Virtual School Meanderings

January 22, 2022

Student centered teaching in hybrid schools

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.  Now I normally agree with John on most items, but there are a number of issues I would take with this entry.

The first is with the title.  If learning has occurred, how is that not student-centered?  I know the idea is to contrast a teacher who is lecturing, compared to some other form of instruction – which is often presented in a way that lecturing is bad.  But this notion of teacher-centered vs. student-centered is great education lingo, but when you actually examine it is kind of meaningless.    It is the same thing with sage on the stage vs. guide on the side – which is also presented that one is good and one is bad.  It is somewhat magical that anyone learned anything prior to the 1980s-90s, when these notions were first discussed and all of these “bad” practices were finally identified and appropriately shamed.  It also implies that the role of the teacher is minimum in this so-called student centered learning, like we can just do group work or have a discussion or let students become makers and it’ll magically happen without significant teacher planning and – even (heaven forbid) – direct teacher involvement!

The second is this notion that focusing on making sure that students learn how student learn best.  I’d love for someone to point me to the instrument or tool that identifies how each of the students in my class – or any class – learns best, so that I can use it, accurately identify every single student, and then provide only the type of instruction that the student requires and nothing else.  I think you all see the problem here – and I know that this is not exactly what John is suggesting, but the reality is that this language or edu-speak was born out of this notion of individual student learning styles (which has been found to be junk science, but – unfortunately – is still regularly used).

I mention both of these things as issues because while I doubt John is intending to suggest that lecturing is bad or that students’ individual learning styles exist and/or can be accurately measured, but the reality is that if we continue to use the same language it both confounds the issue and gives oxygen to those things that we may not be supporting.

Basically, language matters and too often in education we use terms without thinking about the larger connotations of what those words mean and how they are often used to support a particular kind of narrative.

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Student centered teaching in hybrid schools


The last blog post ended with this observation:

Too much of public education is clinging to practices that don’t serve students. Instead, we need to create more spaces, for more students, to learn in the ways they learn best.

The examples exist.

Two additions to that final line: 1) the examples are often in schools that are using technology to eliminate time and space barriers, and 2) many mainstream observers are apparently unaware of these online and hybrid schools.

As an example, let’s look at “student centered teaching.” “Student-centered” is a popular and commonly used term. But many descriptions, while useful in some ways, don’t go very far in terms of providing actionable implementation suggestions. In addition, many such characterizations overlook the innovative hybrid schools in which student-centered instruction is not only happening, but is built into the core pedagogical approach of the school.

For example, a Larry Cuban’s recent blog post describes student-centered learning using two photos that he describes as follows:

“The dead-give-aways in these photos, however, are the furniture arrangement (e.g., no rows of desks) and the small group activity (e.g., students talk and work with one another). Those two clues are often sufficient to describe the lesson–at least what is captured in a snapshot–as student-centered.”

Cuban then goes on to describe the history of student-centered teaching:

“As with any set of teaching practices, there is a history to the tradition of student-centered instruction…student-centered lessons go back to the mid-19th century but gained most prominence during the early decades of the 20th century with the progressive education movement…”


“the student-centered tradition of instruction refers to classrooms where students exercise a substantial degree of responsibility for what is taught and how it is learned. Teachers see children as more than brains; they bring to school an array of physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual needs plus experiences that require both nurturing and prodding.”

Finally, he notes that such schools still exist but are uncommon:

“scattered public and private schools still committed to child-centered instruction exist in public schools such as Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield (MN), Mission Hill K-8 School in Boston (MA), and Camarillo Academy of Progressive Education in Camarillo (CA).”

This is where he, and other mainstream education observers, get it wrong—because they miss all the hybrid schools that are built around this type if instruction.

(Online schools are also often student-centered, but their practices are so different from traditional schools that a direct comparison is difficult within the confines of a blog post.)

How do we know that hybrid schools are built around student-centered teaching? Because we’ve seen such teaching in action. For example, here are three pictures from Elevation, a hybrid school in the Cherry Creek district in Colorado:

These pictures clearly show the two markers that Larry Cuban mentioned: small group activities and “furniture arrangements” that facilitate student-centered teaching, which is a core element of the instructional approach at Elevation.

Elevation is an outlier in the world of public education, but not an outlier in the much smaller niche of hybrid schools. Just in Colorado we have Springs StudioPoudre Global AcademyThe Village High School, and others. Crossroads FLEX serves students in North Carolina, Taos Academy in New Mexico, Oasis in California, Valor Prep in Arizona…the list goes on.

Still, I have to wonder: If a reporter called the districts, county offices, or states that host and/or authorize these schools, asking about the best examples of student-centered teaching and learning, would these schools be offered up? Are they top of mind for people outside of our relatively small world?

I don’t think so. There is lots of work to be done in 2022 and beyond, to share these stories.

Thanks to Elevation and Principal Kristy Hart for hosting a visit, and for providing these pictures!
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January 20, 2022

#DLAC22 Program Updates

An update about this up-coming digital learning conference.

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DLAC 2022 Program Updates,
Pre Con planning, and Feb 1st Online Day!

