I attended the @One Online Teaching Conference at San Diego City College last week.  This is the fourth year that I’ve attended the conference and this year it had a new flavor…which I really enjoyed.  @One is an organization funded through a grant from the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office.  I am currently working for @One, to be transparent about my personal interests in supporting their endeavors, but long before I began my working relationship for @One, I benefited from their terrific training opportunities:  I learned how to podcast from Donna Eyestone and I attended many of their free desktop seminars that showcase new ideas and national presenters in one hour synchronous (and always archived) sessions using Elluminate (actually branded as CCC Confer via the CA community college systemwide license).

The Online Teaching Conference (OTC) has become a tradition for many California community college instructors to network with colleagues, understand how other campuses are dealing with challenges and opportunities around online teaching, and pick up some hands-on experience using emerging technologies.  But this year @One joined forces with CUE (Computer Using Educators) which is primarily a K-12 national organization that has many of the same focuses of @One.  The results were quite compelling.

Allison Powell, Vice President of iNACOL (a non-profit organization of 3,100 members, focused on advocacy, support and professional development for online learning), presented the keynote on Thursday.  The keynote was refreshingly different.  For the first time, I had the pleasure of listening to students from K-12 and higher education reflect on their experiences as online students.  Wow. Why is it that hearing a student request more student interaction and instructor feedback in their online learning experiences resonates on such a more profound level than reading it in a journal?  I loved the panel and I loved hearing how focused and driven the students are to drive their own learning.  Most of them noted a frustration with slow instructor feedback, explaining that asynchronous questions usually had resolved themselves by the time the instructor got back to them with an answer.  They also sounded enthralled and motivated by learning experiences that allowed them opportunity to share thoughts, reflections and debate with other students.  Again, not surprising but so much more powerful when spoken in a student voice.

After the panel, I attended a concurrent session presented by Powell which showcased a perspective of online learning at a global level.  What did I learn?  That the US is lagging behind most all other nations in leveraging the potential of online learning to break down barriers to education, provide a reliable option for educational continuity in the face of impending disasters, engage our digital native students, and produce skills relevant to a 21st century global economy.  Why are we lagging?  Sadly, our policies and regulations are disabling our ability to collaborate.  Powell, for example, shared that 100% of teachers in Singapore are trained to teach online.  The nation has implemented a one-week per year “learn online” experience for all teachers and students, to ensure teachers continue to teach online and are prepared for dealing with disasters that could interrupt off-line learning (a new term I’m proposing in contrast to “face-to-face” learning which, I’m convinced, denigrates the personalized nature of an “online” learning experience).  Also noteworthy is the use of online learning India to education a 70% rural population that speaks 23 different languages!  Powell noted an extreme need, here in the US, to integrate online learning training into pre-service teacher curriculum to ensure our educational system is prepared to meet the continued growth in K12 online learning…which is inevitable.  27% states currently have state “virtual schools” and this number reflects a 30% growth each year since 2000.  And 75% of K12 districts use online learning for AP classes.

Effective online learning is anchored in student-centered learning with instructor-guided interaction between peers.  Imagine the potential this has to transform our nation’s educational system if it becomes embedded in the foundation of our teachers’ professional development.  An online classroom has no walls and invites opportunities for global collaboration, introducing paths into learning about different cultures and unique perspectives about a particular topic (or image or video).

I see online learning in K12 continuing to grow steadily with the support of national advocacy to transform our educational system and, as a result, this will have even more profound implications for higher education than the surge in online demand that we’ve seen in past years.  In California community colleges alone from 2007 to 2008, “off line” enrollments dropped nearly 10%  while distance education headcount grew 23%.  We cannot deny these trends and we need to be examining the shrinking enrollments in our “offline” classes, as we stress the growth in online (this conveys a different message).  With the move to online learning in K12, the “off line” college lecture classroom will need to be transformed or it will contain empty seats and one lonely professor.  It will be irrelevant to students who have been born into a digital society and educated through personalized online learning environments.  While the higher education landscape has been impacted deeply by growth in online enrollments, our pedagogical foundations haven’t seen sweeping changes.  That, I believe, will the difference as we move forward.

I felt moments of energy and excitement as I saw K12 and higher education come together at this conference.  Collaboration is essential, across the board, to resolve the tensions that exist around us today as we’ve moved from an industrial to a global, digital society.

43 Comments

  1. Michelle,

    I'm an English teacher at Edina High School in Minnesota, taking an online class on skills for the 21st century educator. We're a nationally recognized high school, but until recently, I didn't realize how behind the times we were when it came to integration of technology. One of my English teaching colleagues piloted the school's first blended class this spring, and seeing what she did with it has made me much more eager to integrate some of these tools into my classroom.

    Your post drives that point home — two things that caught my attention were the stats on how far the U.S. trails other countries in development of online teaching and learning, and the other was your assertion (which I completely agree with) that online learning needs to be "embedded in the foundation of our teachers' professional development." Of course, those two points are related — right now, there doesn't seem to be too much drive on a national, K-12 level to try to catch up to these other countries by providing that sorely needed professional development time. The online classes I'm taking this summer are a great start — I'm learning quite a bit already — but I think more classes will be needed, and more classes that teachers HAVE to take. Thanks,

    Tim

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  2. All educational programs should have at least some sort of online teaching course. I attended a what I thought was a very good school of education, however, it lacked any online teaching components and I had to pretty much learn how to teach all over again once I started working with students in the "virtual classroom". It is definately a different animal.

