meant following it on Twitter and ordering the book for April. The club, called 1book140, is run by The Atlantic, and I discovered it through this article from The Wall Street Journal. Each month, the group votes for a book and then tweets along as the members read it. This month, the group is reading The ecco Anthology of International Poetry. 

Laura Moser, the author of the WSJ article describes why she chose this particular group:

There are only a few active book clubs on Twitter: Penguin hosts one, as does the Jewish Book Council. The clubs have different guidelines and formats, but most put forth a title for discussion that takes place on Twitter at a specific time. Because I couldn’t commit to being in front of my computer at any given time, I went with the Atlantic magazine’s 1book140, which is nearly two years old and now has more than 84,000 followers (although only a handful actively participate). I also liked the democratic chaos of the largely unmoderated discussions.

I, too, love the concept of “democratic chaos.” And being able to follow the flow in Tweetdeck will make the club a natural part of my day. I’ll be learning and sharing with others around the world.

So, does this count as a MOOC? I suppose it isn’t a “course” as it isn’t run by a university. But, like a course, it has a beginning and ending. Two facilitators, one of whom has ties to MIT, lead the group. There are expectations for participation like those outlined in a course syllabus.  I’m reading and discussing a book, albeit in 140 character bursts…sounds like every English course I took in college. Like most MOOCs, I won’t get any academic credit, and I won’t pay any tuition fees. And, I will be learning with a group, which seems to be the fundamental definition of a MOOC.

Why does it matter? Because it points to the difficulty and implications of defining web-based learning experiences. When we call some of these experiences MOOCs, we elevate them to a higher status. For teachers, it might mean the difference between receiving continuing education units or not. It is hard for administrators to imagine that real professional learning can occur in as part of democratic chaos; yet, for many of us, that is exactly where our learning happens these days.