We have so much going on at #DLAC22 and some events might require a little extra planning on your part, so we wanted to give you plenty of time to make a game plan for your DLAC 2022 experience!

First up, we are now just two weeks away from the DLAC Online opening on February 1! Even if you are joining us in Atlanta, the DLAC Online sessions are available to you. We encourage everyone to explore the opening day online sessions.

Second, the Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC) is excited to launch three new communities at DLAC 2022! Join us to learn more about and engage with others who are interested in policy, best practices, and research for K-12 digital learning. The leaders of each community will lead a pre-conference session on the morning of February 7, 2022 in Atlanta. These sessions are free to all registered DLAC attendees. Start collaborating and networking early with others who have similar interests in taking a deeper dive into these topics:

DLRC 2022: Half Day Research Summit Pre-Conference
Monday, February 7 from 8:30-11:00am

Policy Protectors: Unite!
Monday, February 7 from 9:00-10:30am

From Fighting Fires to Innovation: Using a Community of Practice to Design & Refine Virtual/Online Learning
Monday, February 7 from 9:00-11:00am

Haven’t looked at the overall program lately? A lot has changed, and many things have been added. If you haven’t looked recently – check out the full program here!

We will be posting more information, highlights of our program and more @theDLCedu – make sure to follow us there for the most up to date information!

Questions? Email us at
Copyright © 2022 Evergreen Education Group, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you opted in at the DLC or DLAC website.

Our mailing address is:

Evergreen Education Group

700 Main Ave Ste E

Durango, CO 81301-5437

January 15, 2022

Learn more about the NSQOL at DLAC 2022 in February!

An item from the national standards folks and the up-coming digital learning conference.

NSQ is making a splash at #DLAC22!
Feb 1 (online) Feb 7-9 (online and onsite in Atlanta)

Dear Michael

Join us to learn more about the standards in one of these exciting sessions being held in Atlanta, or join us online to learn more about how digital learning can serve your school or district. Sessions at DLAC in Atlanta include:

NSQ in View: Making the National Standards for Quality Online Learning Work for You

Following a year where districts were launched into remote learning or moved to online courses, the online learning community understands the importance of ensuring quality opportunities exist for all. We’ll discuss challenges to the standards implementation, and share use cases from the field. Leave with an action plan for applying the revised standards to your online courses, teaching, and programs!

Presented sessions:

The National Standards for Quality Online Programs
The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching 

Check out the research supported standards and indicators, and learn about the process used to revise the most recent edition. Join us to discuss and learn more about how these openly licensed standards can be utilized to help evaluate and improve online programs.

Community conversations:

The National Standards for Quality Online Courses
The National Standards for Quality Online Programs
The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching

These three separate sessions will dig deeper into quality for online courses, programs, and teaching in a conversation format, with participants discussing their implementations.

Presenters for the above sessions include: 

Cynthia Hamblin – Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance
Christine Voelker – Quality Matters
Allison Powell – Digital Learning Collaborative

Can’t join us in person in Atlanta? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.  DLAC Online is offering three online tracks for teachers, blended teachers, and programs.

One, Two, Three…Go NSQOL!

Do you want the quick version of what are the National Standards for Quality Online Learning? Attend this talk and find out the “411” on the three sets of national standards for quality online teaching, programs, and courses. Leave with starter ideas on how to apply the NSQOL to your local online opportunities for students.

Putting the National Standards for Quality Online Learning to Practical Use

You’re familiar with the National Standards for Quality Online Learning (NSQOL) and now you want to know what are practical applications of the standards for your school or organization. Let’s have a table talk about ideas currently in practice. Be ready to bring your questions of “how do we?”  Share your examples of the standards in practice. What’s working? What challenges remain?

Check out the full program at:

Do you still need to Register? The price of registration goes up at the EOD today: January 14, 2022, but we are extending the lower price for those who have expressed interest in the Quality Standards. Email us at


Contact Us
Copyright © 2022 *National Standards for Quality Online Learning*, All rights reserved.
National Standards for Quality Online Learning · 6024 Deer Trace Ct · Dunlap, IL 61525-9662 · USA

January 14, 2022

Our School Systems Think Students Are Computers. They’re Not.

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.

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Our School Systems Think Students Are Computers.
They’re Not.


The last post suggested that we might be a bit more straightforward and even critical about what we’re seeing in digital learning, and education more broadly, than we have been in the past.

A good starting point comes from a recent podcast titled “Our Workplaces Think We’re Computers. We’re Not.” The podcast conversation is between host Ezra Klein and guest Annie Murphy Paul, author of a new book, “The Extended Mind.” As the podcast title suggests, the conversation is mostly focused on work, not school. But the concepts apply to schools as much as to work—hence adapting the title to this blog post—and the conversation even touches on education.

Klein starts with this observation:

Something I’ve been wrestling with lately…is what I’ve come to think of as productivity paradoxes, these things that look and feel to us like work, like productivity, that the culture tells us are work and productivity but turn out to be the opposite.”

