Sunday, November 8, 2009

Recruitment & retention of online teachers

This workshop at the International Conference really did show up some differences between New Zealand and the US distance education schools and organisations. It was interesting because of the differences. For exmaple, the teaching unions in the US
( and this may differ from state to state ) are lobbying for seperate contracts for online teaching and for developing online courses and resources, all of these contracts at different rates of pay and salary. You can imagine how there is a difference between teachers and budget holders on this issue. The workshop got a little heated at various times as well ... fun fun fun !

The presenters were all managers at different distance education organisations, from high schools, to polytechs and to universities. These are the issues in the US about getting online teachers, and keeping them.
- High attrition rates ... from 30% to 50% of teachers starting to teach these courses, then leaving.
- Anxiety about technology changing regularly.
- Underestimating the time and effort that goes into designing an online course.
- Lack of opportunities to give students feedback.
- Training for online teachers is highly variable in quality.
- Requirement of prior knowledge of online learning to become an effective online teacher.

Ten states got together and started the "eLearning for Educators Initiative ". This was set up to:
- Establish experiences of online learning for those staff who wanted to become online teachers.
- Offer these experiences across time, region and beyond usual timetables and schedules, so teachers get used to working in different ways.
- The consistent goal of all teacher PD is the achievement of their students.
- Recruit external partners to help develop the courses - eg,. public televsion, universities and teacher PD providers.

To date, the initiative has delivered 1202 different courses to 21,857 teachers, with a 76% completion rate.

Individual states in the initiative, however, run their own online teacher recruitment strategies. But each state has very similar elements to their strategies. They include:
- Follow up PD for all participants who finish the training.
- Opportunities to become an online trainer.
- Marketing in print, broadcast, and website media to become an online teacher.
- Opportunities to use the course to contribute to credits for university study.
- Salary increases.
- Evidence for continued teacher registration.

So who are the teachers who do these online training courses ? 49% have a teaching degree, 39% have a masters degree, 90% are registered teachers, 58% have taught more than five years, 39% have taught less than five years, 85% were female, 76% white and 20% black, with the most frequent age ranges being 26 - 35 years, 36-45 years, and 46-55 years. A mixed profile.

What were their perceptions of their online training ? 91% said the online training improved their classroom management skills, 97% said it fitted in with their school's goals, 97% said it improved their teaching, 98% said it improved their curriculum knowledge, 91% said the training was very good or better, and 81% said they would study online teaching again soon.

Their perception on how they improved their students achievement : 94% said that they were now meeting the diverse range of needs and of their students, 85% felt they were adressing the cultural needs of their students, 95% said they were now integrating technology into their lessons, 97% said they were trying new ways of teaching existing lesson plans, and 95% knew they were meeting the state or national standards for the subject in delivering the outcomes.

Of their students, they reported : 90% said they were more interested in their classes now, 90% said they now worked more collaboratively with other students, 89% felt their learning needs were being better met, 82% knew they were getting better test results, 77% wanted more challenging work, and 80% felt they work was now of a higher standard.

The conclusion ? You've already guessed it. That teacher online teacher PD for online teaching can be highly effective. It also needs to be supported by proactive strategies to reduce teachers leaving online teaching and there also needs to be retention strategies to keep teachers in online roles.

Now thats not too hard to imagine, is it ?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

ePortfolios - wow!

I was quite excited about the session around designing ePortfolios,at the International Distance Education conference in August. Much more interested than I thought I would be. My first impression was that they are a digital store of a student's work. A photo album. But I was wrong. They can be much more.

The session was delivered by the Director of Education at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital. She leads the undergraduate doctors, and is using eProtfolios as a way of them telling their stories of personal and professional development. She had to design the system from scratch, so her presentation was around the thinking she did to make a robust, yet almost intimate record of each doctor's learning and progress.
She put her young doctors into the position of learner from the outset, and worked on them developing insightful, honest and tolerant attitudes to themselves as learners. She also had to consider who were the audiences for the ePortfolios, and at which levels those audiences had access. For example - who has access to clinical records, who has access to personal diaries, and who has access to collaborative project work? Her motto was " Every job is a self portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence ".

