Virtual School Meanderings

August 9, 2016

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: Is The Tried And True “Read and Discuss” Assignment Still Relevant For Teachers?

As I mentioned in the Week 7 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course, students are asked to post two entries of their choice this week. To conclude my model blogging, I wanted to post another sample of a guest blog entry.

This is a guest blog post by Jason Siko is an assistant professor of educational technology at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in K-12 technology integration. In a previous life, he taught high school biology and chemistry.

As I embark on another semester of teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses (and my teaching load is entirely online), I am facing a bit of a crisis in the area of reading assignments. As an early career faculty member, I still keep my experiences of my time in the trenches as a guiding force for instructional decisions, as I taught for 13 years and completed my doctorate while working.

Obviously, I plowed through a ton of the academic literature, but my K-12 colleagues didn’t spend much time searching the university databases.  Further, many of them did not belong to any professional organizations, state or national.  This concerns me.  First, why do we spend time as instructors having students read the literature?  Much of it is poorly written and provides little in terms of brass tacks that can be applied directly to a K-12 teacher’s day-to-day existence.  In addition, outside of the academic program and some capstone project, they will more than likely never read another academic journal article.

So why do we do it?  Why do graduate classes assign something like the discussion prompt below:

After reading Author (20XX), post your thoughts to the discussion board.  Be sure to comment on the posts of at least two of your classmates.

As much as we hate to acknowledge it, perhaps it’s because we teach the way we were taught….

OR…are we creating a supply for our own publications, making it a requirement and necessity to facilitate reading of journals?  Or is there something inherently self satisfying about assigning our own work to ensure that maybe, just maybe, more than a few people will see our work?

Those things aside, the main problem still remains why are we assigning things that basically serve little to no purpose?  Before my inbox fills up with anecdotes of how meaningful this practice is, ask teachers who are NOT your students and/or do not know who you are to discuss what they felt about journal reading experiences, or even their grad school experience in general.  If they remain in K-12, did they suddenly go out of their way to find scholarly articles to read, or, like most teacher, rely on “journals” like Edutopia and the like to inform their practice?  

This brings me to the second issue.  Research is important, and fields advance from theory to practice because of it.  So, do we need to reimagine the way in which it gets pushed to the front lines?  I think so, but where’s the incentive?  I do not earn much credit toward promotion and tenure by publishing in practitioner journals.  I earn even less for blogging, Tweeting, and other interactions on social media.  On the flip side, educators are incredibly busy during the school year, so distillation is important.  However, distillation can miss nuance, which can lead to one-size-fits-all thinking.  Finally, states like mine are requiring less and less graduate work from teachers in order to maintain and advance their certification.

Given that this course is on blogging and social media, I’d like to throw out a few questions for discussion.  

  1. What are your thoughts on improving the process of reading academic work for a graduate class?
  2. What do you do to stay current on research, or what do you plan to do to stay current after matriculating through your degree program?
  3. How can researchers and practitioners better connect with one another to meet each other’s needs?

This is a guest blog post by Jason Siko is an assistant professor of educational technology at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in K-12 technology integration. In a previous life, he taught high school biology and chemistry. As is the pattern here at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry posted today.

May 30, 2016

Cross-Posting: Guest Blogger – AIMS E-learning Criticisms Should Fall On Skeptical Ears

This is a guest post by Grant Frost, a teacher from Nova Scotia who blogs from frostededucation.  He contacted me about this topic, as he wanted to write a response and was following up on a comment I had left somewhere.  I want to thank Mr. Frost for allowing me to cross-post these comments.  If you have any feedback for Mr. Frost, please visit this entry, OPINION: Yet another AIMS misfire on e-learning in Nova Scotia schools, or the entry on his own blog at AIMS E-learning Criticisms Should Fall On Skeptical Ears (as such, comments are closed at this space).

Well, another May long weekend has come and gone, and for me the date marks an emergence of sorts. Over the past month I have run in an election, taken a group of students to the annual Nova Scotia Dramafest, and have wrapped up yet another high school musical. And in all the hustle and bustle, I almost missed that oh-so-predictable and oh-so-Nova Scotian sign of spring.

And, no, I don’t mean the crocuses.

I am talking, of course, about the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ (AIMS) annual attempt to undermine public confidence in our education system and promote the idea of a privatized system.

And even for AIMS, the 2016 installment is a doozy.

Around the middle of May, the organization released a report penned by their local favourite, Paul W. Bennett, on the state of electronic learning in the Atlantic Provinces. The report, entitled E-Learning in K-12 Schools: The Prospects for Disruptive Education relied heavily on the work of E-learning expert Dr. Michael K. Barbour, and was, not surprisingly for AIMS, full of criticisms of how our system is falling behind in offering true E-learning opportunities for our children.

