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Surveys on Trends and Issues in Online Learning Near Release

Posted on May 29, 2012

Questions will focus on Students with Disabilities and their participation in online learning

The Center’s work scope specifies the release of a series of annual surveys to gather information on K-12 online learning as it effects students with disabilities. As part of the Center’s first priority — to “identify and verify trends and issues” —
the Center will survey a variety of professionals that directly influence the direction of online learning for students with disabilities.

The first audiences to be surveyed will include building administrators, special education administrators, developers, and state legislators to name a few. Because the education community is tied to a seasonal schedule, other members of the community, such as teachers and parents, will be surveyed in the fall when school resumes.

Surveys, of course, are more than just asking the “right” questions on a form. The Center does a lot of behind-the-scenes work to build a good survey. First, the researchers decide on the topics to base survey questions on. Second, researchers seek consultations from statistics experts and the Internal Review Board at the University of Kansas. An initial two-week pilot survey will lead to semantic adjustments and more consultations. Finally the actual survey will be disseminated and the Center’s data experts, along with graduate student support, will work to interpret the findings.

Center will mediate Analytics Symposium

Posted on May 29, 2012

A call to experts interested in learning analytics will be issued for October symposium

As education becomes more and more electronic based, the numerical data that educators draw from assessment and student navigation around their site is interesting experts in analytics. Can this data inform curriculum or material change? Will student navigation and how often they visit certain areas of the course inform the design features of the online learning website?

The Center hopes to begin formulating answers to these questions by holding an analytics symposium. iNACOL (International Association on K-12 Online Learning) is holding their annual conference October 12-14th in New Orleans. The Center has proposed holding both an analytics symposium and workshop (each for approximately half-a-day to work with and ask questions of experts in analytics.

Currently, the Center is working on literature reviews in analytics and understands the line that divides business analytics (for example, what you hear, target, and your grocery store collecting) from the still-developing field of learning analytics. Many issues surround learning analytics including privacy issues, compliance with student data regulations, and major questions of just what can these analytics inform.

The Center will be putting out a call to experts and updating symposium and workshop guests as we near the October conference.

Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction

Posted on May 25, 2012

There is a growing fear that digital learning threatens the jobs of teachers that is expanding across various media outlets. For example, in the magazine Fast Company, Gregory Ferenstein writes that, “Just as the Internet replaced telephone operators and the nightly news anchor as the default source of information, teachers may be next on the chopping block.” This is unlikely to be the case, though, as Bryan and Emily Hassel explain in their report, Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction, “The elements of excellent teaching that are most difficult for technology to replace will increasingly differentiate student outcomes.”

Technology can certainly enhance education, but it cannot entirely displace educators. It is becoming clear that, “The digital revolution needs excellent teachers. Teaching needs the digital revolution.” Digital instruction is not a way to eliminate teachers, but rather a means by which to extend the reach and options available, thus ensuring that students have access to the highest quality of education delivered by the most excellent teachers, regardless of geographic location or status.

Hassel, B. C., & Hassel, E. A. (2012). Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction.pdf. Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning. The Thomas    B. Fordham Institute. Retrieved from

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

Enhancing teaching and learning through educational data mining and learning analytics

Posted on May 25, 2012

Allyson Palmer

This brief, developed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, describes how educational data mining and learning analytics can be applied in educational settings. The brief reveals the value and challenges associated with using data collected through online learning systems to make educational decisions; furthermore, it provides helpful recommendations on how to most effectively use data mining and learning analytics to improve student outcomes.

With the increasing number of students utilizing online learning, there are increasing opportunities to use technology to collect data that can be used to assess student knowledge and improve student learning experiences. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan envisions “online learning systems collecting, aggregating, and analyzing large amounts of data and making the data available to many stakeholders. These online or adaptive learning systems will be able to exploit detailed learner activity not only to recommend what the next learning activity for a particular student should be, but also to predict how that student will perform with future learning content…” (p.3).

Here are a few suggested applications that I found beneficial:

1) User knowledge modeling customizes the system to the students’ specific needs. For example, the model may decide what problem to give a student by inferring what the student knows based on responses to questions, time spent practicing, and errors made.

2) Behavior modeling can be used to determine student engagement by measuring things like time on task and course completion.

3) User experience modeling measures student satisfaction. One way student satisfaction is measured is by collecting responses to follow up surveys and questionnaires. I was particularly impressed with the models that considered student engagement and satisfaction as necessary elements of data collection. I fear the student perspective is often overlooked; therefore, it was refreshing to see an emphasis placed on analyzing students’ thoughts and experiences with the online learning program.

4) Trend analysis collects data over time to identify trends and changes in student learning over time.

The brief is realistic and forthcoming about potential roadblocks to implementation.

Here are a few of the challenges that are considered:

1) Technical Challenges: Although online learning offers a plethora of opportunities for data usage, one challenge is having the technical resources needed to do data mining and learning analytics. The expense and storage required for implementation can be extensive.

2) Limitations in Institutional Capacity: Along with the expense of overcoming technical challenges, there is the need to expand the human resources required to prepare, process, and analyze the data.

3) Privacy and Ethics Issues: Privacy implications arise when collecting personal information about users to customize models to students’ specific needs.

