Monday, October 29, 2012

I teach online. And by "online" I mean.......

I was fortunate to attend the 2012 Virtual School Symposium last week, which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. Thank you iNACOL for this amazing conference!  And, okay, blowing my own horn here, I was there because I and my colleague, Peggy Drolet, were presented with the "iNACOL Innovative Online Learning Practice 2012" award.  I have to say, I love this picture. Not only because of what's happening in it, and who I'm standing next to, and where we were, but gosh I love my dress and shoes....focus, Audrey.

Back to business: The symposium was organized by iNACOL, which stands for International Association for K12 Online Learning. Of all the things I feel compelled to write about and reflect upon after this conference, (stay tuned, it was awesome, gbl, pbl, mobile learning, Bourbon Street, links to flipped class....later), the most burning one is that word "online."

I already knew there were many different meanings to that word, but since VSS 2012, oh boy, I had no idea how many permutations and combinations there were. There's online, asynchronous, synchronous, blended, office hours, virtual, brick and mortar.....and now I see, kind of, sort of where I fit in. If anyone wishes to add, or make corrections, please feel free to comment below, I'm just trying to sort it all out in my head. Constructing my own learning, if you will:

The basics, about which there is little debate:

  • asynchronous = not live, not bound by time, whatever happens doesn't require that everyone be in the same place at the same time, for example, a recorded lesson can be listened to anytime, an assessment can be done by a student at any time, or a blog post can be written at any time.
  • synchronous = live, bound by time, whatever happens does require that everyone be in the same place at the same time, for example, a live lecture, a or a class collaborating to create a review outline, or students all writing as assessment at the same time
  • learning management system (LMS) = a tool that the teacher uses to deliver content, assessments, and to track what, when, and how students have fulfilled the requirements, for example, moodle
  • brick and mortar = the ultimate synchronous experience, anything that happens in an actual building, everyone is there at the same time AND physical place. Also called face-to-face, or f2f.
Now for "online", about which there is infinite debate:
  • online, to anyone not involved in education = anything that happens over the internet, learning or not, ie reading a blog, playing a game, using an online tool, social in, I'm chatting online
  • online, to anyone involved in education = teaching/learning that happens on the internet, and can mean any combination of asynchronous and synchronous, anywhere on this continuum:
    • At the left extreme, all asynchronous delivery of course content, with no synchronous component, ie students listen to lessons, do assessments, and don't meet with the teacher or other students. Teachers keep track of students' progress via the LMS. These classes tend to have huge numbers of students in them, sometimes over a thousand.
    • At the right, it's all live classes, 100% synchronous delivery of course content, ie everyone meets in a virtual classroom, such as Elluminate, Zenlive, or Adobe Connect. The course content is delivered to everyone during that time. Students may interact with the teacher and each other. Teachers don't need an LMS in this scenario, but the live lessons are often recorded and made available to students afterward. These classes tend to have small numbers of students, perhaps 15 - 25 kids.
    • In between these extremes seems to be where most people/organizations are, in any of the many combos. For example, many virtual schools use asynchronous delivery of course content and assessments via an LMS, with some synchronous component, ie students meet with the teacher individually or in groups during the teacher's office hours. The teachers make extensive use of the info in the LMS to tailor the meeting according to the individual needs of the students The meeting between the teacher and the student takes place in a virtual classroom environment, such as Elluminate, Zenlive, or Adobe Connect, where the teacher is often having private conversations with as many as 20 students at a time. The enrollment in these classes tends to be somewhere in the hundreds.
**(We heard some astonishingly honest, moving, and enthusiastic testimony from a panel of students about how they feel about their online classes, and teachers, more about that later.)**

Blended learning:
  • can mean online learning anywhere between the two extremes on the above continuum
  • can mean a combination of online and brick and mortar, or f2f  learning. Oh boy, how do I work that into the continuum? I won't.
Where do I fit in?

Definitely somewhere in between the two ends, but I think closer to the synchronous end. When I started teaching for LearnQuebec, I was all synchronous. I was doing pretty much what I had been doing for the 20 years prior to that in the brick and mortar classroom. I taught, kids took notes, I gave them homework, they came back the next day with questions etc, pretty standard stuff.

Then I started getting the kids to blog, which moved me away from 100% synchronous, because that took place outside of class. We talked about their blogging and commenting in class, so there was some real blending.

Then I started flipping my classroom, which moved me a bit further to the left. Things have evolved since then, so here's the breakdown:

Asynchronous components: Anytime outside of class, students:
  • watch lessons on voicethread
  • comment, ask, or answer questions on voicethread
  • blog and reflect on content
  • use gizmos on
  • do assessments on
  • do assignments to be handed in
Synchronous components: During class time, which we all have everyday by the way, students:
  • explore the content before the voicethread (often using geogebra, sometimes introductory problem)
  • reinforce the content after the voicethread (practice on eboard, discuss voicethread questions, make and present summaries) 
  • apply the content after several voicethreads (often using geogebra, solving situational problems, collaborate to make chapter summary)
  • get individual help/intervention from me
  • etc it's all still evolving....if you're flipping, you know how it is, it's pure magic and it's never done
Now that I've gotten that burning post out of my head, time to get to the wonderful ideas I heard about. I will next be posting about two fantastic sessions that I attended, one on game-based learning by Andrew Miller (@betamiller), and one on pbl as related to competencies, also by Andrew, co-presenter Rose Colby (@rose_rosecolby).

In the meantime, stay safe during this "frankenstorm"!


  1. I've been behind on my blog reading as I packed my life in boxes. Slowly getting out of the boxes and back into the blogosphere. Congratulations again on winning the INACOL award - very much deserved.

  2. I’ve been searching for some decent stuff on the subject and haven't had any luck up until this point, You just got a new biggest fan!.. teach to one