Bring the World to Your Classroom: Videoconferencing

By Bryan A. Upshaw

My worst grade in high school was in Spanish I. Our teacher was tough, and the pace was blistering. I struggled to learn the vocab, grammar, and odd verb conjugation charts. I found the culture interesting, but the rest of the class was just frustrating and seemingly pointless to my future. Guess what subject I mainly teach now? That’s right – Spanish. What turned my worst grade and most frustrating class into my career?

Getting to see the world outside my little East Tennessee community and building relationships with people who at first seemed so different from me changed the way I saw the world. I was inspired to travel abroad, learn a language, join a local Hispanic church, and live with an undocumented family my last semester of college. Those relationships and experiences made language learning fun and transformed pointless grammar exercises into real-world challenges that unlocked boundaries that separated people.

How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom?

I share my stories with my students and perhaps it inspires some to consider traveling one day, but how can I motivate students right now? How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom? In my opinion, one of the most underused tools in education is videoconferencing. While expensive systems with fancy cameras and monitors can make it seamless, most teachers already have the resources to videoconference. If they have a smartphone, tablet,  or computer, then they probably have everything they need!

As a foreign language teacher, I use videoconferencing in my classroom in many different ways. For example, my friend in Nicaragua, Emanuel, converses with my students. My sister shares stories about her semesters abroad in Nicaragua and Honduras. Another friend, Garret, has talked from Germany about his year abroad in Argentina and how it helped him to learn German and get a job with BMW. My students love hearing stories from guest speakers projected in the front of the classroom. They have fun asking questions and always learn something new. Continue reading

A Cure for Writer’s Block: A Letter to My Students

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Papers play a huge part in my online writing and literature courses. As part of our writing process, I require preliminary and final drafts. Of the two, preliminary drafts are the most important from the standpoint of pedagogy and learning. They must be submitted on time for writers to fully engage in the peer review activity, which is the heart of the writing process.

Thus, meeting the deadline is critical. Early this morning, I received an email from one of my better students, warning me that she may be late in submitting her preliminary draft because she’s hit the wall — writer’s block. The deadline is midnight today. I ended up writing a message to her about overcoming this affliction that most writers experience. After sending it, I decided to refine and distribute it to all my classes. After further thought, I decided that this may be useful to some of my colleagues who assign papers and struggle with students who can’t seem to meet deadlines.

If you find this useful, please feel free to use it, in part or in whole. No permission necessary. Some of the details may not work for you, so be sure to revise or delete them. -Jim


Our first review draft is due at midnight today. I know, you’re aware of that and don’t need to be reminded. If you’re like many writers, your draft is not done. In fact, for some of you, it’s barely off the ground. You’ve been grappling against that age-old nemesis, writer’s block.

As a writer, I understand exactly where you’re coming from. Believe me, you’re not alone. Writer’s block is a problem for 99% of all writers. Thus, I know that procrastination is not the cause for a late paper. In fact, it is a symptom of writer’s block.  Continue reading

80 Percent of K-12 Schools Now Using Digital Content

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

A study by ASCD and Overdrive, Inc.,1 is being released today (1 April 2016). Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K–12 Classroom E-Learning is available for download here. Here are some of the highlights:

1. More than 80 percent of K-12 schools and districts are now using some form of digital content — including eBooks, audiobooks and digital textbooks — in the classroom.

2. Of the 80 percent of respondents who report using digital content in their schools or districts, four out of 10 are using it as part of their curriculum.

3. Devices used for digital content: laptops (75 percent), tablets (62 percent), personal computers (49 percent), and smartphones (17 percent).

4. Contributors to this growth include recognized benefits such as the ability to deliver individualized instruction, allowing students to practice independently, and greater student attention/engagement.

5. As digital content continues to transform the classroom, the concept of a personalized, individualized model of schooling becomes more feasible, according to the report.

6. “Devices bring more knowledge to students’ fingertips than the teacher can give, so the traditional lecture model is no longer applicable. We want content that will engage students and the ability to introduce flipped classrooms with content that students can access at any time, at any place” (Kahle Charles, executive director of curriculum, St. Vrain Valley Schools, Longmont, Colorado).

7. The two issues cited most often were equity concerns about lack of Internet access at home and the fear of teachers not wanting to go digital, including teachers not comfortable or effective with digital learning.

8. Across the board, teachers most desire English/Language Arts (ELA) content in digital format (74 percent), followed by science (62 percent), math (61 percent) and social studies (56 percent).

9. Survey respondents report that digital content currently occupies about one-third of the instructional materials budget and the use of digital content continues to grow.

10. This report is based on a survey of more than 2,000 administrators at the school or district level in the U.S.

1 Overdrive, Inc., is a provider of eBook and audiobook platforms for schools.

Creating Community: Part 2 – Hard Conversations in an Online Classroom – ‘Othello’

Judith_McDaniel2_80By Judith McDaniel with Tim Fraser-Bumatay, Daniel Herrera, and Ryan Kelly1

The four of us are all teachers in face-to-face classrooms, and we have all needed to have difficult conversations about race with our students in those classes. Some teachers would maintain that it is “better” to have these conversations in person in order to monitor how the students are doing and ease them over the rough spots.

