Monday, October 21, 2013

Notes from the OESIS Conference 10/11/13

The follow are my notes from the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools conference on 10/11/13. 


Sustaining a Tradition of Excellence: The Eight Schools Association Online Consortium
Guiding principles:
  • tradition and innovation
  • competition and collaboration
  • mandated and organic evolution
  • replicate and improve the independent school experience
  • notion of learning toolkit

Speakers attended workshop at Global Online Academy → school needed something to engage in online education in boarding school setting

Used Choate's model of instructor PD, sent faculty to Choate for training.

Design thinking (IDEO) ("Design thinking for educators"):
Used "divergence" and "convergence" exercises to come up with initiatives to present to heads of schools:
  • Develop online summer courses (small reach- was already in practice)
  • Year long online course in a "less commonly taught" language (Arabic) - involved accruing credits, so this was logistically complex
  • Develop a hybrid course

Hybrid course:
  • Faculty-developed
  • Topic: water management
  • real-world issue
  • collection of data, propose solution to problem, refine proposal after feedback

Issues: funding, teacher resistance, logistical issues

What we know now: Blended learning pilot
Shattuck-St.Mary's (Minn.)

Problem: students often had to leave campus for various commitments, events, academic opportunities
Wanted to integrate more technology projects into daily instruction
Built model to mirror college experience more closely (than 6th grade experience, for instance)
Students work on independent projects (scale of pilot was small)
Platform: Moodle

Crafting a Vision: The First First Step
"With new leadership, a (relatively) new century, and an emerging body of literature and experience that makes it clear that there is a new educational paradigm unfolding not just in the U.S. but around the globe, we at Worcester Academy decided to make the cultural shift necessary to support teaching and learning in this new paradigm. Step one, establishing a vision and a lexicon, proved to be complex, invigorating, and essential. In this presentation we share our process, our emerging vision, our efforts at collaborative leadership, and our next steps."

School mission is "at forefront" of all decision making → 

Strategic vision: support innovative teaching and learning (what does this mean? what does this look like?)
Teachers looking for structure to program ("I'm all in, but tell me what to do.")
Involved teachers/community in finding language to describe innovative teaching (vision statement) → 

Portrait of a learner: school outcomes (mastery, self-directed learning)

Professional development:
  • Time for collaborating, time for "deeper learning" (online/blended formats)
  • Encourage faculty to collaborate on, and change curriculum based on new vision
  • School visits, summer programs with knowledgeable professionals, group of teachers take MOOC together
  • Workshop series
  • "Dinner and a movie"
  • Speakers

Burlington High Student Help Desk
Students run blog

Help desk details:
  • 11 students in help desk
  • Help desk is open 6 out of 7 periods
  • At least 2 students at genius bar at a time
  • Help with student issues, basic classroom technology problems
  • Student-generated mission statement
  • Geniuses help students take devices from "consumption" to "creation"

At school level:
  • Support a digital workflow!
  • Drive
  • Dropbox
  • Evernote
  • Notability
  • Wordpress
  • Blogger
  • Gmail

  • course (for credit!)
  • Students have to contribute to blog (technical writing, documentation)
  • Syllabus (available on website)

Flipping the Classroom: Theory and Practice
Paradigm shift: from "what material will I be covering" to "what will the students be doing?"
Used screencasting software (Camtasia, Explain Everything) to turn PPTs into "videos"

Nicholas Wilson

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lizanne's Notes on the Online Ed Conference

I also attended the conference last Thursday morning and Friday afternoon: below are my notes from those sessions.  Apologies for spelling and grammar errors!

OESIS Conference 10/10: Morning Session – Keynote Speaker


Ed-x: MOOC for MIT and Harvard (rejected by Amherst)

Howard Lurie – "Blend, Don't Break – Thoughts on the Changing Instructional Landscape."

-Unbundled Schools

Disaggregation of schools and education: why now?

Erosion of the public monopoly on education: students can take courses online now.