She also had to design sensible ways of creating ePortfoilos and then sensitive ways of assessing the work submitted to ePortfolios. Her criteria for creating them was:
- content
- design
- use of multi media
- ease of navigation
- varied formats for text and visuals

Her assessment rubric for content in the ePortfolios was:
- how the student represents their work : wikis, blogs, chat rooms, i-tunes etc
- their knowledge, skills and understanding
- use of visuals
- written effectiveness
- reflection on their learning

She sees the ePortfolios as an evidence based record of their education. A good example would include:
- how they document their practice
- how they reflect on their learning
- how they show they are integrating their experiences
- how the evidence maps onto their learning goals or course standards
- how they use it as a lifelong learning tool

Her ePortfolios are a " creative representation of your own work ". They :
- demonstrate breadth of learning and research
- show a range of achievements
- evaluate achievement of learning outcomes
- reflect and self assess
- illustrate a learning process
- share the experience with others.

She sees the benefits of these ePortfolios as:
- allowing deeper levels of thinking around organising your own work
- non linear thinking
- creating interest for yourself and your audiences
- practising technical skills
- being portable, accessible, minimal, life long and learner centered

She also sees one ePortfolio as having different levels:
- personal ( reflective, decision making )
- learning ( providing a framework for assessing progress )
- professional ( showing evidence of the skills for employment and training )
- institutional ( showing evidence of activities completed )

She promotes a simple, staged approach to submitting materials into your ePortfolio:
1. Collect ( what can I put in ? )
2. Select ( what will I put in, and for what audience? )
3. Reflect ( what did I learn ? )
4. Connect ( what was I taught ? )

She also has a simple, staged approach to developing ePortfolios in an organisation :
1. Design ( what do we want ? )
2. Develop ( what are the technical requirements, templates and formats )
3. Document ( your prototype )
4. Deploy ( launch and go live )
5. Display ( share, support and develop the rules ).

So it's with a bit of excitement that I look forward to our ePortfolios. I'm especially intersted in how our colleagues in Early Childhood may lead on this. They have the expertise in using narratives about learning in a particular context, and about listening to stories to show and record learning. I look forward to how they may teach us all about the humanity for the technology. I think most four year olds would be able to choose what they want in their portfolio, tell you why, say who is allowed to see it, and what they learned from the experience. The learning for us is whether we can adapt our teaching to respond to the many, many, new and developing ways of evidence being presented to us, and whether we can then describe the journey that was taken and the journey still underway. It will take partnership, dialogue, understanding and empathy withh our students. And I hope, heaps of fun.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Designing for social presence

How do we move whole groups of students forward, making progress, while personalising their learning and getting them to participate online ?

I went to a workshop / lecture on "social presence" in distance education. The presenters defined social presence as the ability to see each other as 'real' people based on collaboration, therefore reducing the psychological distance between teacher and student, teacher and teacher, student and student.

Online course designers can build in opportunities to maximise student engagement, and teachers actively network with the students regularly to keep the contact. This was evident at the Florida Virtual School, for example, which had a daily target for each teacher to make 'social' contact with 10 students each day, just to say 'hello and hows it going'.

Teachers could push the boundaries of social contact in their teaching. They could be creating avatars, their personalised online characters, to deliver notices and messages, audio announcements and give and recieve feedback. Testdrive this programme, which was recommended by the presenter -

Teachers could be putting visuals, graphics and animations into their emails as simple and effective ways of gaining interest and appearing more personal. Although this may not be their generation's ideas of a personal approach, it is the learners definition.

Teachers might like to create social spaces outside of the students own social networking. Students don't necessarily want their uncool teachers appearing on Facebook. In fact, a friend of mine's teenager was recently in trouble for the same reason. One of his teachers went into his facebook site to give him a telling off, and he promptly responded with a short video of how he felt about his space being invaded. His response was sufficient for the school to ask him to leave. Not to worry - his father is a human rights lawyer and the parents still found away of being proud of their boy!

One of the recent trends in online learning, is to create the social presence of teachers and students. One idea within a school environment, is the Student Cafe. This is a space dedicated to simple but effective ways of getting students to engage with each other, knowing that there are 'school rules' involved. Asking them to introduce themselves, post their comments on current affairs or homework etc, helps bring about conversations that help positive social contact. A recommended tool is

Teachers are able to make students responsible for their own participation, contribution and working with others. These techniques are particularly relevant to our new curricuum, as they are some of our key competencies. While we think of ways to implement these key competencies in schools, we should, at the same time, be thinking of introducing them into the design of online learning.

Techniques such as getting students to participate and contribute to discussion threads and forums, and then to summarise their own and others contributions, as an assessment event. This helps teachers gain insight into the students competencies, higher order thinking and social presence.