The report was also, not surprisingly for AIMS, a huge load of hooey.

Now, I know what you are thinking. This is not the first time I have been critical of AIMS or of Mr. Bennett, and I admit that, even to myself, I am starting to sound a bit like a broken record. And I truly was too busy at the time to pay much attention to an institution seemingly obsessed with the privatization of public education. Even when Bennett was granted yet another round of interviews on the document, (goodness gracious, will the media ever learn?) and criticized the public education system with such gems as “Gone are the days you could babble on in brick and mortar classrooms”, I was almost content to let the issue go.

Almost. But not quite.

You see, many of the teachers that I know are indeed working very hard to incorporate technology in the classroom, contrary to the report’s claims that us East Coasters “have been slow off the mark to seize e-learning’s potential to promote higher levels of student engagement“. I have actually  written elsewhere about how cautiously excited teachers are to be accessing these new trends. (In fact, in his report, Mr. Bennett used me as a reference, which, considering our history in that matter, has a certain ring of novelty to it.) So the suggestion that somehow our system was encouraging “babbling on at the front of the room” as sound pedagogy rather stuck in my craw.

I was not the only one upset by this suggestion. A news release issued by the NSTU a few days after the AIMS report also took exception to the suggestion that Nova Scotia has been slow to embrace technology as an educational tool. (The AIMS report had also suggested that an article in the Teacher’s Provincial Agreement, created in partnership with the then DOE to help teachers support E-learning, was a hindrance to implementation.)

So, stuck craw and all, I started to do a bit of digging, and, as always, more information was not that hard to find.

Turns out, this is not the first time that Mr. Bennett has written a report on the state of E-learning, nor is it the first time that his conclusions on the subject have been questioned. Back in 2012, writing for a group called “The Society for Quality Education” (which in very AIMS like fashion supports the idea of charter schools), Bennett penned a report entitled  The sky has limits: Online learning in Canadian K-12 education. In an article in the Globe and Mail at the time, Bennett claimed that, as a nation, we were losing ground on the E-learning front. (He pointed the finger at union contracts as a major hurdle standing in the way of progress then, as well.)

In that report, Bennett relied again quite heavily on Dr. Michael K. Barbour. Dr. Barbour is, in fact, one of North America’s leading experts on E-learning, and when Barbour read “The sky has limits” he was, to put it mildly, unimpressed. So too was Dr. Geoff Roulet of Queen’s University, both of whom considered Bennett’s view unnecessarily slanted, and in some instances, guilty of drawing conclusions not supported by evidence.

The similarities between the 2012 report and this latest offering are hard to ignore, and, in my humble opinion, E-Learning in K-12 Schools is not much more than a re-packaging of The Sky has Limits.  The new report offers no new evidence to suggest students in the Atlantic Provinces are actually falling behind in E-learning, and again, much like in 2012, this report opens itself up to several fairly obvious criticisms.

As one example, the AIMS report states that “…in the 2013-14 school year, some 332,000 Canadian students were enrolled in one or more distance education courses — 6.2 percent of the total 5.3 million K-12 student population…That number is dwarfed by the figure in the United States, where… the number of students accessing online learning doubled from 2 million to 4 million from 2010 to 2011, to some 5.3 million in 2014″

Well, the numbers have increased, that’s for sure, but the researchers cited in this instance are actually talking about enrollment in US higher education courses, not specifically about K-12. More accepted numbers have E-learning participation rates in K-12 in the US at around 3% – 4%, so Canada is actually doing better than our southern neighbours.

When it comes to the number of Nova Scotia students involved in online courses, the AIMs information is again rather skewed. The report is critical that Nova Scotia only has 2.2% of its students enrolled in distance education courses, well below the National average of 6.2%. However, if you allow for Blended Learning, where students are accessing technology with the guidance of a teacher, that number grows almost exponentially. In fact, according to a report by Dr. Micheal Barbour himself, written for The Canadian eLearning network, there are approximately 54,000 active Google education accounts currently in the province, and somewhere in the vicinity of 27,500 teachers and students are actively using the new Google Apps for Education System (GAFE) in the classroom. Taken together with the distance education numbers, that means close to 30,000 of our approximately 119,000 public school students are engaged, at some level at least, in online learning.

It is hard to see how the numbers like that indicate to anyone that Nova Scotia is stuck in “brick and mortar” teaching.

The real kicker for me came when, within the report, AIMS itself actually recognized the value of using Blended Learning as the preferred model of technological integration. The report states quite clearly that “Blended learning …is proving far superior to online learning programs that are self-paced with little or no teacher-mediated interactions…”  and it trumpets these models for their ability to engage students and enhance learning.