Multiple pathways for school-college-workplace transitions.  Traditional four-year paths no longer.

Competency-based models rather than time-based models.

Social, emotional and knowledge growth: expectation has been on schools -  now spread throughout the marketplace.

Karen Cator: argues for an "LPS – Learning Position System".

Professional development: Peer-to-peer examples for teachers, e.g., Creative Commons for K-12 Educators.

OEC: Open education content – questions about accuracy etc., but also issues with proprietary resources.

What type of post-secondary experience should students have?

Unbundling of educational material scary for some, but it is happening.


-The Platform Land Rush

Which platform is going to claim key flags? EG: Coursera signed a deal with the MMA, EdX with the French education department. Explosion of this learning style.

K-12 market will be worth approx. $70 billion dollars by 2017.

MOOC world – Coursera, Khan, EdX, Udacity: a lot of venture capitalist backing, Gates Foundation etc.  Often a peak of inflated expectations as to what these can actually do.

EdX platform: first course – a foundation course in Elec Eng.

154,000 people enrolled in the course.  26,000 completed the first problem set.  7,000 certified in the end. Very high attrition rate!

"The Boy Genius of Mongolia" – press coverage of one student, now at MIT.

What does this mean pedagogically?

Variety of platforms – Blackboard, Moodle etc. 

Pedagogically – big questions.

Core instructional goals?

Does a platform lead to measurably significant instructional change?

What problems are you trying to address? What are the results you're trying to reach?

What is the research design? How will/can data be used?

What will be gained/lost?


-More than Rocket Science

Blended learning the new buzzword.

Tons of blended learning models.

Learning engineers – the new instructional designers.  Building a course, design technology yes, but also taking sequencing of learning etc into account. 

Research driven – still early days. 

The DNA of a Successful Online Learning Program

Presenter: Virtual High School

16 years as a platform, 1500 schools.  Work with approx. 700 schools at the moment, 120 independent schools.

Panelists – heads, site coordinators.


-Gail Corder- Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth TX.

3rd year participating in VHS.  40% seniors who graduated took an online course.

Why VHS? Broaden choice of courses available, media literacy, independent learning skills etc.

Teaches a VHS class.  Retained full-time French teacher despite elimination of French program.

Epiphany as a teacher – training and teaching of course were transformative – guiding rather than teaching.

Parent orientation important for students taking online classes.

Courses reported same on transcripts as online classes.

Obstacles: spring senioritis.


-Christopher Chew, Head, North Middlesex Regional High School

7th year with VHS.  Involved primarily to allow students to take classes that wouldn't be offered in the school – e.g., AP courses with low enrollment.

Over time, also due to conflicts with AP schedules (two different AP classes scheduled during the same block).

Also used to help students who have school anxiety, athletes that need time for extra training (creative solutions...).

Also now using KET for AP Latin, Johns Hopkins & Stanford Online: courses looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Summer online courses allowed as well – don't seem to be too selective about what goes on the transcript though...

Blended learning: 9th and 10th graders – math and humanities programs able to be accessed digitally online.  Using Engrade, Schoology and Moodle as platforms.


-Karen Achambalut, Site Director at Wellesley High School

5 years with VHS.

Stats re: achievement (private school analogy?)

Why VHS? Students looking for classes not offered, want to keep class sizes low.  AP driven again.  All students bar one got 4s, 5s, last year bar one.

Don't count VHS courses to GPA. 

Summer offerings – allow to jump levels.  VHS used also to help students with recovery (remedial?) math.

Let VHS classes count towards your graduation requirements.

Duplicate courses – allowed with departmental permission.


-Maura Tucker – Wilmington High School, teaching as an AP Gov teacher on VHS

Seems to be used more to encourage kids to take AP classes that aren't offered due to budgetary etc constraints.

Discussion boards – four post requirement each week.


-Emily Breakell – former VHS student, now at Holy Cross

Took VHS courses to avoid taking AP sciences (more of a humanities person).

