Monday, January 19, 2009

On Line Learning and the Catholic Secondary School

Technology is changing the world. There are still some pockets of resistance out there. I point to a local administrator who refuses to use email and sends all non verbal communications through the fax as an example. Most of us have accepted that technology has and will continue to radically change our daily experiences. The most recent Harvard Education letter chronicles the rise of on-line learning and its potential impact on bricks and mortar education. The Florida Virtual School is a noted example and forty four states tout online learning requirements. I would argue an online course or two is par for the course with most four year college experiences.

Many of our schools already utilize online learning as a way to supplement our own educational offerings. We have a handful of students taking advanced math courses through Stanford. We provide the computer and the time and they take the course. Critics are apt to point out that the experience of school: community, relationship, diversity of experience, can often be lost through an online learning environment. This is true perhaps in the sense of one to one teacher to student interaction only. Technology has advanced with break neck speed and the ability for groups of students to collaborate online through blogs, wikis, nings, and group skype calls is changing this isolated dynamic.

We are tinkering with the idea of offering a few "blended" electives for next year. What we mean by "blended" is a handful of our teachers will offer electives in an online plus face to face method. Course content will be made available online through the use of free content sharing services like slideshare and A classroom wiki will provide the place to chronicle and share collaborative work. The teacher will be available for skype conferences at certain times each week and the students and teacher will share a working lunch (lunch + homeroom) once a week for further clarification and discussion. The students course schedule during the day would not be altered too much with the exception of a study hall period being added in some cases. Better is the study hall actually has access to the web. Cost wise the majority of everything in terms of software costs is virtually zero if you have instructors who understand web 2.0 technology. Trust me, some of them do.

Information is no longer scarce. The world of "Google" and being connected 24/7 has changed much of what we do. The sage on the stage model tied to a world of information scarcity is quickly being done away with. Clayton Christensen captures the shift in Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns "People will still go to a school building, but much of the learning will be offered online, and the role of the teacher in the physical classroom will change over time from sage on the stage to the guide on the side - to be a mentor, motivator, and coach....It will be a very different system, but it should be a much more rewarding system for everyone."

There are many different formats online learning can utilize. This "blended" approach does not usurp the brick mortar model but would free up some scheduling options for our students. In addition we'd have a form for testing new electives and make it easier to allow our teachers to experiment with electives they feel passionate about it. I'm personally interested in piloting one of these classes but picking a topic in line with my own interests and theirs may be a little difficult. I wonder how many takers we'd have for a class titled, Advanced Derivative Trading Strategies for Seasonal Grain Markets . But you never do know.

Kaplan University (for profit) has released some powerful ads that pay tribute to the shift online learning is causing. I've always taken issue with their ownership but hats off to the compelling advertisement. What do you think of the blended approach and what are you currently doing in your building with online learning initiatives?

I don't personally know much about Kaplan and their model. The sharing of the video is intended to reflect the scope of the change that is upon us not a recommendation for their individual model.


Ed Shepherd said...

Great post. I am really interested to see how it goes for you guys. I hope it works out and look forward to future posts documenting your progress.

Claire Thompson said...

The blended model is definitely the way things seem to be going. I teach at a distributed learning school in BC, Canada. The last few years have seen a real increase in the number of grade 10 and up students who are seeking to do one or more classes outside the regular bricks and mortar schools. As budgets tighten and, in my district anyway, enrollments drop more and more schools are looking at better cost efficient ways to provide course options to students.

The model that you are proposing for your school sounds good. My experience with grade 8 - 12 students and on-line learning suggests that regular contact between the student and teacher is vital for success. Some students are pro-active and are very good at e-mailing, phoning, or coming in for assistance. For the majority, though, structures need to be in place to allow the students and teachers to check in with each other on a regular basis.

I'll be keen to hear how this experiment works for your school, and I wish you the best of luck.