So let’s review. The Nova Scotia Education System is being criticized by AIMS for falling behind in E-learning. This even though perhaps as many as a quarter of our students are somehow engaged in blended learning in their regular classrooms, which AIMS itself recognizes as the superior E-learning model. This criticism is presented in a report written by someone whose conclusions on the subject have been questioned by an internationally recognized expert in the field who is, not insignificantly, the same expert who actually did the research the report is based upon.

Told you this one was a doozy.

Producing policy papers of questionable repute is certainly nothing new for AIMS. Neither is refusing to acknowledge criticisms of those papers, even when they are offered by legitimate experts in the field. However, it is an irrefutable fact that Nova Scotia schools are using all sorts of blended approaches to E-learning in ways that serve students. It is also an irrefutable fact that many of these approaches are being driven by classroom teachers who are utilizing technology in ever new and exciting ways to promote higher levels of student engagement.

Everyone, is aware of this, it seems. Except for AIMS.

And, apparently, their local favourite, who, when it comes to E-learning, comes across very much like a man trying to walk on stilts amongst giants.

This is a guest post by Grant Frost, who blogs from frostededucation I want to thank Mr Frost for his comments.  If you have any feedback for Mr. Frost, please visit this entry, OPINION: Yet another AIMS misfire on e-learning in Nova Scotia schools, or the entry on his own blog at AIMS E-learning Criticisms Should Fall On Skeptical Ears (as such, comments are closed at this space).  As is the practice here at Virtual School Meanderings, this guest post will be the only blog entry posted today.

March 7, 2016

Guest Blogger: School of Tomorrow

This is a guest post by Pastor David Wilson of the Grant Avenue Baptist Church in Redondo Beach, CA. He contacted me with these thoughts after reading either Questions About The School Of Tomorrow and/or Guest Blogger: Examining Accelerated Christian Education. I want to thank Paster Wilson for allowing me to post these comments, as the use of distance education and online learning materials in Christian schooling is a story that isn’t told as often in the field.

Dear Mr. Barbour,

I worked with the A.C.E. (now School of Tomorrow) curriculum for many years.  During this period, I ran into several conflicts with some of the materials and I wanted to share with you how some change
was effected in them.

We had a very intelligent young man (now a doctor) who was the first graduate who attended from preschool through High School and graduated with honors.  He also was African-American, and much more sensitive to issues which related to African Americans as depicted in the material.

He had some good questions.

First, he pointed out that the character “cartoons” in the material in the younger grades were all white.  Second, when African American characters were added they were always presented separately, as if they all had their own churches and fellowships.  I don’t recall a single occurrence of such a teaching strip presenting mixed fellowships.  To the people at School of Tomorrow all such relationships were separate as presented in the teaching strips.

Later, in High School material, an English Pace used an old poem about “Tracks.”  The reference was to gospel tracts, but the dialogue used was old Southern ignorant Black speech and dialect, even using the word “Massa” (as I recall, but that’s been a lot of years)… I personally wrote a letter to A.C.E. and received no answer.  Later, I spoke on the phone to Mrs. Howard’s assistant.  (the story then was that the founder, Dr. Donald Howard, was overworked and gravely ill and others were taking leadership responsibilities, including his son. I was assured that Mrs. Howard has seen the material and decided that indeed it was inappropriate.

In your blog, you quoted a section from High School Social Studies, American History, that spoke derogatorily of South African Blacks. The discussion was used as an example to illustrate a point I have forgotten, but had no place in a history of the United States and its founding.  Once again, I wrote a letter.  The pastor of the church wrote a letter as well.  The student wrote a letter as well.  I received a phone call from the author of the material, who defended it.  I continued putting the pressure on until I reached Donald Howard, Jr. (I think that was his name, but he was the son of the founder– the founder being ousted after allegations of sinful conduct came to light that created a breach in his family and the organization).. The young man was at the time taking the lead for the publication and had actually spent two years in South Africa and completely disagreed with the statement.  In fact, the statement was alluded to in later materials relating to World History, as I recall. He refused to RECALL and REPRINT the materials, but did tell me that the next printing would remove that statement because of my strong opposition.  He was very gracious and kind and when the next printing of those materials came out, that section had been edited out.  I was informed that the author of the material, who taught at their Institute (i.e. college) was retiring and would have no further input. He also advised me that the old school founders who had some “Southern ideas” were all being phased out, making room for younger people with a better understanding of such issues.

As a school administrator, I worked diligently to see a number of edits and changes made to the material, as our school was a mixture of all races.