Independence in learning – classes were spoon-fed.

Collaboration and team work. Heavy reliance on group work – contact, accountability etc.

No real sense of face time connections with teachers.  Acknowledges a lot of students taking the courses dumped their worked.  "The relationships are what you make of them..."

College and real world preparedness. Idea of standing out to colleges.


Q&A: 1. About money, budgetary constraints etc.

Counts as 0.2 of a teacher's load to teach.

2. Limited number of spots?

North Middlesex has 10 spots/semester.  Initially took a while to fill those spots – initial disconnect about how online learning would be received etc. Also allow students to take the courses if they foot their own bill...

3. As a teacher, when do you teach your class?

Log in numerous times during the day. 

4.  Pedagogical approach online?

Guide on the side idea rather than sage on the stage.  Try to get more innovative...seems vague though.  Pushed for an example: watch a video, pair up discussions (nothing too exciting though!).

5. Does VHS have a portal that heads etc can look at?

No – no adults allowed to access their courses.  Get a student to pilot.  Site coordinators do get to shadow.

6.  When doesn't it work?

Get out what you put in.  Students who are not successful are those who don't engage.  Burden is on the student to participate.


Online Learning & Its Impact on School Strategic Planning

Heads of Worcester Academy, Pingrey School NJ, Kiski PA.

WSJ article on MOOCS: "Online learning can be isolating...students lose interest when they're not engaged."

-How does this govern how you lead your school?

Kiski – part of Online School for Boys.  Real time interactions.  Individual interactions with small groups – best practices. 

Pingrey – overall completion rates for MOOCs – 3%.  Issues of engagement.  Students engaged online as it is – social networking etc.  How to find the right fit for online interaction?  Groups of similar values, or a variety.

Worcester: Isolation – can choose to make it an isolated space, or can make it complicated, complex and more rewarding.

-How do you assess these new ideas/initiatives?  How gauging if something his working for their schools?

Worcester – some teachers taking MOOCs online...

-Data: do you worry that your students just become data points if you go down this path?

Pingrey – school is at the beginning of their journey into online education.  Did not believe that you could replace independent school experience with an online learning platform.  Interested in online learning for outreach to other schools, new opportunities for students to connect with other countries, tap into courses they are not able to offer, and also as a potential source of revenue in the future.  Defensive perspective: don't want to be dictated to – be out ahead.  Refers to VHS model (previous presentation) – opportunities are there for students if they want to take them.  Independent schools – more of a constructivist model anyway.

-What problems were you trying to solve when getting involved in online learning?  Kiski model is internally based.  Started in 2008 as a potential revenue stream for the school: offer the classes to home-school students.

Limited pilot model – one student – who subsequently enrolled is Kiski as a full-time student.  Partnerships with local university as well to analyze the programs they are offering. 

-Online learning has to align with the school's value system: how does this manifest itself in your school?

Worcester – community a key core value.  How this has been interpreted over time.  EG cellphone policy.

Pingrey – as things change socially etc, we get challenges to our values in schools.  They should be welcomed though. 

-What are you doing in your school, and why are you doing it?

Kiski: Online School for Boys.  Offering courses online to international students.  Working with 8th graders in China, offering ESL courses as well.  Original vision – open Kiski courses to home-school market, but proved to be a difficult market.  Seems to be more profit-driven here – serving as a provider to an international market.

Pingrey: just beginning.  Lots of individual efforts going on though – students in Adv Comp Sci taking MOOCs as part of their curriculum.  Developing 3-day long courses on international films.  Teachers using Google Hangout for AP Latin review sessions etc.   Skype sessions with partner school in China.  Course facebook groups.  Using webinars with parents around financial aid etc.

Worcester: why are you doing certain things, and not doing other things?  Lots of teachers are trailblazers in the school.  Using Schoology – wanted to create a platform for blended learning.  Started to allow some students to take online courses – level of rigor is questionable though (what provider?).  Seem to be doing it in an ad-hoc way (not as thorough as our conversations!).