In summary, students can be experiencing a disconnect between the 'voice' of their teacher and their online participation. They want social experiences such as debating with their teacher online, through devices such as . They want to be working socially alongside their teacher, perhaps through, which shows their work being marked by their teacher on screen, in real time, while they talk it through with them and discuss feedback together.

Other practical, simple ideas include:
- Inserting youtube or video clips in your emails to students as conversation starters.
- Assessment rubrics can be designed to look at student online particpation in social discussions ( a rubric such as : not completed / interested / exploring / connecting ideas / applying new ideas ).
- Play with these web tools that develop collaboration between teachers and students :, mindmeister,

If you are interested in these themes, I purchased some books for our library from the conference :
" 147 practical tips for synchronous and blended technology teaching and learning "
" 147 practical tips for teaching online groups "
" Learning in real time : synchronous teaching & learning online "

I also have a handout from this lecture titled " The role of a successful online/blended teacher " which looks at ways of self assessing course design, course organisation, facilitating students learning and direct teaching.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Your views are welcome, so please contribute to the Blog.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Growth and change management in distance education

This session at the International Conference of Distance Teaching & Learning was delivered by Susan Biro, Carlos Morales and Peter Shapiro, all of whom are PhDs in distance education and work in distance education environments across the United States. They participated together via video conference to the audience.

The question they were posing was, "Distance education often evolves 'organically' but when it is time for an organisation to change, what happens ? "

They idenitified what they see as current 'challenges' for distance education organisations, as being :
- Getting courses online.
- Where the responsibility for the online courses may lie, in the structure of the organisation.
- who carries the 'Vision' for online teaching, and who has the interest ?

Everyone in the group seemed to nod and raise their eyebrows.

They identified pressures on distance education, as :
- Dwindling local and semi rural populations in the United States for local education providers such as trade schools and community colleges ( Polytechnics )which sees those organisations having to go on lone or lose business to online providers.
- Online courses are now seen to be a competitive advantage for students, and the growing reason as to why they choose one education provider over another.
- The avaiability of experienced and committed online course teaching staff, and their access to further study to retain them as online teachers.

They saw these pressures and challaneges as positive reasons for organisational change. They and talked of how distance education organisations could :
- Provide access for students, if and when local education providers such as trade schools or polytechnics, close down or relocate their campus to urban centres.
- Provide opportunities for organisations to develop local and regional content for their courses, rather than online courses appearing to be generic and universal.
- Provide opportunities for growing numbers of new groups of students ... for example, the fastest growing student populations in distance education in the USA at the moment are students with disabilities who do not access F2F settings, and older students coming out of the workforce and doing retraining. The average age for enrolling is now 27 years old, rather than school leaving age.

The obstacles for organisational change and getting more courses online are:
- Pace and time it takes for organsiations to develop online learning, and the lack of preparedness of teachers when the courses go online.
- Reluctance of teachers to to work outside of usual timetables and in new time slots that reflect when the students are actually online.
- Problems when teachers no longer report to teaching managers for their online work but report instead to an online course administrator.
- Seperate contracts being issued to teachers for online teaching or development, and the dissonance that it creates when it comes in opposition to their usual teaching duties.

They see the pressures and challenges being categorised as :
- Programmatic.
- Administrative.
- Institutional.

These issues include:
- Who are the stakeholders? How do they communicate with each other ?
- What are the reporting lines?
- Who holds the resources / budget?
- How are online students resourced and funded, do they need to be resourced differently if they cost less to deliver to ?
- Losing the focus on the student as organsiations struggle amongst themselves to solve these issues.
- How to upskill and train part time staff as well as fulltime staff to deliver online or blended courses.
- The teacher trade unions in the USA seeing online teaching and course development as seperate contracts to usual teaching duties.

In summary, the speakers saw the greatest organisational challenge for distance education organisations across the USA as being " the acceptance of teachers to work online " .

What do you think ? That comment would be a good starter question to ask ourselves and our organisation. Blog away !

Thoughts from the conference, part 1

Tena koutou -

Welcome to the first email in a regular series about my experiences from the International Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning, August 4-7 at Madison, Wisconsin The city of Madison is about the same size as Wellington, but inland and by the side of four lakes. It has a relaxed, liberal feel and is home to a well respected university. It also has a wonderful crumbling old 1920s movie palace called the Orpheum, which even though I was the only person in the auditorium, played a movie for me – on two occasions - at The Orpheum Theatre Madison is also very proud of its cheese and my hotel was next to a great little shop called Fromagination, where you could buy chocolate dipped bacon strips.