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  3. Technology 2.0 has allowed all of us to leap into the a new world of discovery. Virtual classrooms are opening the doors for thousands of students across the world to learn and discover online exclusively. I currently teach online and have appreciated the opportunity that it has given me to grow as an educator. I have received on the job training but agree that more teacher training programs should include this aspect of education. Some of the newer staff that we have hired this year mention that online education is at least mentioned but not covered in any detail.I have found the site http://www.techlearning.com
    to be very useful in giving updates on recent changes in technology and education.

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  4. I have been an online teacher for the past 8 years now. When I first received my job, I knew nothing about online learning since I taught in a brick and mortar school. I graduated from college in 2000 and there wasn't much discussion on online teaching at the time. However, I was taught that any kind of technology that can be used in a lesson enhances learning and can make the learning more meaningful for the students. In the past 8 years that I have been teaching online, my I'm still amazed with what we can offer to students. I am currently working on my master's program now, and the first couple of classes discussed making learning meaningful for students. As an online teacher, I can have students read "The Diary of Anne Frank" and then take them on a virtual tour of the Anne Frank Museum, and have them blog like Anne Frank did with keeping her journal. I really feel that online learning is the wave of the future and is here to stay and will continue to grow. Check out a website I found: http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/TheFutureofOnlineTeachingandLe/157426

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  5. I have worked in a virtual learning environment for the last three years. I oversee the progress for just over 100 students. I am always amazed by what our students are able to accomplish. I feel all students should participate in some type of online education. This is particularly important because of the amount of technology students are exposed to on a daily basis. Also, many colleges are offering online classes in addition to traditional classes. Taking virtual classes in high school will help these students succeed.

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  6. Like the previous post, I too work in a cyber school, overseeing the progress and scheduling of just over 100 students in grades pre-k through 12th. While this is only my second year with this school I have seen tremendous growth and technological change in just the past year. Certainly, this has required adaptability and a willingness to learn new technologies and modes of instruction very quickly. What strikes me is that the adoption of new technology into the classroom is very much a chicken & the egg sort of argument; are we utilizing technology that is already known by the students and using it because it captures their interests, or is it a case of what we are presenting our students with serves to be the driving force that is reflected in society as a whole?

    The simple answer would be to suggest that it's a little of both. I would agree with this line of reasoning in so far as the introduction of new teachers into the system. They're using what they've been taught/are familiar with. But what of the older, perhaps less techno-savvy teachers among us; are we doomed to a continual state of trying to play "catch-up?"

    Thankfully, the graduate program which I am currently enrolled in is addressing this fact and the teachers with whom I work have already incorporated some of the lessons/technology that I've brought back to the office. But this approach is somewhat piecemeal in its approach. While I don't have a definitive answer, I would suspect that it wasn't all that long ago veteran teachers were bemoaning those new-fangled calculators and video projections, rather than be grateful for the tried & true slide rules and film strip projectors.

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  7. I have been a special education instructional supervisor for an online k-12 program since 2007. It is amazing and humbling to be honored with the opportunity to be a part of the future of education. I have had the opportunity to work with amazing students spanning from the ages of 5 years old to 20 years old. As a special educator, I have been able to use unique innovative strategies to help students achieve academic, organizational, social, speech, and emotional goals. Online education has given so many of the students that I have worked a second chance to achieve success. I am very proud to say that I have been a part of their educational process.
    I am now also proud to say that I am currently an online education student myself, working on completing my masters degree in education with a concentration in online instruction. This experience is not only providing me with new tools to utilize in the online education setting, but it allows for me to relate to the experiences that my students are going through. I am very excited for the opportunities that online education will continue to provide for students around the world!

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  8. I have been working at a Cyber Charter School now for almost 2 years. When I first began, it was very overwhelming, but exciting to learn the way of the virtual learning environment. Now that I have been doing this for a while, I can see many benefits of online learning. Our students receive a great education without many of the distractions a brick and mortar school has. Our special education students are able to receive accomodations, related services, and a less distracting environment that is extemely beneficial to them There are some cons though. There is less social interaction, and in regards to special education students, they are unable to get any one on one help unless their parents are willing. I think all in all, cyber school can be a great way of education, but it does have its flaws like any other school!

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  9. I too am an online virtual classroom music and art teacher. I have been teaching online for 10 years and I learn more and more every year. When I first began teaching online I was surprised at the lack of discipline problems. The very first few years I had small classrooms since many of our students have chosen online learning for reasons like classroom bullying, social anxieties, pregnancy and religious reasons. Some student’s needed the flexibility of scheduling school and dance, gymnastics or other activities they might pursue. My classrooms have since quadrupled in size and the needs and reason for each student choosing our school varies. I now believe that our students choose our school because they want a different means of education. I am currently working on my master’s degree so that I may provide a better learning environment for my students and develop into an enhanced teacher for my school. We are a school of choice and therefore we must deliver the best methods in online education.
    I was disappointed to read that other countries like India and Singapore have online learning for teachers while we in the United States are lagging behind. “Powell noted an extreme need, here in the US, to integrate online learning training into pre-service teacher curriculum to ensure our educational system is prepared to meet the continued growth in K12 online learning…which is inevitable”(Brock, Retrieved 4/18/11). Personally, I have witnessed the immense and rapid growth of online education and our country needs to be better prepared for the continuous growth as our children select online education over brick and mortar education.