Fri Afternoon Session: Hybrid Learning Consortium – Building Community Through Online Partnerships

Kansas City, MO, based.

1:1 tablet program for over 10 years.  Primed as a school then to dive into online learning.

6/8 hours of program are on campus.  Have global connections: Tasmania, Germany, Japan.  Have a satellite school in China.

Not just a one-off exchange: have time to have students work online together.

Other schools have approached – now formalized into a consortium.

Fundamental premise: this should not be done alone.

Key goals – mission: globalization, breadth of content, digital citizenship, rigor.

Non-profit models: increased teacher interactions, niche class opportunities, chance to teach.

Idea of using to complement work going on already.

Scheduling issues for small group work across time zones etc.

Emphasis on shared values.

Importance of communication.

Institutional commitment has to be made for the support of the managerial side of the consortium etc.

Challenges: finances, accepting culture to foster student success, adapting to the constant need for change.

Successes: immediate rewards on campus, ability to share other initiatives with respective institutions, rigor and quality of courses.

Lizanne Moynihan
Upper School History Dept.
Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Online Ed Symposium

On October 10th I attended the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools (OESIS) in order to hear from others' experience, and reflect on the challenges involved in accepting online learning within our existing concept of a BB&N education.

The keynote speaker was Howard Lurie, one of the people behind the Harvard/MIT EdX program. Some bullets from his address:

  • instructional designers with digital tools are "Learning Engineers" taking advantage of their knowledge of instructional design, pedagogy and technology to weave together blended learning experiences that use resources, data, and assessment to the advantage of the learning process.
  • Unbundled learning resources - open educational resources (OER) and other content being disaggregated from the traditional textbook and re-assembled inside learning platforms in pieces chosen by instructors.
  • There is currently a Gold Rush/Land rush mentality of schools rushing into platforms. We need to carefully evaluate our goals and philosophy when choosing tools.
  • Learning is more complicated than rocket science! It's a very complex process to teach students, and our expectations for learning platforms need to align with reality. Teaching is very much a human process. The digital tools are evolving and improving, but are not a panacea or replacement for good teaching.

One session I went to was about the experience of the virtual high school (VHS) collaborative. Their advice included:

  • bring parents into the conversation early
  • start students out supervised, then help them work independently
A student from the VHS who is now in college spoke about her experience of taking some online classes:
  • - "it really teaches you independence in learning"
  • - good preparation for college
  • - having had experience with eLearning tools (e.g. Haiku, Blackboard, etc.) is very useful in college
  • - "it made me a more interested learner"

It really strikes me that BB&N graduates would benefit from the experience of an online or blended learning class so that when they get to college they will be familiar with the format and the tools.

Lastly I went to a session about accreditation of online classes because I'm interested in what will will make schools more comfortable with accepting online classes onto student transcripts? My thoughts on this are:

  • successful examples of schools doing this will provoke others to accept it. 
  • when accrediting bodies establish instruments for approving a school's approach to online classes
    • e.g. NEASC has an instrument for this
    • iNACOL's standards are nationally recognized
    • the NCAA has been doing this for years
    • the NAIS Task Force on Online Ed (which I chaired) produced a good document on this
  • When teachers have the experience of a robust online course that is much more than just online discussion boards. 
  • When colleges appreciate seeing some online learning on an applicant's application

The highlight of my day was seeing former BB&N teacher Eric Hudson, who has been kind enough to share the notes he took at another session...

Online Classes: How do They Change the Environment of College Admissions?

Nancy Meislan: Dean of Admissions at Wesleyan
Matt McGann: Dean of Admission at MIT
Joe Fox: Assoc Dir of College Counseling at Barstow School
Chris Powers: Dir of Online Learning and Asst Dir of CC at Shorecrest Prep 

What does the landscape of online learning look like on each campus?

