On My Mind…Higher Ed. Online Learning

As more and more K-12 institutions consider adding online learning courses to their learning pathways, it becomes more important to read about the reasons for heading this route i.e., what are the lessons learned, how institutions should prepare for the shift, what constitutes learner readiness, what courses yield better results, what training should be provided to teachers, etc. With the online learning movement spreading to the K-12 industry, now is the time to study the good, bad and ugly. Higher Ed. institutions had to cross the teaching/learning chasm a few years ago in order to retain students, meet diverse student learning styles & other needs, secure highly qualified instructors, and keep costs contained to name a few. Listed below are some initial readings to begin to gain a better understanding of the underpinnings and frameworks needed to support online learning:

  • Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Bures, E. M., Borokhovski, E., Tamim, R. M. (2011). Interaction in distance education and online learning: Using evidence and theory to improve practice. Journal of Computer in Higher Education, 23(2), 82-103.
  • Dikkers, A. G. (2015). The intersection of online and face-to-face teaching: Implications for virtual school teacher practice and professional development. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 47(3), 139-156.
  • King, S. E., Arnold, K. C. (2012). Blended learning environments in higher education: A case study of how professors make it happen. Mid-Western Educational Research, 25(1/2), 44-59.
  • McDonald, P. L., Straker, H. O., Schlumpf, K. S., Plack, M. M. (2014). Learning partnership: Students and faculty learning together to facilitate reflection and higher order thinking in a blended course. Online Learning Journal, 18(4), 1-22.
  • Picciano, A. G., Seaman, J., Shea P., Swan, K. (2012). Examining the extent and nature of online learning in american K-12 education: The research initiatives of the Alfred P. Sloan foundation. Internet and Higher Education, 15, 127-135.
  • Reece, S. A. (2015). Online learning environments in higher education: Connectivism vs. dissociation. Education and Information Technologies, 20(3), 579-588.
  • Richardson, J. C., Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1), 68-88.
  • Smith, S. J., Basham, J., Rice, M. F., Carter Jr., R. A. (2016). Preparing special educators for K-12 online learning environments: A survey of teacher educators. Journal of Special Education Technology, 31(3), 170-178.
  • Vaughan, N. (2007). Perspectives on blended learning in higher education. International Journal on E-Learning, 6(1), 81-94.

Virtual Technology Coach

Sugar, W., Slagter van Tryon P. J. (2014). Development of a virtual technology coach to support technology integration for K-12 educators. TechTrends, 58(3), 54-62.

This article attempts to offer a possible non-traditional solution to meeting the needs of K-12 districts in their quest to provide ongoing technology integration professional development. The authors explored the development of a virtual technology coach position to help teachers incorporate new knowledge and skills related to technology integration into classroom practice both short and long term. According to Sugar and Slagter, a coach creates a non-confrontational environment where teachers can share their thoughts, instructional practices, and generally learn from one another. Additionally, the article highlights how important continual professional development as opposed to a one-time workshop has been deemed more effective in supporting teachers’ abilities to learn about new teaching strategies, new technologies and other ways to change their classrooms. For the study, the authors created and issued a survey to sixty teachers to find out what benefits and services a virtual technology coach could provide in an online setting. Additionally, the research included teacher prototyping sessions to develop an initial set of virtual assistant qualities and resources. The study analysis yielded seven main themes of need for a virtual assistant support including: collaboration, discussion, learning, news, profile, sharing and technical.

As K-12 school systems continue to purchase large quantities of technology for teaching and learning as well as reshaping/updating instructional strategies, there is definitely a need to develop a learning community for collaboration, sharing, teaching, tech integration, etc. Sugar and Slagter’s thinking about a virtual technology coach is in alignment with the International Society for Training and Education (ISTE) white paper on Technology, Coaching and Community as well as the NETS-C (coach) standards. The authors work does bring value and vision to the possibility of what a next-generation school employee might look like – possibly virtual! The real question becomes, should this new job position be an online tool called a virtual technology coach or an actual person acting as a virtual technology coach on call or facilitating learning communities from a remote location?

The district I work in does not have any instructional coaches. Teachers collaborate, provide training and generally support one another during school hours. The district does provide teachers leadership opportunities and curriculum days to learn or train others, but overall our school system is considered a flat organization structurally. The district maintains a lean organizational structure so that the high-quality and cutting-edge student programming can be offered at the highest possible level. This article really accentuates a potential new future for how to best support teachers in their transformational teaching and learning practices. I feel this concept of virtual technology assistant is just another lever of Clay Christensen’s Disruptive Education framework. Only time will tell if this non-traditional solution can become a reality in a K-12 setting!