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  10. As a Team Captain and Instructional Supervisor at PA Cyber Charter School, I carry a case load of student K4 – 12th grade as well as assist other Instructional Supervisors on my team. Though not a virtual classroom teacher,last year I had the opportunity to tutor online for an 8 week PSSA prep workshop. This was truly a new experience for me and I have to admit very uncomfortable at first. I knew that I was relying too much on my lecturing through the power points and not utilizing what PA Cyber refers to as break out groups where students can interact. The brain is social and develops in tandem with other brains.
    In "Online Learning: K-12 and Higher Ed Collaborations" I was not surprised to read, "Effective online learning is anchored in student-centered learning with instructor-guided interaction between peers" (Brock, retrieved 2011). Had I been more comfortable with the technological tools of the virtual classroom I would have utilized these break out groups. A true champion of brain based learning, I believe it is crucial that online teaching incorporate brain based learning best practices. As mentioned in this blog, students want more feedback in asynchronious courses. As part of brain based research assessment must take other forms than just multiple choice quizzes/exams and utilize more writing opportunities that can afford constructive feedback.
    With regard to online learning both synchronious and asynchronious I would like to see the following incorporated:
    1. The incorporation of music as music can be both an energizer and a calming force.
    2. The use of art for more pleasing and memorable power points.
    A great website for more information on brain based learning is http://www.uwsp.ed/education/lwilson/brain/bboverview.htm
    Finally I would like to see nationwide professional development for teachers to incorporate 2.0 tools as well as learning to teach effectively online.

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  11. I have worked as an online educator with a virtual k-12 school for the past 2 years and couldn’t agree more about the endless opportunities for collaboration. Web 2.0 tools really make the possibilities endless. I think it is also important for the teachers to use these online tools for collaboration among their students but also among themselves. Many online educators, myself included, work from home and it can become very isolating. I know I have much to learn from my peers who have more experience, but there is not a lot of opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other. Many times professional developments involve training about the software needed to perform daily task, which is most certainly criticals to the success of the teacher, but again, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for collaboration, and demonstrations of best-practices, etc. Web 2.0 tools offer us a simple-to-use and efficient means of collaborating with each other, it is up to us to take advantage of them.

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  12. I am a recent college graduate, currently working on my master’s degree, and a first year virtual classroom teacher. Before working as a VC teacher, I did work in a brick and mortar school as an everyday substitute. The endless opportunities that a virtual school can have for their students have amazed me and made me realize that the future of education is always changing. A common misconception of online schools is that the teachers cannot form bonds with their students. This is not true! A good teacher can relate to their students whether they are in the same classroom or miles apart. I found using a webcam in my classroom can be extremely effective. The students love to have the visual aspect as well. Recently, I had the great opportunity to use a Smart Board in my instruction while using a webcam. With the addition of each of these (webcam and Smart Board) in the classroom, I had all of my students participating in class excited about learning. In my short first year as an online educator, I realized how much things can change. Is anybody positive where education will be five years from now? Ten years from now? I do not believe so, but I do believe that a continually evolving virtual education will be a big part of it!

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  13. Danny

    I have worked at a Cyber School for the past 7 months. My responsibility is to maintain contact with 100 families and students and monitor their academic process. Cyber schools are unique and not the best learning environment for everyone. It requires students to have a large sense of self-discipline and self motivation. Collaboration is absolutely key within cyber schools. I need to be in constant contact with students, parents, administration and co-workers. Rarely will you come across a student who does not need my assistance or encouragement to get their work done in a timely manner. Collaboration with the students and their families will create a more personable experience and increase the likelihood of completing course work on time. Throughout my time employed with the Cyber School, I have realized just how many working parts go into each student’s education. With all of these parts working together, they create for a more effective and efficient learning experience.

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  14. Justin

    I also work at PA Cyber; this is my third year teaching as a special education instructional supervisor. Before teaching at the online school I substituted at many traditional schools. I find that teaching online allows teachers and students to keep up to date with technology since it is always changing and this is not always the case in traditional schools. Online schools also allow for students to choose many more classes that are to their liking then they would be able to in a traditional school setting. I am amazed every day as to what online schools can offer to students and look forward to contributing to the future of educating the youth of America.

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  15. TWard

    I also work at PA Cyber; I have worked here for the past 7 years. Currently, I am working on my masters, teaching in the virtual classroom, and raising three beautiful children. Teaching online provides endless opportunities for interaction with students and their families. Throughout my time here at the school I have found myself building bonds with students and families that are stronger than I ever had while in school with my teachers. Teaching 7th Grade Math, I find my students emailing me for help and now getting requests to write letters of recommendation for college. The social interaction that many think of as non-existent is far from true. The students at PA Cyber have so many opportunities to meet each other and their teachers. I go to as many of these events as possible; I even bring my family to quite a few of them. I truly believe the environment that our school presents to families completely stems from our leaders and teamwork forming more of a family feeling at the work place that I have never seen at any other place I have worked. Looking forward to my next 7 years in this family.