All of us have also been part of an online classroom in which we needed to have those conversations about race and ethnicity as we discussed Shakespeare’s Othello and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Is one format — online or in-person — better than the other? While our response won’t be definitive, we can say that our online discussion did succeed in creating an “immediate and vital community of learning” as we insisted in Part 1 of this series. And for each of us, the learning in this class carried over to the face-to-face classes we teach.

Herrera Kelly Bumatay McDaniel

Daniel Herrera, Ryan Kelly, Tim Fraser-Bumatay, and Judith McDaniel.

Thinking about Othello

In addition to reading Shakespeare’s play, I assigned several critical articles that discussed race in the play. Kim Hall’s “Beauty and the Beast of Whiteness” and James Aubrey’s “Race and the Spectacle of the Monstrous in ‘Othello’” seemed to be the most provocative.

The issue of beauty, virtue, and monstrosity

The discussion prompt for the question about Othello asked whether Hall’s portrait of “beauty and the beast of whiteness” gave the reader a path into considering Othello as an Elizabethan might have seen him. Tim’s immediate response was “[Yes,] an in-depth look at style would tread upon the contextual setting of the play’s conception, for if one were to question why Shakespeare chooses words such as ‘beast,’ ‘horse,’ and ‘ram’ to describe Othello, it would inevitably lead to 17th century cultural opinions of Africans.”

Alongside that view of course is the parallel portrait of Othello as the most noble and honorable man in the Duke’s court. When Shakespeare introduces the “Moor” himself, he presents “an intriguing character who breaks from the stigma; he is calm, courteous, and even noble.”  Continue reading

Creating Community in an Online Classroom: Part 1 – Getting to Know You

Judith_McDaniel2_80By Judith McDaniel with Tim Fraser-Bumatay, Daniel Herrera, and Ryan Kelly1

Is it possible to get a “real education” from an online class? Several years ago a professor from the University of Virginia published an opinion piece about online education in the New York Times and insisted that it was impossible. “You can get knowledge,” he continued, “from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning.”2

I teach literature in a fully online Master’s program. My students enroll from all over the United States and from overseas. Our asynchronous discussion forums give students an opportunity to interact, to be thoughtful in their responses to my discussion prompts and to one another. I find the online classroom to be stimulating, diverse, and creative. It is different from a face-to-face class experience, but it can be different in ways that enhance student learning through the creation of an online community.

Herrera Kelly Bumatay

Daniel Herrera, Ryan Kelly, and Tim Fraser-Bumatay

I am joined in writing this article by three of the students who have just completed their Masters degree in Literature and Writing in this online program. We have created an article that has two parts. In the first we talk about building community and how that happens, how students from very different backgrounds begin to interact, enjoy one another, challenge one another. In the second part of the article, we recreate some of the conversations we had about difficult subjects and difficult texts. We talked about race extensively when we read Othello and Heart of DarknessContinue reading

CFE 2015 Faculty Showcase at UNC: ‘Teaching Less in More Depth’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 5th annual Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) Faculty Showcase at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This event is indispensible for those who want to gain a concise overview of emerging trends, proven approaches, best practices and innovative experiments in Carolina. CFE organizes the gathering to offer faculty an opportunity to learn more about specific instructional techniques or technology from their peers. For many attendees, showcase talks are the spark that ignites interest in considering changes for courses they teach. It also serves as a reminder for faculty to make use of the many instructional design and pedagogical consulting services the campus has to offer.

The day provided a chance to hear firsthand about the capabilities of the University’s Makerspaces, how teachers use Google Earth’s Liquid Galaxy display and Lightboard, which is currently being built on campus. What makes the showcase an exceptional learning opportunity for instructional designers is the mix of cutting edge technological innovation and low- or no-tech tips and tricks – be it gender neutral language, better writing assignments, role-play or reflective teaching practices and course evaluation. The showcase event closed with a presentation format I particularly enjoyed: Five-minute-long introductions to a variety of topics and projects with the explicit invitation, “Steal my idea!”

mary-huber 2The keynote speaker, Mary Taylor Huber, consultant at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, characterized the CFE event as the “greatest illustration possible” for the theme of her talk, “Building an Academic Commons Through SoTL.” Huber stated that the relationship between teaching and the institutional environment has changed noticeably over the past decade. Teaching is increasingly recognized as a valued academic activity in both general public debates and in the scientific communities. “Teaching is on a fast train,” explained Huber, and pointed out several catalysts for change: diversity, technology, new pedagogies (i.e., undergraduate research, service learning), authentic participation and educational research. Throughout the day, many examples of exceptional teaching brought these concepts to life.  Continue reading

Free Webinar on Student Engagement 3/19/15 at 11am ET

5 Secrets to Spectacular Student Engagement

Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 11 AM EDT (US)
Not time-zone friendly? Register to receive the archive.

Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa

Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa

Register for this complimentary webinar to learn how Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa, increased class participation to 99%. Hear how he transformed his classroom into an “active learning zone” with the use of a student engagement solution.

Get the full story behind Dr. Montpetit’s stunning findings – how student participation rates grew in his classes, grades improved and failure rates decreased. Register today!

Who Should Attend: All are welcome. Those in Academic Technology or Teaching and Learning Centers are highly encouraged to attend.

ScreenHunter_233 Mar. 10 08.07

Who Dat? It’s E-Learn 2014! Come, Learn, Share, Connect

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

The 19th annual international conference AACE E-Learn took place from October 27-30 in the sunny, warm and welcoming climate of the city of New Orleans. The conference attracted 670 participants from 60 different countries who enjoyed four days of workshops, keynotes, presentations, symposia, SIG meetings, posters, and, last but not least, informal discussions and networking opportunities during the session breaks.

Conference infographic by Stefanie Panke.

Conference infographic by Stefanie Panke.

AACE E-Learn Conference

What sets AACE conferences apart from other events in the educational technology community is the rigorous peer review process in the selection of presentations. Instead of simply submitting an abstract, AACE requires a full manuscript of 6-10 pages. While writing skills do not always and certainly not necessarily translate into great presentations, the quality off contributions is generally high. This also makes the conference proceedings (available in the AACE digital library EditLib) a really great resource for an up-to-date overview of the current state-of-the-art in educational technology. While access to the proceedings is generally restricted to conference participants and subscribers, several papers that were honored with an outstanding paper award are openly accessible:

The best paper awards mirror the diverse spectrum of the conference. E-Learn is a place where educational technology researchers, developers, and practitioners from higher education, K-12, nonprofit and industry sectors meet – brought together by a joint focus on leveraging technology for achieving instructional goals.

My Conference Experience

This conference report is my personal eclectic account of E-Learn 2014. My schedule was packed this year: Not only did I, in a hyperactive mood, choose to deliver three talks, but I also had a symposium and a special interest group meeting to moderate and an executive committee meeting to attend. Luckily, the overall conference atmosphere, the great discussions during the special interest group meeting, and the thoughtful feedback, ideas, encouragement and contributions by numerous conference participants made all of this fun.  Continue reading

Free Reading and eReaders Can Raise Achievement

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

In Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog, Answer Sheet, guest writer Joanne Yatvin, in “Why Kids Should Choose Their Own Books to Read in School” (8 Sep. 2014), makes an impassioned defense of reading for pleasure. Yatvin is “a one time Principal of the Year in Wisconsin and a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English.” In today’s test-driven school climate, free reading has been replaced with reading that focuses on developing test-taking skills. Yatvin says, “Consumed by the urgency to raise students’ reading scores, policy makers and school officials have forgotten that children learn to read by reading.” She goes on to talk about balanced literacy and the benefits of independent reading.

Reading such as that needed for academic work and test taking definitely has a place in schools. Students develop analytical skills by reading for details. However, reading for pleasure and being able to choose your own reading materials also has a place in the classroom. Pleasure reading, also called extensive reading, promotes learner autonomy; improves general language competence, not just reading skills; helps students develop general knowledge; promotes vocabulary growth; helps improve writing; and motivates students to read more.

These claims are supported by research in literacy and in second language acquisition. One of the strongest proponents of free voluntary reading is Dr. Stephen Krashen who sees the importance of light reading as a bridge to more challenging reading. He also contends that not only does reading improve reading skills, it is also necessary for developing good writing skills.  Continue reading

Reading, Vocabulary, Glogster, Funding, ESL Teachers, VoiceThread


Cutting to the Common Core: The Positive Side of the Digital Divide by J. Zorfass and T. Gray in Language Magazine: The authors make the case for using digital texts to support the reading process for all learners.

Computer games give boost to English. The University of Gothenburg in Science Daily Success in the world of computer games and a good English vocabulary go hand in hand. A recent study has shown that players who are good at computer games increase their English vocabulary. The study also showed a difference between the genders. Boys spend about twice as much time a week playing computer games as girls. However, girls spend about twice as much time a week on Facebook and other language-related activities.

Tools for achieving oral fluency by Marsha Appling-Nunez in Language Magazine: The author makes suggestions for helping English language learners with their speaking and presentation skills. Glogster is a graphical blog that students can use when doing oral books reports, or other presentations. She also recommends PechaKucha Prezi, which is a method of presenting information using pictures only which requires the speaker to focus on good pronunciation, filler reduction, and vocabulary.

For Public Schools, the Long and Bumpy Road to Going Digital by Kathy Baron in Mindshift: Equipment, software licensing, training. Funding – or lack of it – is the number one issue facing school districts as they convert to the digital learning world.