  • Allows students to increase rigor, pursue talent, or show grit
  • They do it all: MOOCs, 3rd party providers (CTY, Northwestern), blended
  • Member of Hybrid Learning Consortium
  • "Revving up" -- started Hybrid Learning Consortium
  • 20% students take an online course
  • 1-1 iPad from LS-6th
  • BYOD at US
  • Primarily classroom/lab setting
  • When we hear students take MITx class, we do not offer credit -- that's not the purpose of MITx
  • Elec and Magnetism Physics is taught in online modules
    • This was one of first MITx classes
  • Now, modules designed for MITx are working their way back into regular MIT classes -- esp required science courses
  • It's very early for that, though
  • We are venturing where other lib arts colleges aren't going
  • Part of Coursera
    • 8 coursera courses taught by most senior fac, including president
  • We think of it from a mission-driven perspective
  • What are benefits of a residential learning environment? If teaching is central to what we do, how can we expand our knowledge of teaching?
  • 2800 students, avg enrollment in MOOCs is 28,700, 205,000 in a social psych class
    • The Wesleyan education is reaching a larger audience
  • Pre college credit through continuing ed
    • certificate not a credit program
    • psychology, flash fiction
  • Now they give credit for certain online ventures for transfer students -- need to know content and context
How do online classes affect college admission process?

  • How do we put online classes on transcript and school profile?
    • Courses look exactly the same. We don't delineate. 
    • Fully embedded in course catalog, with explanation in school profile
  • Same paragraph as Barstow on school profile
  • Equal standing on transcript
  • Online students have additional paragraph in counselors letter, usually speaking to student's individual passion 
  • One page doc that summarizes online course work for those kids doing multiple ventures (Stanford, CTY, etc.)
  • Online class shows initiative beyond requirements
  • shows excitement for a particular topic
  • seeing a lot of high-flying math/science kids who hit brick and mortar ceiling early, and it's nice to see they pursue more advanced studies online
  • Shows gumption to do that in a school where that may be outside the norm
  • Not a member of common app, and we can have a self-reported transcript (which we refer to most often rather than official)
    • Gives a fuller picture of student's academic pursuits
  • MITx
    • That NYT Mag story about the guy in Mongolia is inaccurate -- we don't use MITx as a recruitment or selection tool. He was a great candidate aside from his online work.
  • Very uncertain right now
  • Visiting schools that are GOA or OSG members, we find that the numbers are so small.
    • We only know what you tell us
    • Reads GOA profile, says it's not enough
    • Unanswered q's: How many students take this? What are restrictions? How do the grades work? Is it figured in to GPA?
    • That's OK, but it's exemplary of where we are. These questions need to be answered. 
    • The idea that it's a hook is wrong -- it's more of a head-scratcher at this point. 
    • A paragraph in counselor letter would help. 
  • I asked admissions officers what they wanted, so I knew all of above. 
  • I'm all about local autonomy -- do what's best. Just tell me what it is. Make sure it's crystal clear. 

How do you ensure online courses maintain high standards?

  • Same way we evaluate brick and mortar: we work with professionals, review curricula and syllabi, students have to apply and explain reasoning after attending info session
    • They can't avoid requirements (PreCalc) at school
  • System of checks is strong
    • online allows us to track data for students AND teachers
    • more transparency

What are the pros and cons of Online Learning in your academic environments?

  • Con: misperception that online classes are easy or a bump in GPA
  • Allows students to pursue passions that set them apart from other applicants
  • Preps students for inevitable future online endeavors
  • The overzealous student--that's a big concern for us.
    • We may not look favorably on the kid who's taking three online courses on top of regular
    • Are online courses putting pressure on kids to do more than they already are?
  • Be mindful of how YOU talk about this opportunity with your students
  • Teenagers become exposed to things they wouldn't normally be exposed to
  • A GOA course opened this student's eyes up to something they might want to pursue later
  • The real plus here is that it encourages vibrancy in learning
Thanks Eric!