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  16. I am an employee at a cyber school where I work with in the gifted and talented education (GATE) program. In my experience, the cyber school environment has empowered gifted students by removing the barriers they experience in a face-to-face, or as you call it, offline learning environment. A gifted learner typically needs a learning environment above his or her age level, which provides the student with the appropriate level of challenge to keep him or her engaged. Cyber students are enabled to take advanced classes with significantly older peers through a virtual classroom where they do not have to feel vulnerable due to their age differences. In this way, they are also given a great opportunity to interact with students they can relate to, share ideas with, and collaborate with on a higher academic level. They also are given opportunities to work through their schoolwork at an accelerated pace, completing more than the average credit load per year. In your article about digital learners, you pointed out that students taking online classes K-12 will need online classes in college. The opportunities I have described that have empowered gifted learners are opportunities that may disappear in an on-site, offline college experience. They would be thrown into situations where they may be the youngest student on campus and feel socially awkward, but they could interact with students via online classes that would share their passion for the subjects they are learning. Also a disadvantage of the offline learning may be slowing these students down by having them fit their work into timeframe of the school, whereas their online learning was free from these time barriers. Students who are receiving a gifted education online could benefit greatly from an online college option with the same opportunities for them to take advanced coursework and work at an accelerated pace like the opportunities they received from a K-12 online school. Online learning opportunities are expanding at the college and K-12 level, and as they do so, teachers, parents, and students need to recognize the opportunities that are emerging for the gifted population. Online learning offers a level of customization for the gifted learner that cannot be attained in an offline learning environment.

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  17. I have been a virtual classroom biology teacher for the past 5 years. I have to admit that when I was hired, I knew very little about the virtual classroom. I as with most individuals wondered how it is possible to engage students in the learning process in the virtual world. It did not take long for me to realize that without the distractions of behavior issues, peer pressure, and bullying, students are able to concentrate on the learning process. It is refreshing to spend the time in the classroom actually teaching the material and not disciplining the students. I recently did a research project in which I studied the social interaction within a virtual classroom. My results showed that the students had an increase in grades after enrolling in Cyber School. I am thankful that the virtual classroom is available for students that do not benefit from the traditional brick and mortar classroom.

    It is definitely a challenge actively engaging the students in the virtual classroom. It is not always possible to do lab activities that can normally be done in the brick and mortar classroom. However, there are a lot of virtual labs and animations that are available. The students enjoy learning about gel electrophoresis by completing the following virtual lab, http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/biotech/gel/ . Students can compare and contrast Meiosis and Mitosis at the following website, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/baby/divi_flash.html. Protein synthesis is described at the website, http://www.biostudio.com/demo_freeman_protein_synthesis.htm. The previous sites are just a few of my favorite sites that I enjoy using in my classroom. There are many animations, videos, and online activities that can reinforce the material. Students can also interact with other students during breakout sessions.

    Every year I learn a little more about the technology that is available for the virtual classroom. I am currently enrolled in a course in which I am learning about the use of blogging, podcasts, wikis, and digital storytelling. I am excited to add some of these techniques to my own classroom. Since online instruction is the future of education, it is important for future teachers to be properly trained in online instruction.

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  18. Eva Vaccaro

    I agree with your statements about including online learning in teacher education programs. With teaching headed into the online environment more than ever, new teachers need to be exposed to this type of learning early to remain competitive. I cannot recall one single class session where online learning was covered during my undergrad program, and that was only five years ago. If I had been exposed to online learning early on in college, I wouldn’t have had such an aversion to it prior to starting my career in a cyber school. It wasn’t until I applied, and then was hired, that I learned about the process and how successful students were. I feel that the public in general also needs to be informed about the benefits of online learning. I know some people view the “traditional” way of learning and teaching as the only “good” way to educate. I think that if those who oppose online learning could see the progress and success that students make in these programs, they would embrace this mode of learning instead of trying to fight it.

    In addition to teaching new teachers about online learning, I am an advocate of introducing online learning to students at a young age. I currently teach in a pre-kindergarten hybrid learning environment at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. The program that I work in, which is called Building Blocks, combines online curriculum with the ability to experience a classroom setting with a flexible schedule. Our students are able to come to our learning center where we present the curriculum, and the students enjoy social interaction and arts programs, or they are able to complete the curriculum at home with their guide. I feel that these students will benefit from being in this program because as they grow they will be a part of more online learning opportunities and will have already been exposed to this kind of learning.

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  19. Kara Best

    I found myself nodding in agreement throughout this whole post, Michelle! I currently teach at a cyber school, but I believe that all prospective teachers should learn about online education, whether they plan to teach in a traditional setting or not. Not only will it make prospective teachers more marketable in areas where teaching jobs are hard to attain, but NOT having a background in online education does a disservice to students, in my opinion. In this era, most students will take at least one online course before they graduate from high school or college. I believe that, as teachers, we have the responsibility to introduce these students to online learning at an early age so that they are better prepared for their future endeavors.

    In addition, I think that online learning appeals to most students' interests, making it easy for us to keep them actively engaged in the material, which is always a prominent goal of mine. Throughout my years of teaching, including substitute teaching at many traditional schools, I have not met many children who do not enjoy computers, websites, etc. They are usually thrilled to do anything involving computers, and I think educators should use that to their advantage.

    Lastly, I want to say that I hope the general public gains more knowledge on online education in the future. I encounter far too many people who do not understand online education. At best, they are confused; at worst, they are scornful of online education. I hope that with blogs like this getting the word out there, people's knowledge will continue to grow and they will begin to see the great benefits of online learning!

