As part of the master’s program, I received an assignment to write a proposal to my school district recommending the creation of an online learning program. An element of the assignment was to interview one of my school’s administrators in order to investigate her thoughts on setting up such program. I went to my interview with the administrator with preconceptions of how I would like to set up a program. However, one of the outcomes of the interview was that I became aware of major obstacles to creating a program at this time.
Interview with Director of Alternative Education
I interviewed the Director of Alternative Education of our school district. The district is located in Northern California. The interview took place on May 20, 2003. I utilized an unstructured interview approach. This interview method, “does not involve a detailed interview guide. Instead, the interviewer asks questions that gradually lead the respondent to give the desired information.” (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003, p. 240)
The following are her opinions and thoughts, paraphrased, as they relate to creating an online learning program in the school district:
Much consideration is now being given to the benefits of incorporating online teaching into school programs. This is being done by state officials in Fresno, California.
It is going to take time for online teaching to become integrated into public schools. It will require more teachers and administrators who are skilled in the use of computers and who have been exposed to online education to move up to the highest positions in the system. Presently, many of the highest level administrators do not use email for communications, for example, the superintendent of our school district. Many existing administrators and teachers are not computer literate. The movement towards incorporating online learning in schools will not really take place or be supported until the older non-computer-user educators are replaced by the upcoming computer literate generation.
Because of the present budget problems within the State of California, it may take another five years, until the year 2008, before online education programs start to become integrated into our school system.
Regarding teacher training: If certain skills or courses are required by the State in order for a teacher to acquire or maintain teaching certifications, the teacher must pay for these courses. However, if the school requests teachers to participate in a special program, the school will pay for it.
As many teachers without computer skills retire, new teachers, applying to teach in our program, will be screened to see that they possess computer skills and have been exposed to online learning.
We should look to fund online programs through grants, rather than plan or depend on receiving money from the State.
Attention is needed for students in the areas of English and Math. However, these are not viable subjects to teach online. Students would be better served in studying electives online.
She explained that two major obstacles to implementing an online learning program at this time are that the State will not pay schools for students enrolled in online learning courses, and that politically, the California Teacher’s Association (CTA) will not get behind online education. A core group in the CTA feels that online learning will promote the loss of teachers’ jobs. The perception is that class size would be greatly increased.
Schools must provide education on an equal basis to all students. This is called Free Appropriate Public Education or FAPE. This has been the centerpiece of lawsuits based on claims that students have not been given equal access to educational opportunities. Applying this to distance education, many students will not be able to participate because many do not have access to computers. In addition, there is also the whole area of providing equal access to the disabled.
As of result of this interview, I realize that it will not be possible anytime soon to set up an online teaching and learning program in my school district. At this time, there are just too many obstacles. However, it still remains apparent that a distance learning program would be an excellent option to offer our students. Because of this I decided to create a course which would be given on an elective basis. I concluded that I would have to be solely responsible for the construction and operation of the course.
Course Management System
Rather than use a commercial CMS, I have custom designed one using Microsoft FrontPage. I did this for a number of reasons, one being I want to have a low operating cost and the other being that I want to have the ability to control the users’ experience as much as possible. By creating my own CMS, I felt I could accomplish both of my goals. I made particular efforts to provide a medium that presents the course materials clearly including use of fonts, complementary colors, tables and columns, navigations system, illustrations, discussion areas, and various content areas.
The CMS will have most of the tools that are found in commercial systems. It will provide a platform that supports the following:
In creating the CMS I have taken into account the end users: high school students.
The characteristics of the CMS are as follows:
It is very easy to understand and navigate.
It presents all the necessary information on one page with links to secondary pages.
It has a an easy-to-use interface.
It presents the course material in a way that is friendly and familiar to a high school student.
It is highly flexible and adaptable to future needs.
I can provide any necessary technical support which may be required.
Teaching and Learning Theories Embodied Within the Design Of the Course
There are many theories and philosophies associated with understanding and improving the educational experience. They aid in addressing and meeting the needs of learners. They help in producing higher levels of cognition, where students are required to demonstrate an understanding of ideas and concepts. As the course designer, my objective has been to incorporate many elements of these theories into the approaches I have used in creating lessons. For the most part, I have accomplished this. However, due to both the limitations of online Internet media and the constraints of my setting a necessary time limit for developing my course, it has become evident that it is impossible to effectively create lessons that embody all the principles I would like to have into the course. The most any teacher, including myself, can do is attempt to create the best lessons possible, utilizing the resources available.