He is referring in part to communication tools like Slack, which he argues cause such disruptions in focus that they are productivity killers instead of productivity enhancers. But I was struck by the phrase “things that look and feel like work…” Change that phrase to “things that look and feel like school,” and make sure you’re viewing this concept through the lens of an average person who is at least 30 years old (because most parents of school-age students and policy influencers are). What do you get? You get a vision of education that is built on students showing up at 8am or earlier, remaining in the building for six or more hours, and listening quietly to lectures delivered by a teacher. In this vision, schools are funded based on those students showing up physically—even if they are not there mentally and emotionally. But none of this is more than tangentially related to actual learning.

That’s certainly not a new point, although it’s a concept that still needs to be stated loudly and often. But author Annie Murphy Paul goes much further, in discussing the world of work and productivity. For example, she delves into how workers (and students) are not computers, but we treat workers like they are:

“When fed a chunk of information, a computer processes it in the same way on each occasion, whether it’s been at work for five minutes or five hours, whether it is located in a fluorescent lit office or positioned next to a sunny window, whether it’s near other computers or is the only computer in the room. This is how computers operate.

But the same doesn’t hold for human beings. The way we’re able to think about information is dramatically affected by the state we’re in when we encounter it.” (emphasis added)

Educators (mostly) recognize this fact, as demonstrated by the increased focus on SEL. And yet, by and large the public education system is doing a poor job of allowing students and parents to maximize engagement and learning by ensuring that the student is in their best possible state to learn, as often as possible. Fixed calendars and bell schedules, start times far earlier than ideal for teenagers, and group lectures are all elements of a system that does not let students, parents, and teachers marry the best educational delivery with the best possible state of the student.

Online and hybrid schools—including district-run alternative schools and independent study programs that often don’t identify as hybrid—build on these concepts. For high school students, the attraction of scheduling flexibility is fairly intuitive, as is the idea that students are in a better “state” when they are linking, in their minds, their school with their non-school pursuits and interests. For elementary students, the benefits of such flexibility may manifest in slightly different ways. From Annie Murphy Paul:

“the attitude…that paying attention to the body is sort of silly and sort of foolish comes from a very old idea in Western culture that mind and body are separate and that mind is made of this sort of special spiritual stuff and the body is this grubby kind of animal creature that needs to be subdued and that is irrational and doesn’t have anything — certainly doesn’t have anything to contribute to intelligent decision making or intelligent thinking.”

The “body that needs to be subdued” calls to mind the young students who learn much better when they can play, explore, work with their interests and energies instead of against them. These are not new concepts in education! But even though most people would agree with these ideas, our system is not built with these ideas as a foundation.

The podcast is worth a listen (or a read of the transcript), as it is full of fascinating ideas that have stayed with me. I’ll finish with two final quotes:

From podcast host Klein:
this is a pretty radical book. It has radical implications not just for how we think about ourselves but for policy, for architecture, for our social lives, for schooling, for the economy…It has changed the way I structure a bunch of my days. I’m trying to work with my mind more and against it less.

From author Annie Murphy Paul:
“thinking better is not about working the brain ever harder. It’s about creating a space and a set of capacities wherein you have more and better resources from which to assemble your thought processes
“ if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reporting and researching psychology for 25 years is that we often don’t know what’s best for us, and so we cling very firmly to these practices that don’t serve us.” (emphasis added)

Too much of public education is clinging to practices that don’t serve students. Instead, we need to create more spaces, for more students, to learn in the ways they learn best.

The examples exist. The next post will delve into one of these.
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You are receiving this email because you opted in at the DLC or DLAC website.Our mailing address is:

Evergreen Education Group

700 Main Ave Ste E

Durango, CO 81301-5437

January 12, 2022

What you need to know about #DLAC22

An update about this up-coming digital learning conference.

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DLAC is right around the corner…
here is what you need to know!

DLAC Online starts three weeks from today, and DLAC Atlanta the week after!

Whether you are joining us in Atlanta or Online, our program and speakers have you covered. Our program is shaping up to have the widest variety of topics for attendees at any level of their digital learning game. We’re here to help you advance and grow from your starting point.

Here are some key details to keep in mind….

  1. The DLAC registration fee goes up on January 15, because having a good estimate of final attendance numbers helps our team plan for food, coffee, room needs, and more. We understand though that if you haven’t registered you may be undecided about attending. If you need more time to decide, email us at before January 14, and we will extend the lower current rate for you.
  2. First our exhibit spaces sold out, then our sponsorship opportunities, and now our hotel room block is essentially sold out as well (just a few rooms available on one night). If you haven’t booked a room yet please visit our hotel and travel page! We are trying to add rooms at the Marriott and have additional hotel information on the site as well.
  3. MARK YOUR CALENDARS: February 1st, 2022 is the start of DLAC Online and everyone registered (All Access and Online) can participate February 1st.  It will consist of an opening and two breakout sessions. By participating you will get to hear from some of our highly regarded speakers and get a chance to get to know the platform before February 7th, when we will have onsite and live-streamed sessions from Atlanta added to the online sessions.

Have questions? Email us at!
Copyright © 2022 Evergreen Education Group, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you opted in at the DLC or DLAC website.

Our mailing address is:

Evergreen Education Group

700 Main Ave Ste E

Durango, CO 81301-5437

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