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  20. Michelle,

    This blog post was so enlightening to read. I am a new follower and can't wait to read on what more you have to say.

    I am relatively new to online teaching and have only recently gone back to school for a graduate program that is completely online.

    I have previously taught at a brick-and-mortar public school for the past five years, and then received a job with the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. Not until I started my career with PACyber did I truly understand how online learning worked and its benefits to students and families.

    I loved how you commented on the opportunity you had to hear students speak about their expereinces with online learning and the positives and negatives they feel. What a great approach to bring to that conference! Usually educators only have the chance to hear other educators speak, so to hear that, had to have been pretty neat.

    Another point you mentioned about the U.S. being so behind other countries when it comes to online learning is so pertinent today. Even with my career at PACyber, we have so many school districts aiming at us, stating false claims, and trying to ruin our name as a school. With constant retaliation like this, it's really not hard to believe why our country is so far behind. We live in a nation where people are close-minded as to what education should be and how it should be done that it may take us much longer to be able to face the inevitability of the future of education and online learning.

    Lastly, I completely agree with Powell when he stated that online learning training should be integrated into pre-service teacher curriculum. Only graduating from college six years ago, I had not one class about teaching online. Not until I came to PACyber did I understand that this type of learning is the wave of the future, whether people want to accept it or not.

    Thank you Michelle for this experience. It was so fun to read all of the posts from other individuals as well. What a great chatter that has been going on between educators on this site! Keep up the great work!

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  21. Michelle,
    While this blog entry was written almost two years ago, it's amazing to see how the content is even more relevant now. I graduated from college 2 years ago, was an Americorps teacher last year in a brick and mortar school, and I've been an English teacher for the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School since this past fall. As Powell said, and as many people agreed in their posts, it would be extremely beneficial for pre-service teachers to be prepared in their undergraduate years for a career in online education. In a way, I feel that I've learned more in the last eight months than I did in all four years of college. There was absolutely no instruction on how to teach in a virtual environment. I didn't know what to expect when I started at PACyber. I was skeptical at first, wondering how I could possibly interact with my students and build the kind of rapport with them that I could when working with children face to face. I was SO wrong. There is no less interaction in this environment; it's simply a different kind of interaction. Teaching in a virtual classroom has allowed me to take advantage of so many teachable moments. I started working toward my Master's degree just two weeks ago, and I've already learned about some new Web 2.0 tools that I would love to integrate in my classroom. Especially with it being toward the end of the school year, I know my students well and I know how excited they are for some of these great ideas! With the continued increase in online education, we will be ready!

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  22. After reading all of the comments I find myself agreeing with all of them regardless of when they were written. Like Julianne Helfrich said, even though this blog was started two years ago this idea of technology in the classroom has expanded beyond the initial beliefs. Education is always in the news. Statistics ranking the United States Education System compared to other countries are also considered; however, all of the reforms are looking at blaming rather than fixing. Technology is always expanding and growing, however, there is less money within the budgets to accommodate the new technologies. Yes all teachers need instruction on how to make the most of the technologies out there but in many bricks and mortar schools there are computer carts, or whiteboards in a few classes.
    Working for a cyber school for two years, I have felt complacent in the technology I am familiar with. After starting my masters and taking the Computers in Education course I have come to realize there are many technologies out there that I have not been utilizing. Digital stories, podcasts, and blogs are all things that we have and or will be talking about that I can easily apply to my virtual classes. These are just scratching the surface in an 8 week course; however my education on technologies still needs to continue.
    Many commenters’s suggested teachers having technology courses as a requirement for the continued learning and I have to agree. Even in a bricks and mortar classroom students need to be able to use the new technologies for when they go out into the work force. As teachers we need to be up to date on as many technologies and utilize these on a daily basis both in the virtual classroom and the bricks and mortar schools; this will begin to close the gap on the United States Education System being left in the dust.

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  23. The more I read about online education, the more I want to make sure it is incorporated into every classroom–cyber and live. It is wonderful to hear about @One and the conference you attended in San Diego. I am very pleased that educators have the opportunity to learn about digital teaching tools without having to go back to school. That being said, I agree with Powell about the absolute necessity for current secondary school curriculums to transform for the digital age.

    I am currently a student in an online master's program. The program is designed for educators to learn how to use the many tools for online instruction in the K-12 classroom. As each lesson is completed, my confidence in online education is increased. This is because Internet curriculums have tools that reach students of many different learning styles and interests. I have had many friends struggle with traditional education only to be left behind because they could not follow an in-class lecture. I often wonder where they would be if they were given the opportunity to view their lessons in an interactive digital format. The potential for these classes is unimaginable, thus the statistics you shared, "27% of states currently have state "virtual schools" and this number reflects a 30% growth each year since 2000.  And 75% of K12 districts use online learning for AP classes," are not surprising one bit. They are not surprising because online instruction is working! I suspect that this number will only continue to increase for quite some time.

    I also agree with your statement about the format being student-centered and instructor-guided. With social networking and online collaboration being so popular today, the need for teachers to utilize it as a teaching tool is great. It is too often that students are more familiar with online networking than their teachers. While this knowledge gives the students power in their classroom and allows them the confidence to succeed, it can also create a challenge for teachers whose students are immersed in a world they do not understand. In order for teachers to effectively communicate with their students they must have some understanding of the current digital age. The shift to online is truly inevitable.

