Virtual School Meanderings

July 25, 2017

EDTECH537 – Potential Hazards Of Blogging

Earlier this summer, as you were preparing your blogging disclosure, we discussed some of the cautions about blogging. You read through such entries as:

Now that you have been blogging for a few weeks, have you encountered any situations that have made you feel uncomfortable in your blogging? Are there any potential issues that you could foresee occurring in the future (particularly when school is back in session and you have students, colleagues and an administrator to consider)? How have you or will you deal with these delicate situations?

As I described in the Week 5 overview, please post your response as a comment to this blog entry. For those reading this who are not a part of my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course, feel free to leave examples you have experienced.

July 24, 2017

EDTECH537 – Examining Generational Differences

This week you read:

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from

Reeves, T.C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum from January 22-25, 2008 at

The main take aways from these readings included:

  • while the theory of generational differences exists and is a valid theory, there is no research at present that indicates instructional designers should modify instruction or instructional strategies to accommodate today’s generation of students
  • there is no reliable and valid research to support the belief that technology has somehow changed today’s generation of students
  • further to the fact that Prensky’s notion of digital natives isn’t based on research, McKenzie does a convincing job of illustrating how Prensky even misused the anecdotal “evidence” that he presents to support is beliefs
  • the only thing that can be said about today’s student, based upon reliable and valid research, is that they are more narcissistic than any previous generation

However, even faced with these realities in almost every semester where I use these three readings there are multiple students – often the majority of students – who still believe that the students they teach are fundamentally influenced by digital technology and it has changed the way that they learn in the classroom.

As educational technologists, what did you take away from these generational differences readings? How would you handle a colleague who bought into the notion of digital natives?

As I described in the Week 5 overview for EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom, please post your response to this prompt ON YOUR OWN blog. In addition to your response, you are asked to leave comments on at least three other students’ blogs. As always, you are asked to respond to those who leave a comment on your blog.

EDTECH537 – Week 5

Today begins week five of my EDTECH537 – Blogging in the Classroom (see EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom). The students this week have a couple of blog entries that they have to complete by the end of the week (i.e., midnight on Sunday).

  • post a blog entry on their blog in response to a prompt I post later today (due 26 July)
  • leave a comment on this blog in response to a prompt I post tomorrow (due 28 July)
  • post a blog entry on the course blog based on a prompt that I have posted (due 30 July)

The readings for this week included

  • Shoffner, M. (2007). Preservice English teachers and technology: A consideration of weblogs for the English classroom. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(4), 245-255.
  • Stiler, G. M., & Philleo, T. (2003). Blogging and blogspots: An alternative format for encouraging reflective practice among preservice teachers. Education, 123(4), 789-797.

Today at 10:00am, I will be posting the prompt that I want students to respond to on their blogs. Tomorrow I will be posting the prompt that I expect students to leave a comment on my blog. Finally, I have created an EDTECH537: Blogging in the Classroom class blog, where I have posted a prompt that I want all of the students to join and post their response to that prompt as an entry on that class blog. The main purpose for this week’s activities is to give the students a sense of what it would be like to do blogging with their students where students have their own blogs, where students leave comments on a teacher’s blog, and where students contribute to a class blog.

July 18, 2017

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: Civil Rights and Online Learning

As I mentioned in the Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course yesterday, today I wanted to post a sample of a guest blog entry.

Ray Rose is an online learning and accessibility evangelist.  He works with educational institutions to improve educational opportunities for all.  His experience with online learning goes back more than two decades when he directed one of the country’s first online teacher professional development projects and was part of the team that created the first virtual high school in the US.  His blog can be found at and presentation slides at

It is the policy of [   ] University to comply with all federal, state and local authorities requiring nondiscrimination, including but not limited to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Executive Orders 12898 (Environmental Justice) and 13166 (Limited English Proficiency). 

This statement is typical of non-discrimination statements that educational institutions in the US are required to make. They must state the organization/institution does not discriminate in order to receive Federal funding; the chief administrator sign a statement attesting to that non-discrimination statement. Most everyone agrees with that statement, even if they don’t really understand the full meaning of it.

For this post, I’m focusing on accessibility in online learning, but academic institutions have similar obligations in making their website accessible.

We don’t deny access to educational programs on the basis of race. But counselors at a New England high school just a few years ago were directing Hispanic and Black students away from online advanced placement courses. A few years ago two Midwestern cyber charter schools applied to their state education department (SEA) for operation with an admissions policy that said they would not enroll any special needs student (student with an IEP). The SEA approved the application without comment about the discriminatory admission plan.

Two examples of blatant discriminatory practice that I hope most reasonable people, when the situation was described, would recognize it as not right. What is not as obvious is the issue of access in online learning for people with disabilities. Nationally about 13% of K-12 students are identified as having special needs. While it should be clear that denying a student the opportunity to enroll in an online course is illegal and immoral, designing a course that a student with a disability cannot take full advantage of, is less obvious.

