Skip Navigation

The School Speed Test: Where do you measure up?

Posted on Sep 25, 2012

The non-profit organization, EducationSuperHighway (ESH) noted that 99% of the nation’s K-12 schools are hooked up to the internet, but 80% of these connections don’t meet the U.S. Department of Education’s recommended capacity of 100Mbps per 1,000 students. What schools actually have, they provide, are connections crawling along at 5-20Mbps.

ESH reports that this isn’t a funding or technology problem. The FCC’s E-Rate program provides $2-3 billion per year to help schools upgrade their broadband infrastructure. So if it’s not funding, what is it?

Think of it like someone who spends more money fixing up the outside of their car than the inside. They have the loud exhaust, the flashy rims, the fat racing tires, but not a penny goes toward the little rusting four-cylinder underneath their hood scoop. They might look fast, but what good is that? Even if a school spends all their money making sure they have the coolest, shiniest, most advanced bells and whistles – iPads for every student or a new-computer smell down every hallway – they’re only as good as their connection.

Not all schools are shooting for the flashiest gear; some just aren’t getting the intended bang for their buck. The ESH notes, “…we have a digital divide in our schools due to a lack of information about where to direct E-Rate funding, fragmented purchasing by 14,000 school districts, a lack of expertise in our schools about how to deploy and manage 100MB+ infrastructure and a paucity of high speed broadband in school neighborhoods.”

They explain that this mismanagement of funds has resulted in schools having, “the same amount of Internet access as the typical home – with 100 times more users. Capacity, not access, is what prevents our schools from using digital learning to improve student outcomes and 80% of our schools don’t have enough.”

Enter the ESH’s School Speed Test. The test, “…hopes to measure the internet capabilities of every K-12 school and identify those that are lagging behind.” Here’s what they’re doing and why your school should take the test:

  • We are building a national database of the broadband infrastructure in every K-12 school and designing best practices based roadmaps to 100MB+ for each school.
  • We are creating an Education Geek Squad to help schools implement 100MB+ broadband infrastructure and aggregate purchasing.
  • We are developing a low cost network assessment appliance that will enable schools to easily monitor and manage their networks.
  • We are supporting efforts to maximize the impact of the E-Rate program and encourage telecommunications carriers to accelerate the deployment of high speed broadband in school neighborhoods.

 Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

Easing into Blended Learning

Posted on Sep 20, 2012

In their article, Forget About Blended Learning Best Practices, Innosight co-founder, Michael Horn and senior education research fellow, Heather Staker argue that it is ineffective to take the best practices, the attributes of what good organizations do, and assume that they are the causal reason for their success.

Rather than looking at blended learning as having only one “correct” format or method, they advise others to look at it as the innovative, morphing thing it is. They reason, “what works well in one circumstance might not work in another.” For lack of not being able to come up with a better example coupled with my jealousy of their metaphor, here’s theirs: centuries ago, would-be aviators observed that most animals that flew well had wings and feathers, but when humans made wings with feathers for themselves, the results were dire.

This is why we need to study the models defined in their May 2012 release, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning.

They suggest that most elementary schools could easily utilize the rotational model because, “a large number [of schools] already employ activity-center classroom models that lend themselves to adding an online-learning station.” It would be as easy as plugging an online instruction portion in to their day of teacher-led instruction and collaborative group activities. Doing so, would transform this hypothetical classroom into a blended station-rotational model.

The station-rotation model in action could look like this: Through teacher-led instruction, a class starts out by reciting King Phillip Came Over From Great Spain – to help remember scientific classification (kingdom, phylum, class, etc…). Next, they hop online and play a matching game where they order classes or match animals as vertebrate or invertebrate, mammal or reptile. They could finish the unit in a collaborative station where they work together making a poster of a kingdom of dogs, pencils, shoes, of anything.

For middle and high school, they suggest the simplest way to employ blended learning is the self-blend model. This is where students take one or more courses entirely online to supplement their traditional brick-and-mortar courses. They can take these at their traditional school, from their bed, up in their childhood tree house, wherever works best for them. All a school would need to do, is find courses that fit their curriculum.

As an easy way to begin using blended learning, they close up their article by encouraging schools to launch credit- and dropout-recovery programs with the flex model. Think of this like a big computer lab where the majority of learning occurs online. With adults present as monitors or facilitators, “students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule.” If a school has a computer lab and a teacher or two with some spare time, they can easily implement this. Not a bad way for students to make up some credits and not a bad way for schools to help keep students on track with graduation.

