Tag Archive for virtual

Good Courses to Offer Online

What online course offerings best meet students’ needs? Initial ideas suggest four common types:

1. Elective courses in subject areas not offered at one’s school

2. Advanced courses for students who have completed the subject course sequence in their school.

3. Review courses for students who need more work to understand the material.

4. Courses for students who change schools and find that their previous coursework does not match up with their new school’s course sequence.

Missing from this list: the core, required courses of most schools. I wonder whether other, larger online course providers have success offering core courses that compete directly with schools’ core curriculum.

The Online School for Girls just announced their course offerings for 2011-12, and lo and behold, their courses fall neatly into the first three of these categories.

AP Computer Science
AP Music Theory
AP Psychology
AP Statistics
AP Macroeconomics
Environmental Science
Japanese I
Multivariable Calculus
Global Issues
Intro to Animation
Differential Equations
AP U.S. Government
Graphic Art
Intro to Human Anatomy, Physiology & Disease

Summer Courses
Intro to Computer Programming
Review of Algebra I
Write with Confidence, Clarity & Purpose
Transition from Spanish II to Spanish III
Transitions: French Enrichment Course

Photo credit: cindyfunk on Flickr

Will Online Education Transform Schools?

Online education will not replace place-based schools, but it could free teachers to focus more on students and professional development.

The rise of online schooling has gained much attention of late. 45 states (plus D.C.) have established virtual school programs (1). 495,000 students are enrolled in full or part-time online programs, 0.9% of the total national K-12 enrollment (1). Institutions such as Stanford University, the Oregon Virtual Education Center, and the Online School for Girls have launched successfully and then grown quickly. Some wonder whether online schools will quickly replace place-based schools. I doubt it, based on the history of other technology innovations.

School systems inherently resist sweeping changes. They broadly distribute decision-making authority across the institution, making rapid change nearly impossible. Wide gaps persist among education research, practice, and policy.Teachers still largely control the learning environment once the classroom door closes. Teaching has largely resisted trends toward professionalization such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In this environment, online schools are unlikely to take over as the dominant model for 9-12 education.

Could individual cost vs. value decisions lead to an education revolution? Again, I doubt it. Most efforts to impose economies of scale on teaching have fallen flat. Large, urban school districts were intended to streamline school administration but instead caused bureaucratic bloat and worsened inequities among schools. Technology-based instruction may work well for content delivery and basic assessment, but teaching involves so much more than content delivery and skills practice. Responsiveness to student needs requires individualization only possible with a low student-to-teacher ratio.

It is more likely — and more consistent with other technology innovations — that online education will find its niche within the education landscape. What online courses are most popular? Economics, psychology, world languages, computer science (3): highly applied subjects that do not satisfy college entrance requirements. Place-based schools do not consistently offer courses in these subjects due to low enrollment, but online schools draw from a much larger pool of potential students and are typically not responsible for a student’s entire academic program.

65% of Catlin Gabel high school courses have only one section. This causes significant pressure on teacher planning time and schedule constraints. At the same time, these highly specialized courses are among the most highly prized of the junior and senior course offerings. The school that accepts credit for online courses makes available a much broader selection of highly applied, engaging subjects at low cost to itself. This has the potential to reduce the number of “singleton” courses, easing pressure on teaching planning time and scheduling.

If online courses become popular, won’t some teachers have a reduced course load? Yes, and that would be a wonderful thing. In an age of electronic course materials, the need for teachers to deliver course content is greatly reduced. Teachers can focus on the interactive aspects of teaching: facilitating discussions, assessing student learning, building rich, interdisciplinary and real-world connections, and advising young men and women as they pursue their studies.

Teaching fewer periods would make it easier to meet with students and other teachers. Professional development, so long under-emphasized in schools, could really take off. Place-based schools would specialize in highly personalized, caring environments for learning and personal growth.


(1) “K-12 Online Learning: A Literature Review“, National Association Of Independent Schools, April 2010.

(2) Clark, Tom. “Online Learning: Pure PotentialEducational Leadership Vol 65 No 8, May 2008

(3) Booth, Susan. “In the Virtual Schoolhouse: Highlights of NAIS’s Survey on K-12 Online Learning” Independent School, Winter 2011

Whither the virtual audience?

studnet speaker

We successfully broadcast Catlin Gabel’s workshop to design the school’s next community event(s). I had the uStream working smoothly, the facilitator played his role perfectly, and we included the contributions from virtual participants in the real workshop. In the two weeks before the event, we made at least eight announcements in newsletters, email messages, and online articles that people would be able to attend the workshop online. We have some 3,000 alumni and 500 current families from which to draw a virtual audience.

Only five people showed up, and two were my IT colleagues.

What happened? What is the potential of live web broadcasting in a school?

I have seen uStream used most successfully in an educational setting to live broadcast major speeches and conferences. I recently tuned into a great presentation at Castilleja School. A Stanford professor was explaining how all websites, but social networks in particular, are vehicles of persuasion. I was the only virtual attendee.

Broadcasting educational technology conferences seems popular of late. The audience is large, widely dispersed, and technologically savvy. Still, having been a virtual participant before, the presentation quality is poor enough that it makes difficult to pick up everything that is going on. Our virtual participants on Saturday made the same comment.

I don’t feel compelled to live broadcast major events at our school. I would rather record with videocamera and then publish the next day, in higher quality than uStream and as a permanent addition to our site. Just last week, I recorded our Martin Luther King, Jr. community meeting (elementary), published it to a private page for our community, and already it has been viewed 70 times.

Perhaps people are just too busy to attend a live, five-hour online event at a specific time. They can play recorded online video at their convenience. Maybe for this event, we should have eschewed live participation in favor of making a highlight reel of the major points in a recorded video format. Or maybe the gesture of opening the meeting to virtual participants was a sufficiently important to justify the work involved.

Perhaps we were competing for audience against ourselves. If the 100 most interested people actually came to the event to participate in person, how many more did that leave to participate virtually?

Have you seen the new Cisco ads showing telepresence in classrooms? Who really thinks that schools will be able to afford high-end video conferencing of this sort? Grocery stores have far more flat-panel televisions than schools these days, and they sell food.

I would like my next attempt at live broadcast to involve a sports event. Sports have the immediacy of experience that demands a live broadcast, color commentary could be fun and interesting, and the project would involve students. However, we would still be competing against ourselves for audience, the potential audience is relatively small, and a lot of people might feel content to just find out the score the next day. It’s worth a try, though, as students studying at home could easily tune in and follow the game.

I could imagine a schoolwide event during which we partnered with one or more schools elsewhere to pursue the same agenda and discuss similar topics. However, I would choose Skype for such a broadcast, so that it would be equally bidirectional.

Have you used uStream in a school with more success? Did you draw an actual audience? Please tell us about it.