People with disabilities may use adaptive devices and software to help them access materials. One example used by people with a print disability is a screen reader. A screen reader is an application that does what the name says. It reads text on the computer screen. But a screen reader can’t describe a graphic. The author/course designer needs to add a description of the graphic for the screen reader. These are called Alt Tags. Without a description, the screen reader will say “graphic”. That doesn’t help the user understand the content.

Another action that helps a number of individuals is captioning of video materials. Captioning is important for people with hearing disabilities, but also beneficial for people who have auditory processing issues. Interestingly, a great many people can benefit from captioning of videos. Currently captioning takes time and effort to meet the legal standards. YouTube’s automatic captioning, based on YouTube’s own statements is only 50-70% accurate and the legal standard is 99%.

It has taken the online education field a long time to recognize their legal and moral responsibility when it comes to making online content accessible. Since about 2007 the US Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended. The US Department of Justice has been enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Together both of these enforcement agencies have cited both K-12 and higher education institutions for denial of access to learning opportunities for people with disabilities.

What is most important in the enforcement actions, is the position that digital resources (e.g. websites, fully online courses, the online component of blended courses) of educational institutions need to be fully accessible. The operational definition of accessibility: “those with a disability are able to acquire the same information and engage in the same interactions—and within the same time frame—as those without disabilities” makes it clear. (For more details on the implications see the iNACOL publication Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education.)

Unfortunately the information has not been incorporated into teacher preparation and educational leadership programs. It is just starting to be a more broadly recognized issue in higher education online programs. In Texas, the Texas Distance Learning Association (TxDLA) began offering an Online Accessibility Certificate program over a year ago, and each offering is filled within days of registration opening.

Ray Rose is an online learning and accessibility evangelist.  He works with educational institutions to improve educational opportunities for all.  As is the pattern here at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry posted today.

July 17, 2017

EDTECH537 – Commentary Entry: The Problem With the Media Coverage of K-12 Online Learning

As I mentioned in the Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course earlier this morning, I wanted to post a sample of a commentary entry.

For a while now, I have been bothered by the way that the media has taken to reporting on issues of importance – a balanced approach.  For whatever reason, in the past decade or so, journalists have taken to whatever issue they were covering by attempting to present a balanced position of the issue – regardless of whether the issue was actually balanced or not.  We’ve seen some folks that watch the media talk about this in recent month (see here and here), often using climate change as one of the main example (e.g., 97% of scientist agree on one position, but the other 3% get half of the airtime in every single piece).  This is not new – for example, check out this academic paper from 2007 that outlines the nature of climate change media coverage.

As someone who is regularly interviewed by the media for news items related to K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning, I often read the articles that eventually appear with my quote(s) in them with interest to see how the journalist presented the issue.  And I am always struck by the pattern that emerges…  Basically, the regular format is that you have some expert – like myself – that talks about the unrealized potential, and the fact that the research shows that these programs often do incredibly poorly compared to the traditional brick-and-mortar learning.  You often have some legislator or policy person or traditional brick-and-mortar personnel that is advising caution, maybe even complaining to some extent about the situation – but never to the level that is being called for by the academic.  Countering these positions, you have some combination of an online school official (or someone connected with the online program), a parent of an online student, and/or an online student themselves.  Invariably these three individuals are lauding the online program as being some kind of saviour for them and students like them.  The fact that they are the exception to the rule, the one student that does succeed when the other nine fail, is never mentioned and is seemingly irrelevant.  What the reader is left with is the impression that these online schools/programs can be great things, and it is only those egghead academics and other, traditional school folks that want to continue to shackle the children to their desks in some kind of failed system.

I got the bee in my bonnet about this issue after reading the piece below.  Note that I have colour-coded the format above, and I use those colours to help illustrate my point below.

States Struggle With Oversight of Online Charter Schools

As enrollment in online charter schools explodes, states are struggling to keep up and to put in place regulations ensuring students get a real education and cyber schools get the right amount of funding.

May 26, 2017, at 5:01 p.m.

Celiah Aker poses at her desk at home

Celiah Aker poses at her desk at home, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in Medina, Ohio. Aker is in ninth grade and it is her fifth year at Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) , an online school. As enrollment in online charter schools exploded in recent years, states have struggled to catch up with oversight to ensure that the students taking classes at home via computers get a real education and the “cyber schools” receive the proper amount of public funding. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — As U.S. children flock to virtual charter schools, states are struggling to catch up and develop rules to make sure the students get a real education and schools get the right funding.

The future of virtual schools is part of the larger school-choice debate seeing renewed attention since the installation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an online charter investor and advocate who sees them as a valuable option for students.