I think their main goal with this article, is just to inspire schools to be creative. They aren’t asking for some huge and total overhaul of a school and they aren’t telling anyone that blended learning is the only right way to teach. They’re simply urging schools to be as productive as possible; with blended learning and a little creativity, they can be, but then again, I might just be another one of those best practice preachers, so, once again, I’ll leave you with Horn and Staker:

“Perhaps the best advice for educators is to take best practices with a grain of salt. Keep innovating to serve students, and do what works best for your specific circumstance.”

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

A Day to Reflect on Digital Learning

Posted on Sep 20, 2012

The Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities is pleased to announce its participation in Digital Learning Day. We’ll be blogging about Digital Learning Day and some of the activities and goals of the day in the coming weeks and months. In the mean time, here is a brief description from our friends at the Alliance for Excellent Education about the day itself:

Digital Learning Day is a nationwide celebration of innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology that engages students and provides them with a rich, personalized, educational experience. The inaugural Digital Learning Day—held February 1, 2012—quickly gained momentum as a grassroots effort in states, districts, schools, and classrooms. It highlighted and celebrated successful models, great teaching practice, and effective uses of technology to improve learning for all students. Digital Learning Day 2013 will build upon the momentum of its first year through a drumbeat of positive messages, resources, and educational materials in digital learning topic areas.

The Digital Learning Day website offers ideas on how classrooms, schools, districts, or states can celebrate Digital Learning Day 2013. Some celebrations last one day; others last all year round. Digital Learning Day is open to all educators in public, private, charter, and homeschool settings.



Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom

Posted on Sep 19, 2012

A 2009 report from SRI International for the Department of Education reached a conclusion that, in light of a prior post, is interesting in that the conclusion is “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” This conclusion predates Dr. Edmundson’s critique of online education and seems to provide ample ground from which Edmundson’s critique can be rejected.

Steve Lohr explores some of the details of the report in an article for the New York Times:

The report covers data taken over a twelve-year period, from 1996 to 2008, and compares student performances in traditional classroom settings and online settings by drawing on 99 studies making quantitative comparisons between the two settings. The report found that “on average, students doing some or all course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.”

Barbara Means, the study’s lead author, explained the significance of the study, saying that “online learning today is not just better than nothing – it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.” Up until recently, online learning has been looked at as an option for those individuals who do not seem to have other options for pursuing an education. Now, though, it is clear that online education is more than a substitute–it is a potential competitor in the “education market,” and seems likely to push education in a positive direction.

Mr. Philip R. Regier, dean of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program, “see things evolving fairly rapidly, accelerated by the increasing use of social networking technology.” Instead of spending class time on explaining basic concepts, students might be expected to have learned the basics from an online component of a course so that class time can be spent exploring more interesting applications of basic concepts.

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

Facebook for School?

Posted on Sep 18, 2012

Facebook absolutely baffles me. Just the other day, I was sitting around thinking about what we did in our passing time before we had apps and Facebook to waste the minutes on (some real heavy nostalgia, right?). It’s totally addictive, to the point that I deactivate my account each time finals week rolls around. Today, after reading the article, Edmodo Evolves Closer to In-School Social Network, I’m thinking about how productive it can be.

Mimicking Facebook, Edmodo is basically a social network for education that, “provides teachers and students a secure place to connect and collaborate, share content and educational applications, and access homework, grades, class discussions, and notifications.”

According to a Statista survey, Facebook users spend about 6.5 hours a month on the site (I think that number is a bit light). Either way, it makes sense to design an educational platform in this way, everyone knows what it is and almost everyone uses it. Even my sixty-three year old father has some idea what it is, though he doesn’t use it and, at times, calls it SpaceBook.

Students can pop on their Edmodo account after school and post questions about homework to the newsfeed they call the “activity stream.” They can turn in assignments directly to the teacher and teachers can grade and send it back to them right away. With notifications, teachers have another way to remind students of what assignments they have due. There’s even an application for mobile phones.

For teachers, Edmodo is a service they can use to make the classroom a more collaborative environment. They can take a “Classroom Pulse,” which tells the teacher the overall class reactions to a lesson or topic while students can tell the teacher if a lesson was unclear or if they enjoyed the way it was delivered. Just like sharing a link on Facebook or posting to someone’s wall, teachers can share lesson plans, ideas, and connect with other schools and teachers using the program – which reached 10 million users just a few days ago. They provide this great graphic detailing what’s been achieved so far.

I really like the concept behind Edmodo. It’s a great tool to add to a school’s utility belt, it’s fun, accessible, and free; any school can use it, anywhere. Despite its extreme availability, there remains the ever-present problem of some students not having access to a personal computer and some schools unable to find funding to supply them with one. As computers are becoming more and more essential to our daily lives, I trust that we will find more ways to make them available to everyone – that’s simply supply and demand, so keep on demanding.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.