Preparing Teacher Candidates to Work with English Language Learners in an Online Course Environment by Stephanie Dewing in TEIS News: The author reports on a study she did on the efficacy of an online course for ESL teachers. She found minimal evidence of transformative learning experiences. She proposes several changes in course design to try to produce a context more conducive for transformational learning.

Using Web 2.0 Tools, Such as Voicethread™, to Enhance ELL Instructor and Student Learning by Kelly Torres In TEIS News: Torres advocates using tools such as VoiceThread™, a multimedia tool that can provide a slide show with pictures, documents, and videos to engage students in online course materials by allowing them to see and hear their peers.

Cyberlearning Summit 2014: A Quick Recap

VicSutton80By Vic Sutton

[Note: See Bonnie Bracey Sutton’s report. -Editor]

There is reportedly a wealth of research being conducted unto cyberlearning, but there are no clear views about how to translate research results into action in the community context, in particular for schools or informal education.

This emerged from the recent Cyberlearning Summit held in Madison, Wisconsin, on 9-10 June 2014, which brought together some 200 participants — mostly academics, plus some educators, industry representatives and grant makers — to highlight “advances in the design of technology-mediated learning environments, how people learn with technology, and how to use cyberlearning technologies to effectively shed light on learning.”

Bonnie's photos

There was no discussion about quite what cyberlearning is, but it appears to be a fancy name for on-line learning.

The meeting was organized by the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and featured a number of eminently qualified speakers.

Yasmin Kafai, from the University of Pennsylvania, reminded participants of the remark by the late Steve Jobs that “everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”  Continue reading

Understanding the Brain, Flipped Teaching, Suicide Prevention, Common Core Shifts


University of Chicago MOOCing in a big way… a free MOOC, Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life (Coursera), begins on April 28. According to Hannah Nyhart and Steve Koppes, “enrollment for [the] course has reached 27,000 and climbing” (“Neurobiology Online Course to Attempt World’s Largest Memory Experiment,” Medical Press, 4/23/14). Last fall, the university’s Asset Pricing MOOC enrolled 41,000 and Global Warming, 15,000.

Getting What You Pay For? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Public Universities (ACTA, April 2014) is available for download. Here’s a quote from the 75-page document: “In a 2013 survey of over 300 employers, 93% of the executives responded that critical thinking, clear communication skills, and problem solving ability are more important to them than the undergraduate major. A majority called upon colleges to put more emphasis on writing, science, and mathematics, and over 40% called for greater emphasis on foreign language proficiency” (8). If you’ve been following studies such as this, you’re probably thinking, So what else is new. Seems the year is interchangeable, with the results remaining constant.

In an email conversation earlier this morning re this ACTA report, Harry Keller said, “At least in K-12 education, we should … merge these into a single curriculum that reaches into ELA, math, and science and that uses, as necessary, art, engineering, history, etc.” I agreed with Harry. The separation of subjects to fit schooling is unnatural. In the real world, they’re all part of a whole. Teachers have tried team teaching and interdisciplinary approaches to simulate an integrated approach, but these are always awkward and, IMHO, not sustainable. The integration has to be within the teacher. The implication for schools is flipped teaching — instead of teaching from the inside (classroom) out, they would be teaching from the outside (real world) in. This would also mean a whole new breed of teachers, with significant background in the arts and sciences as well as skill in bringing the different disciplines together in seamless learning activities in a way that’s similar to the project-learning approach.

Engaging College Students in Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention (Kognito and Active Minds)… “a free one-hour webinar to discuss best practices for engaging and training students in gatekeeper skills” and suicide prevention. Scheduled for Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT. A second webinar is scheduled for Fri, May 2, 2014, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT. Hopefully they’ll include a segment on detecting the need for help among students enrolled in online courses.

The Most Challenging Instructional Shifts in the CCSS for English/Language Arts (Education Week)… a free webinar with an emphasis on changing the way students think as well as instruction and administration. “Four of the most challenging shifts” are: Emphasis on Academic Vocabulary, Complex Text, Close Reading, and Greater Emphasis on Informational Text. Scheduled for May 1, 2014, 2 to 3 p.m. ET. As an online teacher, I’ve learned that the ability to read, correctly interpret, remember, and apply textual information is the most important skill for students in online classes.

Flipping Without Flopping: A Three-Year Study. Real Results (Echo 360)… a free webinar. Two separate sessions, May 8 for US/Europe at 11am EDT and May 14 for ANZ/Asia at 11am AEST. Review the research.

SoTL Commons 2014 in Savannah: ‘Teaching Without Learning Is Just Talking’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

The 7th SoTL commons conference at Savannah, Georgia, was held from March 26-28, 2014. The annual event is organized by Georgia Southern University. SoTL commons is a small conference; the 2014 edition attracted around 180 participants. The majority of the participants came from small colleges and universities in the southern United States, though the event also had national reach with people from Wisconsin, Louisiana, and the Midwest, as well as a few international attendees from Colombia, South Africa, Sweden, Portugal and Nigeria.