    Your closing statement is the key to the success of this shift towards online education. The key is consistency across all levels of education. Collaboration between teachers and students of all levels is essential. It is very encouraging to hear that this has already happened. My only hope is that it will continue.

    Thank you for the great post!

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  24. Thanks for all these fabulous comments. It's always great to see activity on a post that was written awhile back — but, wow, I do hope it isn't quite as relevant in another 2-3 years (sigh).

    Also, I hope we are all thinking about technology in mobile terms today and as a method of empowering students to *create content* rather than enabling instructors to merely *present information* in digital form. The past two years have dramatically reshaped the way our young people are learning and we need to be thinking about that as we plan for integrating technology into the classroom.

    No more laptop carts and smartboards. Let's aim for one-to-one iPad programs with ubiquitous internet access that provides students with continuous access to video-based instructional content *outside of class* and dynamic, content generating apps that students can use in class to create, share, discuss, and collaborate with their peers and the rest of the world.

    Looking forward to more of your great comments. And please thank your fabulous instructor for including my post in his/her curriculum. Grin.

    Michelle

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  25. Brandy Napoli

    Working in a virtual setting for the past 5 years has given me the opportunity to explore the long list of opportunities available to students online. Similar to what Mr. Carter said previously in the comments, I was not exposed to much online “training” in college either. I took the mandatory Computers in Education Course, but not many of my courses expanded outside the realm of a face-to-face classroom with 4 walls. I graduated in 2005, and though there was online education available, it wasn’t explored in teaching courses. I knew it was important, and we should encourage our students to learn via technology, but I lacked the understanding of how available and imperative it is to students. Using technology, in any fashion, enhances learning. Making learning meaningful is most important for students, and technology helps me do just that! I teach Language Arts to sixth grade students, and I can examine a folk tale with them and then take them on a web tour of folk literature by traveling through various websites and videos. I can ask students to create video and slideshow presentations of the history of a folk tale through programs like Windows Movie Maker and PhotoPeach. Online learning is permanent. It’s not going away; but rather, drawing a much bigger crowd. We must continue to enhance and adapt our teaching methods to show students this world! Michelle, when you say,” Effective online learning is anchored in student-centered learning with instructor-guided interaction between peers,” you are taking words from my mouth! I couldn’t agree more. We have to show our students these tools so they can explore on their own and enhance their learning process!

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  26. Kristina Williams

    I currently work for a Cyber School, but I never learned anything about cyber schools or online teaching in college. In college I did not have any classes that taught me how to teach online or even introduce me to teaching online. I was familiar with schools and educational programs online, but I only started to learn how to teach online once I started working at a Cyber School. With the way the internet and technology have emerged I think it is vitally important that we integrate teaching online into the curriculum.
    I believe that online teaching will motivate student learning and provide an up-to-date learning environment for students, which creates a fun learning experience. It amazes me how the U.S is behind other countries in online teaching, I think it’s key that educators receive online teaching trainings to provide current teaching styles. Now, I am back in school for my Master’s, I am furthering my education through an online program and can see the benefits of online learning through a students eyes. Although, we are not face-to-face I still feel the same connections with my teachers, the feedback through audio emails is a great example of another way to use technology. It sets a whole different tone, rather than when they just type out and send an email. I also teach a virtual class and am able to build the same rapport, if not better, with students as I could when I worked in the brick in mortar school. I feel as though through online teaching you try to learn more about your students because you are not face-to-face with them each day, therefore your connection becomes even better. I think online learning is developing and is up and coming, we as educators need to start preparing by demanding more practice and trainings.

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  27. Michelle,
    Your original post and the subsequent comments were somewhat overwhelming for an “offline” teacher. While I, and as you can see several others, am currently enrolled in an online master’s program I’m not sold that online learning is the panacea for education. Though I understand your point that online learning is much more engaging and meaningful than its counter term “face to face” gives it, it is commonly understood that our evolutionary physiology is completely connected with the physical presence of others. Perhaps the terms should be physical and digital learning, or physical and virtual learning?

    Barring my initial reaction, I agreed with you. You last comment “updated” after two years really hit home. My school district has several laptop carts that nobody wants to use (hardware/network is too slow) and every classroom has a promethean board that is really too limiting to truly engage beyond the individual using it at the time.

    Our instructor gave us two other blogs to preview and one had a great post that is relevant to your comment. It came from techlearning.com, http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2012/0410_curriculum_chingos_whitehurst.aspx
    Brookings has made the argument that most schools are blindly adopting instructional materials without evaluating their effectiveness based on data. Our promethean boards are a great example of it. Beyond the math department, I doubt that more than 10% of our H.S. uses them.

    Thanks for your enthusiasm! I hope to bring about what your original post intended, a classroom with materials and opportunities for students rooted in the time they live in.

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  28. A Peduzzi

    Michelle,
    I am a Special Education teacher for an online school. This is my first year here. However, before this I was a learning support/inclusion teacher in an "offline" brick and mortar school. Both experiences have been eye-opening in that more and more schools are moving toward the virtual and online world. I agree that schools everywhere need to begin to move in this direction because our educational world is moving more and more towards technology each and every day. We need to not only go with the flow of online education, but we need to be innovative and think about the future and what we can do to provide the best education and experience for our students.