The following are educational principles and theories that I have attempted to include within the design of my course:
Objectivist and Constructivist learning and teaching:
Jonanson (1991) explains that,
The objectivist approach to learning establishes that classes are usually driven by "teacher-talk" and depend heavily on textbooks for the structure of the course. There is the idea that there is a fixed world of knowledge that the student must come to know. Information is divided into parts and built into a whole concept. Teachers serve as pipelines and seek to transfer their thoughts and meanings to the passive student. There is little room for student-initiated questions, independent thought or interaction between students. The goal of the learner is to regurgitate the accepted explanation or methodology expostulated by the teacher.
In contrast to the objectivist approach is the constructivist approach. Glaserfeld, (1995) states that,
Learning emphasizes the process and not the product. How one arrives at a particular answer, and not the retrieval of an “objectively true solution” is what is important. Learning is a process of constructing meaningful representations, of making sense of one's experiential world. In this process, students' errors are seen in a positive light and as a means of gaining insight into how they are organizing their experiential world. The notion of doing something 'right' or 'correctly' is to do something that fits with "an order one has established oneself."
Jonassen (1991) notes that many educators and cognitive psychologists have applied constructivism to the development of learning environments. From these applications, he has isolated a number of design principles:
Create real-world environments that employ the context in which learning is relevant;
The instructor is a coach and analyzer of the strategies used to solve these problems;
Stress conceptual interrelatedness, providing multiple representations or perspectives on the content;
Instructional goals and objectives should be negotiated and not imposed;
Evaluation should serve as a self-analysis tool;
Provide tools and environments that help learners interpret the multiple perspectives of the world;
Learning should be internally controlled and mediated by the learner.
Use of Both Constructivist and Objectivist Approaches in my Course
My course utilizes both the constructivist and the objectivist approaches to learning. From the constructivist point of view, the lessons I have created direct students to work on their own, perform research and arrive at their own conclusions. They later report on and share and discuss their findings. In subsequent lessons, I present my own answers to the same research questions the students have worked on. I tell the students what minimum learning outcomes I want them to take away from the lessons. I also discuss the students’ earlier conclusions and acknowledge their findings and contributions. Utilizing this approach blends the students’ and my conclusions together. I believe this dual approach is both effective and practical.
The learning environment must ensure that the learners are provided with a specific context, clear goals and objectives based on defined needs, and instructional strategies that reflect their needs and interests. Strategies should include problem solving, collaboration and partnering. (American Distance Education Consortium, 2001)
Conditions of Learning
My course incorporates many of the instructional events that address the Conditions of Learning as described by R. Gagne:
“Gain attention, identify objective, recall prior learning, present stimulus, guide learning, elicit performance, provide feedback, assess performance, and enhance retention.”
The course clearly reflects one of the instructional events, “identify objective,” with each lesson having learning objectives clearly stated.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator The design of my course attempts to recognize “the four dimensions underlying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator MBTI and several teaching approaches that will appeal to different MBTI profiles” (Harvey J. Brightman, Georgia State University)
An example of this: In addressing the needs of the “Perceptive Student” (as defined in the MBTI profiles) large projects will be broken into smaller segments with multiple deadlines, thereby helping to keep the “Perceptive Student” up-to-date on his or her large project. I have tried to best accommodate different learning styles in my course: students read and write; create illustrations of concepts (visual); hear tape recorded evaluations to their essay assignments, rather than receiving only written feedback (aural.)
Learning Styles as presented by VARK (Neil D. Fleming, Christchurch, New Zealand and Charles C. Bonwell, Green Mountain, Colorado, USA. This)
Visual Study Strategies (V)
Aural Study Strategies (A)
Read/write Study Strategies (R)
Kinesthetic Study Strategies (K)
Multimodal Study Strategies (MM)
Smith and Kolb’s Learning Cycle Concept
This is one teaching and learning concept I find enlightening and highly useful for developing lessons.
10% of what they read
20% of what they hear
30% of what they see
50% of what they see and hear
70% of what they say
90% of what they say and do
In designing my course, I have tried to incorporate these principles. For example: students are asked to post their work, describe and discuss their work, comment on each others’ work and interact with each other in many different ways. Doing this helps bring the students into the 90% category of the learning cycle.
To state once again, there are many theories regarding learning. It has been and remains my goal to try to incorporate into my course, as many good ideas and principles as I can.
Elements in the Course Design
Lesson design overview:
Lessons contain clearly stated goals and objectives.
A lecture section.
Clear assignments which have been divided into sections.
Each assignment section has an assessment value.
There are clear standards for grade assessment.
Lessons require participation in:
Each lesson requires students to utilize the Internet for research and communications.
The hybrid aspect of the course requires students to participate in some lesson activities face-to-face with me or with other students.
Lessons have been planned with particular attention to the following considerations:
What important ideas and concepts do I want my students to learn?
What should my students be able to do as a result of taking the course?
What types of course activities will best implement my goals?