I was most interested in the section that describes how to actually make data mining and learning analytics a reality in schools. Here are a few of the recommendations I found useful:

1) Develop a culture of using data for instructional decisions: Data should be useful and accessible to instructors and students so that it can be used to inform instructional practices.

2) Start small: Making small, ongoing, low cost changes can help build the culture for using data and can prepare districts for using more expensive, powerful systems over time.

3) Collaborate across sectors: System designers, researchers, and educators should collaborate to help build the capacity of schools to effectively use data mining and learning analytics.


Q & A with Leslie Fetzer

Posted on May 25, 2012

Leslie Fetzer is the winner of the 2012 Online Teacher of the Year Award. She is an online teacher at the North Carolina Virtual Public School and a part of a unique OCS program. This program equips students with mild to intermediate disabilities with the skills needed to successfully engage in post-secondary education/training, competitive employment, and independent living.

Q: How does winning the 2012 Online Teacher of the Year Award affect you?

A: I am busier than ever traveling all over talking with people about what I do. I love meeting new people as well as hearing what other schools are doing.

Q: What steps did you take to be educated in online learning?

A: I had no formal training with online learning. I taught eight years in a traditional school and then decided to try online learning. I have had excellent on-the-job training and coaching. I would also consider each of my colleagues mentors, as I hope they do me.

Q: What does OCS stand for?

A: It stands for the Occupational Course of Study. This program is a diploma-earning program for students with disabilities that would not be successful in an inclusion setting.

Q: Who developed the course content for the OCS program?

A: The course content was developed by a team exceptional children (EC) teachers and content teachers based on the Universal Design for Learning, Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, and the North Carolina State Standards.

Q: Can you explain more about the OCS program set up for the NC Virtual Public Schools in which online and classroom teachers paired up to teach students with disabilities?

A: The No Child Left Behind Act prompted the development of the OCS Blended Learning Program. Teachers who had been teaching for years suddenly were deemed “not highly qualified” because their degree was not in subject-specific content areas.  The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Virtual Public School teamed up to create the OCS Blended Learning Program. In the OCS Blended Learning Program, an online content teacher is paired with an EC teacher in the classroom. It is a blended learning program for students with disabilities. They have an online teacher and a classroom teacher. I am the online teacher and one of my classroom teachers is named Lindsey Taylor.

Q: How did you get teamed up with Lindsey Taylor?

A: It is totally random. Any public school in North Carolina can enroll their OCS class to take one of our OCS Blended Learning Courses. Many times, co-teachers request to work with each other in the future, and we try to honor those requests.

Q: How often do you plan lessons with the other teacher you are working with? For example, Taylor?

A: We communicate with the classroom teacher (Taylor) daily asynchronously and at least once a week synchronously. Planning is a part of all of these conversations. Generally, we make a long-term plan together, but we work together daily to adjust based on the needs of each student. The benefit to teaching in this model is that every student has the content that they need every day.

Q: Was there ever any problems with getting along with the random teacher pairs that were set up?

A: Sometimes. At first some teachers didn’t know what to expect with the OCS Blended Learning Program.  The classroom teachers we work with are skilled professionals that were suddenly told they were not highly qualified and told to teach an entirely new curriculum. There were some cases where teachers did not know what to expect and were skeptical of students being able to learn the curriculum, and also skeptical of their ability to learn online.  Some were worried that they would be lab facilitators watching a class of kids on the computer to make sure that they were not visiting other sites. Once they realized that the students were really engaged and that they are an important part of the teaching, most changed their minds about the program quickly.

Q: Are the students at home or at the brick and mortar when they do your online learning courses?

A: Students that are taking courses in our OCS Blended Learning Program are at their brick- and-mortar school. Students taking courses in either our Credit Recovery or Traditional Courses may be taking their courses at their brick-and-mortar school, at home, or wherever they consistently access the internet.

Q: What related services for SWD does NCVPS provide? Please list some examples.

A: In the OCS Blended Learning Program, we meet with our co-teachers early on to go over each student’s IEP. At that time we identify the accommodations that we can meet, and those for which brick-and-mortar school will take responsibility. An example of an accommodation the brick-and-mortar school is responsible for is a separate setting for testing. We have audio throughout our courses for students that require material read aloud, and we can add audio to all of our announcements, grading feedback, and course messages. We have transcriptions for all videos for students that are hearing impaired. We create alternate assignments as needed.

Q: Where are IEPs handled?

A: In the OCS program every student has an IEP. The formal IEP meeting occurs at the brick-and-mortar school. The online teacher is sometimes asked to be a part of the formal IEP meeting. Informal IEP meetings happen on a continuous basis through communication with the co-teachers. These informal communications ensure that each student’s needs are being met.

Q: Who is involved with the IEP meetings?

A: Formal IEP meetings are held at the brick and mortar schools and involve parents, students, teachers, counselors.  Teachers from the OCS Blended Learning Program may be invited to attend these meetings as a conference call. Informally, the OCS Blended Learning online teacher and classroom co-teacher discuss the students’ IEPs on a regular basis to ensure that all needs are met.

Thanks to Leslie, we learned a great deal. We’ll talk about that in Part 2.

Katie Mulich is a blogger and reporter for the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.