While some perform well, the sector has been plagued by accounts of low standards, mismanagement, and inflated participation counts at schools that are reimbursed based on the number of enrolled students. Ohio’s largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, this month lost the latest round of its battle over $60 million the state says is owed for enrollment that cannot be justified.

Findings of underperformance at e-schools have been so prevalent that even supporters have called for policymakers to intervene.

“There’s overwhelming consensus that these schools are performing terribly poor and yet, you know, nothing’s happening,” said Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University professor who researches online charters for the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado and believes such schools can work, but not under the current model.

Nationwide, enrollment in virtual schools has tripled over the past decade, and some 278,000 students as young as kindergarteners were enrolled in 58 full-time online schools across 34 states for the 2015-16 school year, according to data from the policy center. Other groups’ estimates put virtual enrollment even higher. Half the virtual schools are charters and the rest are district-run, but charters have most of the students.

The schools’ supporters say they fill a gap by meeting the needs of nontraditional students — those with challenging schedules, severe health issues, troubles with focus or bullying, or who are working or traveling or parenting children of their own.

Ninth-grader Celiah Aker, 14, is an honors student who has attended the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow since the fifth grade.

“I wanted the flexibility to do other things, instead of just school,” Aker said. “I have a lot of friends who are in regular public school, and they always get bombarded with so many hours of homework. I get to hang with my family and go to sports events and go and do my dance classes.”

Nowhere have regulators’ struggles been on display more than Ohio, which ranks among the states with the most students enrolled in virtual charters. The state had broader charter-school rules but didn’t outline many specific e-school standards or enrollment limits for them until more than a decade after ECOT opened.

Now the school is locked in a protracted legal battle with the state over how it tracks students’ hours, a dispute that traces to before the state had any online charter regulations on the books. A hearing officer recently recommended the state education board take action to collect millions from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow due to undocumented enrollment.

Jeremy Aker, Celiah’s dad, said implications that ECOT students are chronically absent and the school is undeserving of state assistance are discouraging for his daughter.

“You were a 4.0 student during the 2015-2016 school year, in the National Honor Society, and because you didn’t sit logged into a screen for 5 hours a day, we’re actually going to call you truant and we want our money back,” he said.

Finding the balance has also tripped up other states.

In Colorado, where an Education Week investigation found only a quarter of the students at one online school were using the software on a typical day, recent Democratic legislative proposals to have the state certify authorizers of cyber schools and study data have fizzled without a full vote.

A lack of uniform attendance tracking also muddied the development of virtual schools in Oklahoma earlier this decade. One charter school, Epic, was referred to state fraud investigators for issues including how it counted students — though nothing came of the review. In 2015, legislators overhauled the law requiring closure of poor-performing charters, instituting a more rigorous application process and stepping up requirements for sponsors. Epic’s performance rankings are now high. Republican Gov. Frank Keating is speaking at Epic’s graduation next month.

States have been slow to respond to red flags, in part because lobbying by for-profit operators and other supporters hampered legislative proposals aimed at improving accountability, Miron said.

DeVos was herself a major donor to those efforts before becoming education secretary. What influence her appointment will have on states’ efforts to regulate charter schools is not yet clear. The department didn’t respond to interview requests.

In Ohio, state records show ECOT founder William Lager has donated about $765,000 to state-level campaigns. Nationwide, charter school owners, operators and advocacy groups have donated almost $89 million to state-level campaigns over the past decade, according to data collected by the nonprofit Institute for Money in State Politics.

A report last summer from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the nonprofit 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now called for policymakers and school authorizers to intervene to address problems with online charters.

“Left unchecked, these problems have the potential to overshadow the positive impacts this model currently has for some students,” the report said.


Find the reporters on Twitter at and

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In case you are wondering…

  • 127 words
  • 63 words
  • 264 words, plus a big, sympathetic picture

Basically, the feel good stuff – that has no basis of fact beyond the experience of that one student and that one parent – is being used to prop up an entire industry that has 278,000 students (according to the article itself).  Not only is it used to prop up the industry, but it that content actually gets about 50% more content than the expert that has been looking at the topic for over a decade and the group that is urging some form of caution (and that’s not even counting the picture that accompanies the news item).  For someone who doesn’t know much about the issue, the article does a reasonable job on presenting the facts or details (basically all the stuff I left in black).  But these statements of fact, when contrasted by those individuals in the know (i.e., the expert and the cautionary group vs. the student and parent) it does leave a very different impression.  And it is an incorrect impression.

What the reporter should have done was to include comments from three or four parents and/or students that enrolled in an online program and then felt completely isolated, had no one communicate with them, and eventually dropped out to return to the traditional brick-and-mortar system further behind than what they were to begin with.  Add that to this piece, along with the expert and the cautionary group, then you might have a news item that was truly reflective of the current situation.

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