My personal conference highlight was the keynote by Peter Felten, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at Elon University. Peter used an amusing and powerful analogy to clarify the question that seems to be a crucial, non-negotiable ingredient of every SoTL gathering: What do we mean by Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

Peter Felten: ‘Which mutt is the cutest?’ Can you give criteria for cuteness? How about criteria for excellence in SoTL?

Peter Felten: “Which mutt is the cutest?” Can you give criteria for cuteness? How about criteria for excellence in SoTL?

He  characterized SoTL as a mutt discipline — in contrast to the “best in show approach” of disciplinary research. Just as a show dog will be only appreciated by few experts in the breeding trade, disciplinary research often resides in the ivory tower. SoTL has the advantage of being widely accessible to a broader audience. However, it has to define its boundaries to be (accepted as) a scholarly discipline.
To this end, Peter presented five principles, which offer a heuristic framework to characterize any SoTL project:

  1. The inquiry is focused on student learning.
  2. The research is grounded in context — both scholarly discourse and local, organizational environment.
  3. The approach is methodologically sound.
  4. The project is conducted in partnership with students.
  5. The results are appropriately public.

These principles allow for common ground among SoTL inquiries, can help clarify and demystify SoTL to others and ultimately enhance the influence of SoTL. (For more details, see “Principles of Good Practice in SoTL.”)

The talk spurred a debate among the audience, in particular the absence of “teaching” as a perspective in the first principle. What if you are working with faculty to improve their teaching? Peter argued that ultimately every SoTL project aims at improving student learning and referred to Angelo and Cross (1993), who stated that “learning can — and often does occur without teaching but teaching cannot occur without learning; teaching without learning is just talking” (p.3 — see full text at ERIC).

Nancy Chick

Nancy Chick

Peter’s thoughts were taken up by Nancy Chick’s keynote address on the following day. She focused on the question “What is methodologically sound research in SoTL?” As editor of Teaching & Learning Inquiry, the new ISSOTL journal launched in spring 2013, Nancy was in a perfect position to highlight methodological aspects. What sets SoTL apart from disciplinary research is the variety of data sources scholars use to trace learning. Although SoTL projects comprise a wide range of theoretical, methodological, and empirical perspectives, it is crucial to find a good fit between research question and data sources.  Continue reading

The Symbiosis of College and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

kenji mori80ABy Kenji Mori
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Information Technology has great potential for education. As one college student says, “It allows for a plethora of knowledge to be shared, as well as content that is created by other users to reach a wider audience than would ordinary [SIC] be possible” (Taylor). In recent years, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have taken advantage of this in order to offer free courses over the Internet. Unlike most online college classes, these courses allow tens or even hundreds of thousands of students around the globe to widen their knowledge. MOOCs have much to offer students. The integration of MOOCs in college courses will lead to a better learning experience.

Recently, when I was introduced to the concept of MOOCs, I created an account on Udacity and edX – two of the leading providers of MOOC content. My eyes lit up as I found courses not only on introductory level subjects but also on more advanced topics such as artificial intelligence and cryptography. These courses are offered by top universities such as Harvard and MIT and conducted by world-renowned professors.

MOOCs generally follow the format of a series of video lectures interspersed with quizzes. They do not derive most of their appeal from the use of innovation. After all, they are not far different from the lectures we see in today’s classrooms. Rather, they are revolutionary in that they make education available in a way thus unprecedented. Free, quality education is being made available to all. According to one national poll, about half of the families in the United States cannot afford college (Allebrand). For them, MOOCs are a godsend. For graduates, MOOCs give the opportunity to become life-long learners. Even for college students, there is much to gain.  Continue reading

Can America’s Wasted Talent Be Harnessed Through the Power of Internet Based Learning?

Jim_Riggs80By Jim Riggs
Professor, Advanced Studies in Education
College of Education
CSU Stanislaus
President Emeritus, Columbia College (1997-2007)

For nearly 150 years, the American dream of a better life of economic success and advancement has been found largely through the narrow path of higher education. However, access to traditional higher education has always been limited to the top one-third of the adult population and by all indications will continue to be rationed at this level or less into the foreseeable future. Peter Smith, in his 2010 book, Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning, points out that while traditional higher education will continue to serve this segment of the population, educational leaders must find alternative ways that will effectively meet the postsecondary education needs of a much larger segment of the adult population.

Smith is not alone in this thinking. There have been numerous reports in recent years that have also called for greater access, flexibility, credit portability and increasing degree completion for a much larger percentage of the adult population. In addition, many of these reports place a special emphasis on closing the growing achievement gap, which is increasingly leaving Latinos and African-Americans behind other groups when it comes to earning college degrees. Why is this important? There is a strong and growing consensus among policy makers, educators, economists and scholars that, if this country is to remain an economic superpower, a much larger and more diverse segment of the adult population must be better educated.