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  29. Michelle,

    I enjoyed your post about online learning. I was completely blown away on the stats about how far behind the US was compared to other countries. Until now that never crossed my mind. I think it is great that you have all these conferences to go that allow you explore the new technology first hand. With online schools growing, it is important to educate teachers on the new technology. Some teachers are afraid to integrate new technology into their classroom and most of the time it is because they have not tried it.

    With the trend of online learning continually growing, it will be important to educate teachers. I feel that education should start in college. I attended a college that was in transition to becoming a Mac campus and they got iPads and Mac computers for new students and staff. Some of my classes used them but only to have us look up something every once in a while. I felt that the technology was great, but they were not using it to its full advantage. I feel that part of the curriculum should be teaching future educators how to use the technology and specifically how to use it in their field of study. Not only will it benefit them, but it will benefit their students once they get out in the work force.

    Sam

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  30. Michelle,
    I also am currently working at a Cyber Charter School, and have been intrigued by what you and the other commentators have said here.
    I was happy to be privy to your added comments this past week, thinking about how what you said two years ago is already passé. Though much of your information was important to the cause for technology and innovation in education in 2010, you are absolutely correct when you say that you hope it will not be relevant in the near future. I think that is a key problem in most of our educational practices as teachers and administrators. We are consistently behind the times-always trying to catch up. Being preemptive and understanding of these changes is the first step towards progress. Solely working in a digital school is not enough. Though we may be ahead of the game in some senses, there must be a constant effort for innovation. It is imperative to not only the understanding of how we should use these programs, but of how we relate to students.

    In another response to your post, the idea that we should begin to understand this as teachers on the college level is, even, in a way dated. Most of the students who are entering college have spent their adolescence in the midst of this technological generation. Many have commented on the ability or inability of institutions to provide a decent virtual or technology education to the teacher education programs we currently have in place. As stated, it is important for institutions of higher learning to not just catch up, but to purport what is already happening in the lives and minds of our students.

    Amy

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  31. I have been an educator since the late 80s and have I ever seen changes in the use of computers and technology as a whole since I taught my first class! I too am enrolled in the online Master’s class, though I have never taught online. I have taken classes online to first reinstate my professional license after being out of the classroom setting for 10years and now to try to learn what technology I might be able to bring in to enhance my teaching of transitional math at the local community college. With that understanding, I have some comments on your original article and subsequent blogs. You had mentioned that you hope this article will be outdated 2 to 3 years from now. I am not so sure. Most families in my county are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. The dream that students will one day have iPads sounds great but unless the economy makes a startling recovery, I fear that day will be a long time coming at least where I live. Out of the 10 Advanced Placement classes my two children had at their high school, only one of those AP classes used technology beyond the Web 1.0 level. The AP Physics teacher incorporated the use of a blog that was monitored by her student aid, a former student in that class who was taking independent study Physics C. When this area was hit by two large snow storms two weeks apart, this AP teacher used her blog to stay in touch with the students in her class, produced videos on the lesson that would have been given during those days, and helped them teach the material to themselves so they would not lose those two weeks of study. The AP test does not get pushed back a week just because the school year does. How does a community college or school district foster this type of teaching when it is the exception and not the norm?
    As far as training teachers to use technology, a two hour presentation on online tools the week before a semester begins does not help those of us teaching incorporate new technologies into our lessons. The training needs to be implemented in such a way that teachers will have time to research how and when to use digital media. I know most of the terminology associated with technological advances, but lack the understanding of how to use them in a math classroom. I agree with Mrs. Nyeholt that there is not enough technology education in the teacher education programs offered in our area. The only way to promote change in teaching is to teach the change.

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  32. Megan Conneen

    Michelle,

    I have really enjoyed reading your post and other comments about Online Learning. I, like others who have commented, work at a Cyber Charter School. I graduated college in December 2010 and was lucky enough, six months later, to get a job with a cyber school. Before then, I had no idea cyber schools existed. Throughout my four years of college, I never once learned how to teach online nor that it was even a job option. Although your blog was posted almost two years ago, colleges still today are not offering online education classes. This is the time where these classes need to be offered, or better yet, mandatory. If we need to "keep up with the times," then learning about online education should begin as early as possible.

    I am now lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach at a cyber school. I work with the onsite K4 and K5 program (aka preschool and kindergarten) so I do not have the privilege of teaching online, but I am exposed to coworkers who do. I would love to eventually be able to have an online classroom. I recently began a master’s program online and am learning so many new things that I would love to use in an online classroom one day.

    Aside from teaching the onsite K4 and K5 kids, I also monitor progress of some of those kids online. They still participate in the program, but they are taught at home instead of coming onsite. They are instructed to complete lessons and worksheets and submit those worksheets online. I, in turn, assess them and give them feedback on their work. Although we cannot hear each other and I am not teaching them, I am constantly building relationships with both the parents and the students. I can leave comments on their work, and they can leave comments back. The parents are very much involved in their teaching and the kids have very nice things to say about their assignments. The feedback I receive from them is just as useful as the feedback I give to them. Although different from online teaching, I am still exposed to an online environment that is different from brick and mortar.

    I agree with what you and others have said about online teaching in that we have to continue learning about the integration of technology and online education. Technology is constantly changing and trainings for teachers must continue so that us teachers can effectively teach our future.

