Another cross-post – ensuring all my readers (haha) are getting the information. If you haven’t already started reading EduGeek, I’d highly suggest it (plus it would make my life easier).
In continuing the discussion of online learning in 27J, I should probably talk about what we hope to gain by building capacity within our teachers to learn and teach in a web-enhanced environment. First of all, as a district on the “up-and-up” (a term I use for improved performance, focused on growth and innovation, and undergoing systemic changes), we must ensure that we are using “21st Century” systems to improve our performance, stay relevant and keep 27J students and teachers 27J students and teachers. In a world where educational systems are changing, this is definitely a priority – keeping the best teachers and students in the world of public education. In order to do so, we must compete. In order to compete, we must innovate. In order to innovate, we must invest and accept the fact that, with change, we will inevitably change the way we work and learn. To make change, a need must first be established (done) and capacity built within the organization.
Enter online learning . . .
While online learning will not solve all of our problems in 27J, there are some areas that I believe will be greatly affected. I believe that through an online learning program for our students, we will be able to provide them options for managing, extending, and monitoring their own learning, as well as providing a platform for remediating as needed. I also believe that more and more our stakeholders expect 24/7 service and access to the tools and information that they need to perform. Online programs are available anytime, from anywhere. The newest geeky trend is to create mobile device compatible sites so that students, staff and parents can “learn on the go,” or a the very least, access the resources for learning without sacrificing a usable interface.
Student and staff technology and information literacy are two of my main areas of concern. In an online environment, technology skills are embedded in content, collaboration and communication within the context of a course. So, I believe online learning will help increase our students’ technological awareness and ability in the context of their learning. I also believe that online learning will help our students to increase their communication skills, especially with their writing; since most online courses include some type of threaded discussion. I also believe that students learning online have an increased flexibility to self-select the tools that they use to create products of their learning, rather than being tied to the resources provided at the school or classroom level. Another added bonus to an online learning program is a significant reduction in copying expenses, as class resources and activities would be posted using a web interface, leaving the end-user to answer the “to print or not to print” question. While there are other benefits to an online learning program, my focus is really on how we intend to do this.
Like I stated in my previous post and Isobel suggested in her blog, we will start with professional development. We will include an online component to every professional development offering that comes out of the Student Achievement department. Where will this all take place?
Enter Edu 2.0 (cheesy name, but the application is great) . . .
Edu 2.0 is a learning management system (LMS) that is offered free of charge by a guy named Graham Glass. Basically, Glass is a successful entrepreneur who has worked in both the domains of education and the computer science. Over the years, Glass started and sold a few businesses, made a lot of money and decided to give back to education – in an attempt to assist in reforming it. He’s got a few videos on YouTube you can check out (out of district, sorry). Hopefully, he’ll get them up on TeacherTube or SchoolTube for the districts who block YouTube (if he does, I’ll re-link to make things easier):
We learned about Edu 2.0 (I call it E-D-U) over the summer when Kevin Marlatt (a TOSA in Staff Development) headed up the summer school program and used EDU with those students. It turned out to be a success and we started to investigate the possibilities even further. Kevin began working with a teacher at Vikan Middle School (Jim Silva), who has been using the program this year and the principal, Ana Mendoza, has expanded use to the Vikan staff. When I was approached about researching and designing and online learning program for the district, my initial thoughts were naturally Moodle and Blackboard. After some playing with a Moodle site that I had created, I decided that, while it is free, highly customizable and powerful, it is clunky and requires significant development knowledge for an average teacher (and time for tech support and development on the back end). One thing I know about teachers and change is that, if it’s hard to use, the relative advantage for using it is greatly diminished; therefore, my search continued. While I like what Blackboard offers (power, consistency, support, continued development and every thing else that comes with being the leader of online learning management systems), I did not like the price – highly risky for a district when tight budget doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. While we want to develop the systems, structures and culture for online learning, I don’t think that we are ready for the significant financial risk that signing on with Blackboard presented, nor do I believe I could have justified the funding while in a capacity-building phase of the overall project.
After weighing all of the options, we came back to EDU, evaluated it and decided that:
- It’s really easy to use.
- The courses all look consistent.
- The tools and options are powerful.
- The developers are remarkably accessible (Kevin and I have asked for improvements and have received them in days!). We correspond with Graham Glass regularly. The guy has the whole accessibility/transparency thing going for him.
- The price is right.
- It will serve the purpose of developing an online program in 27J.
So far I have created spaces for each middle and high school, a space for Student Achievement to house virtual group meetings, and a space for Student Achievement courses to be housed. Feel free to visit.
The biggest issue that I’m having (and I’m communicating this to Graham) is that, as we roll this out as a district and are trying to limit the number of usernames and passwords we use, each site will require our users to create and maintain about 3 usernames/passwords – one for their school, one to meet with virtual groups and one for professional development. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.
My next post will discuss joining, entering and using the site as both a teacher and learner. I’m busy creating some course content for my readers to demonstrate the capabilities.