America’s current workforce is aging and retiring, and 85% of all new jobs now require some college education. A real crisis is rapidly developing  — America is finding itself with an escalating gap between the increasingly sophisticated workforce skill demands of the new economy and what the average American worker has to offer. In a 2011 report, The Undereducated American, Georgetown University professors Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose provide a strong argument that America will need a dramatic increase in the number of individuals with college degrees within the next decade. This increase in college graduates, according to Carnevale and Rose, is not only needed to help sustain the nation’s economic growth but will also help reverse the 30 year trend of growth in income inequity.

However, with the downturn in the economy over the past six years, we are once again reminded that a college degree alone is not a complete guarantee against economic challenges or underemployment. Economic growth and viability cannot solely depend on education. Nonetheless, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the greatest predictor of personal income and employability for Americans still is, and will continue to be, their level of educational attainment.  Continue reading

Qualities for a Strong Online vs. F2F Teacher: Are They Different?

Joseph Chianakas80By Joe Chianakas

[Note: This article first appeared in ETCJ as a comment on “Online Learning 2012: Six Issues That Refuse to Die” (12/29/11) on 10/22/13. -Editor]

Improving education and instruction, whether it’s online or F2F, is all about the quality of the teacher. It goes without saying that a bad instructor will create a bad environment, in either setting. A great instructor will have a positive impact on students, no matter the environment. So the questions I would add are: What are the characteristics of a strong educator? Are there different characteristics for the online instructor compared to the F2F instructor?

What are the characteristics of a strong educator? Are there different characteristics for the online instructor compared to the F2F instructor?

A good online instructor must be well-organized, must create a solid structure within the CMS, and must be active and involved with the students. A good F2F instructor? Well, it’s similar, right? So what are the differences?

I think it helps to have a strong personality in the F2F environment, and for me, it’s that social interaction that I enjoy the most about teaching. I build rapport with my students, and I think that makes them enjoy class more and, thus, learn more. It sure makes me enjoy my career more.

Can we do that online? Many try, but it’s not quite the same. Then I wonder: So am I selfish? Do I just want to enjoy my work more? Maybe.

I do know without a doubt that teaching online has enhanced my F2F classes. It has improved my organization, my rubrics, my instructions, and much more in the F2F classroom. It’s easy to sit down and talk to someone about a topic or assignment. It’s significantly more challenging to clearly articulate strong discussion topics and assignments when teaching online.

I really enjoy thinking about these questions. I want to be the best educator I can be, no matter where I’m teaching. And I think it’s important for people to know that we can all learn from one another — that there is value in reflecting what we lose or gain in either medium of teaching. I want to keep asking questions like these and those in the article, and I want to get better at what I do without insulting anyone’s teaching or teaching preferences. Let’s simply strive to improve.

‘Teaching Digital Natives’: Difference Between ‘Relevant’ and ‘Real’

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Review of Marc Prensky’s Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, Corwin Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4129-7541-4.

I picked this book up because, as I have mentioned before, I worry that as a teacher educator I am educating today’s teachers for yesterday’s students. Although Prensky has some interesting insights into today’s and tomorrow’s learners, the concept he is presenting is not new and he admits this. What the book does offer, however, is specific ways in which today’s learner is different and some specific ways in which teachers can address these differences.


Throughout the book, Prensky encourages the teacher to see their students differently, as partners in learning. This concept is very similar to what is known as student-centered learning, problem-based learning, constructivism and many other progressive models that were developed in the 20th century. Prensky asserts that today’s students are not less able than previous generations but that their tolerance and needs have changed, and what and how they learn is different from students in the past. In the introduction, he makes his view very clear: “They want ways of learning that are meaningful to them, ways that make them see — immediately — that the time they are spending in their formal education is valuable, and ways that make good use of the technology they know is their birthright” (p. 3).

For Prensky, this immediacy is one of the keys to understanding today’s students. Technology allows them to participate in real ways in life across the globe, whether in something as serious as the events during the “Arab Spring” of 20111 or as trivial as voting on “American Idol.” He goes on to assert that teachers do not necessarily have to become experts in technology but that they need to re-imagine their pedagogy so that the student themselves take responsibility for their own learning using the technology they are so familiar with and so fond of.

By “real” he means immediately applicable to their lives. This is where technology can come in and make a difference.

As a teacher educator, I know that the notions he presents are not new. However, one of the points Prensky stresses is the difference between “relevant” and “real” — and that caught my eye. I have always been concerned with ensuring my students’ learning is relevant for them and the students they will be teaching. Prensky says that relevance is not enough. By “real” he means immediately applicable to their lives. This is where technology can come in and make a difference. Rather than only reading about historical events and watching videos about them, they can take virtual tours of many places, participating in or even creating simulations.