    Reply
  33. Darlene Radanovich

    Everyone has to agree that there is an urgent need to provide teachers with deliberate and meaningful technology training focused on the 21st century skills and current uses of technology.
    I have to say I was disappointed to learn that the U.S. lags behind in implementing/integrating technology in our schools.
    I was a traditional classroom teacher for many years before getting hired at Pa Cyber in February of 2011. In the short time that I have been working here, I have seen firsthand the benefits of teaching online. I am amazed by the wealth of online materials that teachers have access to and the audio/visual software that can be used to make learning fun.
    Online learning brings choice and challenge. It is innovating and exciting in its approach to education. I am what they call an ETF (Elementary Teacher Facilitator). My job is to check and grade Calvert based tests that students upload to me via Edmastery. If a child is struggling with a particular concept, it is my responsibility to explain why they missed it, refer them to pages in the text book that may require reteaching, and to attach web sites that they can go to for further practice and reinforcement. We also conduct Ramp sessions with our students that give them the opportunity to interact with us personally. Technology training enabled me to change careers and stay in the education field.

    Technology training for teachers is costly and time consuming but the future of our children is depending on it.

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  34. What I find surprising about online learning is the public school's resistance. (Ignore it, perhaps it will go away). It is long past time to service all students in accordance to their individual needs. Some school districts have finally gotten in step with the present, but as they catch up, technology mives forward. Thus, the resisters can not support public learning as it should be supported with online learning. Good thing too, or we may all be out of jobs.

    Jill Morrison, PACyber

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  35. Michelle,
    I work at a cyber charter school as many who have commented before do. Collaboration is so important between online teachers and traditional brick and mortar teachers. I hear so many negative comments from people who are unfamiliar with online learning.
    Several of my students had teachers who told them they would never graduate high school or never get into college if they came to an online school. This is horrible to hear since most of my seniors are going to college next year.
    All teachers need to come together and realize that the important thing is to educate our children no matter how they are taught or what school they go to. Luckily, in Pennsylvania, where I live and teach, students have the choice to come to our school instead of the brick and mortar public school where they live. I hope that as time goes on, people, and especially teachers can understand each other and decide to be concerned with our students' education above all else.

    Sincerely,
    Jessica

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  36. I am an online graduate student and I work in a public online charter shcool. Because I am funtioning in both roles within the cyber world, your post really resonated with me.

    Giving a voice to online learner in the keynote would be powerful and I agree, refreshing at a confernence. I was easily able to relate our cyber students to those at the conference whom you described as driven to drive their own learning. I have many students who ask me if they are permitted to move forward in the curriculum at a faster pace or if they can combine asynchronous learning with synchonous learning in their online educations. Nothing pleases me more that to be able to answer them in the affirmative to both questions.

    A statistic that shocked me from your post was that 75% of districts use online learning for AP classes. I wouldn' t have expected the statistic to be that high. I was pleasantly surprised.

    It was also news to me that reportedly the US is behind in educating educators in online instruction as compared to other countries. Going global and iterfacing with 21century technology, demands that we give our teachers the proper tools to educate online learners as well as themselves. Education is constantly evolving and we as a country need to be able to keep up with the demands of not just improving education but improving how we educate online in the 21st century.
    Carie Booher

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  37. It’s wonderful that the conference acknowledged the students point of you. I am an educator at an online school. Often our in-service days are spent discussing what we can do to be the best online school and how we can continue progress so that we never become obsolete. Often I wonder, why not just ask the students and families what they want? I love that you recognized this as important also.
    “For the first time, I had the pleasure of listening to students from K-12 and higher education reflect on their experiences as online students. Wow. Why is it that hearing a student request more student interaction and instructor feedback in their online learning experiences resonates on such a more profound level than reading it in a journal?”
    It seems so obvious, that we, the educators, are meeting in conferences, scratching our heads, trying to figure out what our students want, when they could easily tell us. I’m glad that you were able to hear the student feedback.
    Kim Refosco

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  38. I am a 7th grade math teacher in a brick and mortar school currently enrolled in an online Master's program. Although I am still trying to become comfortable with online learning for myself, I am enthusiastic about potential online instructional uses for my students such as getting help with homework problems and keeping up with missed classroom instructional time. I truly enjoy going to school each day and interacting with my students. However, I realize that there may come a day when it may be necessary for me to teach in a "virtual classroom", so I need to be prepared. Until that day arrives, I will strive to combine classroom instruction with some kind of online connection to my math class.

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  39. I agree with you on many levels. One of the other barriers to full adoption at the post-secondary level is resistance/distrust by faculty and students. Students in higher education are paying tuition (or taking on loans) for their education and have expectations for that experience. Many times they, and the faculty, tend to associate this experience with on-campus, face-to-face interactions but good teaching is good teaching, in whatever format it is provided. Focusing on the learners, something higher ed has not always been good at, can help ease this needed transition.

    Reply
  40. I agree with you on many levels. One of the other barriers to full adoption at the post-secondary level is resistance/distrust by faculty and students. Students in higher education are paying tuition (or taking on loans) for their education and have expectations for that experience. Many times they, and the faculty, tend to associate this experience with on-campus, face-to-face interactions but good teaching is good teaching, in whatever format it is provided. Focusing on the learners, something higher ed has not always been good at, can help ease this needed transition.

    Reply

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