ACE material had some weak areas.  I quickly learned that almost every student coming into our school would have to do a number of low level Packets explaining some simple English concepts  (adjectives and adverbs)… I took the material and established a remedial English class for those who had that failing, that met two times… Whereupon, students were able to retake the diagnostic test and understanding those simple concepts grow.

The major lack with School of Tomorrow was their challenge for our students to excel, while their people were allowed to continue with major fails in writing materials and distributing the materials. Materials were constantly on back order, or left out of a shipment, or the wrong materials shipped.  Their consultants would come and “inspect” our school, and insist on excellence, but they themselves did not hold those same standards.

When the ACE system was taken seriously by staff and students, students excelled.  We had many students who came to us who had missed very important concepts in public school experiences.  When the system was applied, suddenly the tools to learn were put in their hands.  The system broke down when students and staff sought shortcuts.  There were several math packets that were so poorly written that every student who completed the packet would have to repeat it, sometimes more than once.  Special tutoring sessions for those packets had to be created as the material was so poorly organized or explained that students could not grasp the material.  As I recall, Math PACE # 71 was a critical failure that 99% of students failed the test.  There were several others like that.

Other problems with the material (which gradually were corrected, thanks to input from our school and others) was that multiple choice questions were asked and of the three potential answers two of them made no sense.  A section of reading was immediately followed by a page of questions that were presented in the same order as they appeared in the material.  Students quickly learned that they didn’t need to read all the material, but simply go to the questions and scan the reading for answers.  To my knowledge, this was never changed,.

In comparison, when the church I pastored started a school, we mixed Alpha-Omega material for some classes, and the students and staff both found it to be well-written, but found that answering questions was much more difficult though I felt much more preparatory for college level work, as the questions were not presented in order from the reading material, were more in-depth questions, and required more critical thinking and response.  However, since students scored their own work, it was difficult for them to ascertain that they had articulated a correct or wrong answer since their wording was always
different.

Every breakdown in learning stemmed from students cheating, poor supervision to prevent cheating, or staff members failing to see a student struggling with an area and failing to provide assistance.

Finally, the problem we had in running Christian Schools (our church disbanded theirs about six years ago) was that the students who came to us claimed to come from Christian homes that were committed to Christ, but the students turned out to be refugees from public school. Either they had been in trouble or were avoiding trouble.  Therefore, it was difficult to prevent our Christian Schools from becoming REFORM schools with a Christian theme.  Sometimes, it worked.  Sometimes, it didn’t.  Our church established a rule that no student who had been suspended or expelled from another school could be received, unless a reasonable doubt of the fairness of that action was provided.  For example, the school I worked in for nineteen years had several incidents of temperamental staff expelling students without  just cause.  One administrator actually challenged a student to a fight over a comment made towards the administrator’s step-daughter and the student was the one expelled.  Another time, a student was told he could not do something (I forget the detail) and when he asked “Why?” the administrator threw a full soda into a trash can and told him he was expelled for challenging authority.  Since I knew the student, he attended and graduated in our church’s new school.

My problem was struggling too long with students who were not acting appropriately.  When they did not respond to discipline, I had no choice but to dismiss them.  Often, in efforts to love and reach them, I waited too long to do so.  In one case, because the students came from the church of a fellow pastor, I kept two brothers in our school for far too long, not wanting to offend the other pastor.  When their actions became so grievous that I had no choice, I dismissed them. Later, he thanked me for ministering to them, but advised me that they both were in serious trouble with the law.

There is also the problem of the Pastor’s oversight of the school distracting him from other work within the church.

Well, I’ve gone on and on, and your post was written six years ago… I just wanted you to know some of my experiences, and also, how some of that offensive material got changed.

God’s blessings upon you,

Pastor David Wilson
Grant Avenue Baptist Church
Redondo Beach, CA

This is a guest post by Pastor David Wilson of the Grant Avenue Baptist Church in Redondo Beach, CA. I want to thank Pastor Wilson for his unsolicited comments.  As is the practice here at Virtual School Meanderings, this guest post will be the only blog entry posted today.

July 21, 2015

EDTECH537 – Guest Blogger Entry: Why Teachers NEED Twitter

This is a guest blog post by Angela Rutschke, BEd, MET. Angela is a sixth grade teacher at Caroline School in Caroline, Alberta (Canada) – and a former EDTECH537 student. She blogs from Rutschke’s Renderings and tweets from @ARutschke.