If a space launch is coming up, they can compute everything from budgets to payloads. They can use Skype to talk to real scientists about real-world problems. They can participate in urban planning projects for the future to help them think about and plan for the future they are going into. While these ideas are not really new to any progressive/constructivist educator, the reminder that students may have ways and means to accomplish tasks that the teacher may not have imagined is worth keeping in mind.

1 Jean-Marie Guehenno, “The Arab Spring Is 2011, Not 1989,” NY Times, 21 Apr. 2011.

Sugata Mitra, MOOCs, and Minimally Invasive Education

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 TED Prize, reminds us that, as educators, we may be so consumed by teaching that we ignore learning, that there’s a fundamental difference between teaching-centered and learning-centered. Mitra is his own best model for his vision of education, or SOLE, for self-organized learning environment. SOLE is a more formal school-based version of Mitra’s earlier hole-in-the-wall (HIW) street learning environment. Both, however, are grounded in his theory of minimally invasive education (MIE).

Mitra is, by training, a physicist, but by temperament, a self-organized learner. The heart of his gift is curiosity, and his scientific training provides the rest. He didn’t begin by studying teaching. Instead, he studied learning. He placed a web-connected computer in a kiosk in a Delhi slum, left it on, invited children to play with it, stepped away, and watched. The question, simply stated, was: Can students learn without teachers?

Hole in the wall

He was amazed to learn that, yes, they can. They learn individually and in small groups, and they teach one another what they have learned. Out of his observations, he drew implications, and the most important is that both teachers and computers are technologies, or media for learning. That is, children can learn from either or both. With this awareness, he realized that in cases where schools and teachers are scarce or unavailable, computers could suffice. The question that remained, however, was: What does this mean, if anything, for traditional models of learning that rely on schools and teachers?  Continue reading

An Online Physical Education Class

[Note: The following was first posted in the ETCJ listserv on 25 March 2013. It was prompted by a discussion in the WCET listserv on “a new online theater course” earlier that morning. -Editor]

It can actually be surprisingly easy to create effective online courses in the “trouble” areas. More than a decade ago the school I directed had an online physical education class. People would pooh-pooh it as ridiculous, and then after I described the content, they would usually say, “Wow! Can I take it?”

A lot of the course was academic, teaching concepts related to fitness. Students started the class with a fitness test. They set goals for improving their fitness, and they set a personal path toward those goals. It was possible that no two students would be doing the same activities. They had periodic tests along the way to check their progress, and they then adjusted their goals and their plans appropriately. There was a final test to see how they had met their goals, and they had to write a reaction and a self-evaluation. What they ultimately learned was how to apply principles of physical fitness to their lives for the rest of their lives.  Continue reading

Don’t Blame Teachers for the Poor State of STEM

[The following is a response to colleagues’ comments, in ETCJ’s staff listserv, re the need for change in the way science is traditionally taught. The discussion was spurred by the 2 Feb. 2013 report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence,” by the Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. -Editor]

You have to remember, I got thrown out of schools for doing all of the things that we talk about that are going to be the future. I worked with the White House. The principal called me in and said, “You can’t do this technology stuff in Arlington Schools if you want to stay.” That was not a choice to me. Teachers who did what they were told are still probably working. I was not what the schools wanted, an innovator using technology. You are preaching to the wrong person.

I can’t demonstrate my skills right now. I don’t have a place to do it. Tracy Learning Center in Tracy, CA, is where I worked to help establish advocacy. My benefactor died.

Nysmith School in Herndon, VA, and a few other schools and projects do what I love. NCLB took the steam out of STEM, the science out of the classroom, and the focus away from what was called SMET, now STEM. NCLB took me out of the classroom. I will always remember the discussion.

I was with people who are STEM evangelists in the Nysmith School, which I visited in the NIIAC times. We as a council visited the school back then. Both of the schools are not mainstream. Tracy School is a charter school, K-12, mostly minority kids, very minority. Because the school has a longer day, with another month in the school year, it has to be a charter school. We had a plan.  Continue reading

More Than Morale at Stake: Teachers in the U.S. Need to Take the Lead

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

(On 21 Feb. 2013, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, ETCJ associate editor, shared Valerie Strauss’s “U.S. Teachers’ Job Satisfaction Craters — Report” [Washington Post, 21 Feb. 2013] in our staff listserv. In response, I posted the following comment, which I’ve revised for this publication. -js)

Thanks, Bonnie, for sharing these stats. With teacher morale so low, the outlook for U.S. schools is bleak. For me, the elephant in the room is the impact of poverty. As a nation, we can’t continue to blame teachers for the consequences of poverty. We can’t expect them to resolve the causes of poverty. This is and always has been a social issue — not a pedagogical one.

What’s the answer?