The conference itself was in a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building on one of the rivers, which was an unexpected pleasure, called Monona Terrace, and worth looking at if you are a FLW admirer, as I am . The conference was organized to have a number of keynote speakers and then choices of dozens of workshops, down a parade of meetings rooms called The Hall of Ideas, as well as exhibition stalls to browse, chat and buy. They had an interesting display of quotations on posters, such as:

“ Non-traditional learning works for thousands of learners because they link it to their needs, concerns, problems and aspirations” – Charles A. Wedemeyer (1981)

“ I think the most exciting thing, looking at the next twenty five years, is going to be the way distance learning changes as a result of social networking and the whole social turn in culture world wide” – Gary Greenberg (2008)

“Educators who establish clear expectations as to how threaded discussions are used, or who ask specific questions in response to student postings, can expect to encourage rich dialogue amongst their students” – Alan Roper (2007)

These quotes seemed to define many of the workshops and speeches. Big themes around getting students to reduce their isolation ( rather than their distance ) by being social and collaborative, and being assessed on the quality of not just their work, but their contribution and participation, and how they work with others. This is very relevant to our new New Zealand curriculum. So I knew I was in the right place ! But our challenge at TCS is to give students the means to do this, when currently they have little contact with each other, and therefore little opportunity to develop these competencies.

The opening keynote speaker was Dr Michael Moore ( no, not that one ) who spoke about “The Scholarship of Distance Education” . It was basically a history of how distance education has been studied and researched. He started with the fact that in 1926, more Americans were enrolled in distance learning for their trade, than were in face to face training organisations. By 1933, the first distance education council was established, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the first University ( Chicago ) offered distance courses. The 1960s first saw the use of media such as television to deliver distance education ( known as “articulated instructional media experiments” ) but these experiments started academics looking at how learning is done through distance education, not just teaching.

Researchers and academics stopped talking about ‘correspondence’ ways of distance education in the early 1960s ( oops ), to develop new theories called “guided didactic conversation” ( Halmburg, 1960 ) or “ independent study” ( Wedemeyer, 1971 ) and “transactional distance” ( Moore, 1972 ). Despite their grand titles, they still contain much reference to what we deal with today – how do we help create independent learners who have a goal for their learning, and enjoy exchanges with their teachers ?

In 1980 a professor called Keegan developed what he called four principles of distance education :

1. Separation of the teacher and student

2. The organization influences what is taught and how

3. The teaching follows an industrial production model

4. There is possible and occasional face to face contact

This was quite interesting for me, as these principles were developed in the year that I started training to be teacher. I reflected yet again on : How much do we base our practices on this, still? How much are we moving away from this? What is our thinking about the future and developing other principles? What is our resistance to a future with different principles?

The history of the study of distance education also has an international flavour. The first world conference was in 1938, although there had been conferences across Europe and the USA since 1891 on “Extension Education” . By 1962 there was the first world conference on using ‘new media’ such as television.

Being accredited by distance education organisations has a later history, as it wasn’t until 1970 that the first University offered a diploma course, and not until 1991 that a Masters level course was made available by a cooperation between universities in the USA and Germany. Academic studies saw 20 doctorates awarded in 1932- 1976 for “Correspondence “ teaching & learning ( oops, again ) around the world, but from 1981- 2001 over 1200 doctoral studies looked at distance education.

Nowadays, distance education now features in the studies and work of UNESCO and the World Bank, both of whom offer funding and development to emerging countries as part of an overall education improvement plan. The first Distance Education Museum is about to open ( online only, visited by your second life character ! ) and the museum organisers are calling for artifacts, submissions and studies to be posted online. If you are interested in this project on behalf of The Correspondence School in New Zealand, please let me know.

My next emails over this term and next term will follow up on other workshops I attended. The themes will include :

- Creating online students and keeping them online

- Professional development frameworks for online course teachers

- Change management in distance education organisations

- ePortfoilos : designing new systems for assessing learning

- Recruitment and retention of online course teachers

- Social and cognitive presence for students : how to teach it and how to teach yourself to teach it

I hope you’ve enjoyed this message and look out for the next one. For your viewing pleasure, I share with you a short animation from one of John Henry’s students called Grace, on her pumpkin ride ( with not a handsome Prince in sight ! ).

Naku noa, na