As I mentioned in the EDTECH537 – Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course, I wanted to post a sample of a guest blog entry. As is the practice on this blog, this will be the only entry that is posted today.

twitterI intentionally avoided Twitter for a long time. What could POSSIBLY be appealing about tiny snippets of people’s lives and pictures of their food? When I finally signed up, I wasn’t too impressed. I just didn’t have much to share with the world, particularly in 140 character fashion! So I lurked, I read some interesting things, but remained unconvinced that Twitter was for me.

In June, 2013 I HAD to tweet if I wanted an “A” in EDTECH 597, Blogging in the Classroom. Now the stakes were personal, which made me even more hesitant! I would have a guaranteed audience of 20 people, but I still didn’t have anything to say! I wasn’t at all pleased, but decided I would REALLY try to “do” Twitter, after all my GRADE was at stake, so I became a full-fledged twit!

In the two short years since, Twitter has completely changed my teaching! No one is more surprised that I am, but I am not exaggerating! I have tapped into the enormous spring of inspiration, resources, and expertise that is available whenever I need it.

In my rural community of 500 people, where I am the sole grade 6 teacher, I can feel rather isolated at times, but Twitter shrinks the world, and has opened doors for my students I didn’t even know about before!

Here’s my Top Five ways Twitter has impacted my teaching:

  1. Professional Learning Network– I have grown an AMAZING Professional Learning Network! Twitter has connected me to teachers and technology experts that have changed my practice, inspired my creativity and helped me become more courageous. I have learned from, and been inspired by so many educators that I would not have had had access to before. The connections I’ve forged through Twitter are powerful, encouraging and supportive. The collective knowledge of my PLN is unsurpassed and connected educators tend to be generous with their resources as well!
  2. Finger on the Pulse of Education– I learn about current technology, useful teaching strategies, global education movements, and get a chance to hear from the best educators in the world, one tweet at a time. There is NOTHING more powerful than having the best in our profession share their genius and resources, and that is exactly what Twitter offers.
  3. Global Connection– Through Twitter chats, I have tapped into the richest source of PD I have ever found, and discovered a community that supports and drives innovative teaching practices. My class and I have been able connect with blogging partners from around the world, experience Google Hangouts with authors and other classes, and share our work with an authentic, world audience through Twitter. A question posted on Twitter is often answered within the hour!
  4. Leadership Opportunities– I host #6thchat, which is a weekly chat for sixth grade teachers. My experience with #geniushour and #tlap (Teach Like a Pirate) have led to sessions at EdCamps and opened the door for me to at the Alberta Technology Leaders in Education Conference in 2014 (ATLE). Twitter is the root of them all!
  5. Class Room Design- Twitter was my sounding board for my classroom make-over as well. I asked for feedback on how to change my classroom into the optimum learning space for my 28 students and educators all over the world responded! The result was empowering for my students and the closest I have ever been able to come to my ideal classroom. That’s a BIG change!
before after
BEFORE AFTER

Twitter has become my favorite place to glean ideas, share successes and become the best educator I can. I tell anyone that will listen what an extraordinary tool it has been for me. I am the best teacher I have ever been, in my 19th year of teaching, and can attribute much of my growth and improvement to using Twitter. My experience highlights why teachers NEED Twitter. I just wish I would have caught on sooner!

This is a guest blog post by Angela Rutschke, BEd, MET. Angela is a sixth grade teacher at Caroline School in Caroline, Alberta (Canada) – and a former EDTECH537 student. She blogs from Rutschke’s Renderings and tweets from @ARutschke.

April 7, 2015

Guest Blog Entry: Integration of Online Learning in Schools – A New Fully Online Graduate Program

This is a guest post by Jered Borup, an Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies in Schools at George Mason University. As is the tradition at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry today.

Logo

NOW ENROLLING FOR THE FALL 2015 SEMESTER

As a student you will learn how to blend online and face-to-face instruction, teach online, design effective online learning activities, foster online learning communities and much more.

Choose a degree or certificate from this teacher-friendly program:

TUITION DISCOUNTS

Now offering new tuition discounts that reduce out-of-state tuition by approximately 45% and in-state tuition by 15%.

LEARN MORE AT A WEBINAR

Attend one of the following live information sessions by logging in as a guest at https://webcon.gmu.edu/iols

  • Wednesday, April 8 at 6:30pm EST
  • Saturday, May 9 at 11:00am EST

Additional details about the program can be found at http://mason.gmu.edu/~pnorton/IOLS.html

Email Dr. Jered Borup at jborup@gmu.edu for additional information or to receive reminders for upcoming information sessions.

Jered Borup, Ph.D.
Phone: (703)993-3137
E-Mail: jborup@gmu.edu
cehd.gmu.edu/online/iols

This is a guest post by Jered Borup, an Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies in Schools at George Mason University.

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