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!

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