For me, reading between the numbers, it means we ought to stop pushing highstakes testing and the common core. We need to allow teachers to do their job. They’re trained to determine where their students are and where they could be in terms of their classes, and for each student and each class, the profiles vary widely. This “diagnosis” is not only academic. In many if not most cases, it includes affective factors. Thus for variable portions of their classes, the teacher’s challenge may be motivation, attitude, rather than academics. For example, in writing instruction, the hurdle may be pull rather than push. How to attract students to writing may be the primary question — not how to push them toward earning higher scores on a standardized test that purports to measure writing competence.

To generate pull, teachers may decide to put their red pencils down and work with the language that students bring from their homes and neighborhoods. It may not be pretty in terms of common core standards, but it’s the reality. Preliminary goals may be to simply get students to enjoy writing and sharing their interests and concerns, in their most intimate and affective language. Giving them personally meaningful reasons for learning to write may be the fundamental pull that’s necessary to gradually incorporate the pushing of our beloved standards. We must find ways to recognize and reward teachers who are able to pull, to motivate, to change attitudes rather than simply move the needle in standardized tests.  Continue reading

The Future Is in Team Learning

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

The Total Learning Research Institute’s Space Explorers model of team learning emphasizes full participation of all of the members whatever their individual skills or knowledge may be. The five foundation principles of team learning are:

  1. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  2. Walk the talk.
  3. Respect and value other team members’ ideas and contributions.
  4. Be part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
  5. Hang together, not separately.

Team Learning can be applied to any educational level from preschool to graduate school and can be used to model principles that are used in many professions and businesses. It is famous for its use in NASA missions. Everyone on the team contributes to the overall objective. Teams often first define the objective or problem to be solved.

"Taking education to new heights..."

“Taking education to new heights…”

Team learning happens when a group of students work together to coordinate their efforts toward meeting a specific goal. The team uses the skills and talents of all its members to reach a specific goal. It not only meets the team goal, but it also meets the personal goals of its members.  Continue reading

Evidence Approaches, Language Teaching Online, Literacy Skills, Parent Support for Tech


U.S. Education Dept. Offers Tools for Evaluating Ed. Tech by Sean Cavanagh from Education Week (12.28.12)
The US Dept. of Education has released a draft (Expanding Evidence Approaches) of a proposed framework for administrators and teachers to use in evaluating educational technology. This research-based framework aims at helping educators make economically wise as well as educationally sound choices.


Language-teaching firms: Linguists online: Technology is starting to change language-learning from The Economist (1.5.13)
This article focuses on two language firms and how they are using technology to teach languages. Berlitz, one of the oldest language teaching companies, has sold off its publishing business. Bought out by a Japanese firm a few years ago, it has been a little slow getting into the language teaching technology market. Rosetta Stone, which recently went public, is moving away from the boxed sets of CDs to an online platform which is more expensive to operate but more flexible for learners.

How to Get Parent Support for Tech Use in Class by Jennifer Carey from MindShift (12.31.12) at KQED (original 12.14.12).
Sometimes parents do not understand the role that technology can play in learning. Carey suggests some practical tips on how to engage students and parents in technology-assisted education. Communication is key to this process.

How to promote literacy skills in the digital age by Laura Devaney from eSchool News (12.19.12)
Many apps that are available for teaching literacy and reading skills to younger students fall short in helping them develop strong reading skills. A report (Pioneering Literacy in the Digital Wild West: Empowering Parents and Educators) commissioned by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading looks at a wide range of apps and makes recommendations for educators.

Pioneering Literacy

Babson 2013 Online Education Survey Report Released

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, co-directors of The Babson Survey Research Group, Babson College, MA, announced this morning the release of their 2013 report, Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States.

The authors describe their tenth annual survey as an independent and “collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board” that is generously supported by Pearson and the Sloan Consortium.

In their announcement, they include some highlights:

  • Over 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year.
  • Thirty-two percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Seventy-seven percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face.
  • Only 30.2 percent of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education — a rate that is lower than recorded in 2004.

After their 2011 report, I published a review, “Sloan-C’s Definition of ‘Online Course’ May Be Out of Sync with Reality” (22 Jan. 2012), in which I questioned the survey’s definition of “online course,” which, in my opinion, is impractical and ultimately self-defeating. The 2013 survey retains the same definition. The explanation also remains the same: “To ensure consistency the same definitions have been used for al[sic] ten years of these national reports.” Since the authors claim that their report is independent and that Sloan-C’s role is supportive, criticisms, if any, should be directed at Allen and Seaman. In their closing, they make this clear: “We welcome comments.  Please let us know how we can improve the reports at”

The Sad State of Teaching Thinking in Our Nation’s Schools

[Note: This article is a response to Harry Keller’s “Need More Software Engineers? Teach Thinking Skills Better” (ETCJ 11.29.12). -Editor]

I usually do not disagree with Harry. But I can tell him that he has no idea of the weaknesses of math and science in the grades where students begin to think about careers, hobbies and joining clubs. Education is a voyage of discovery. Some people never invest out of boredom or inadequate opportunity. They may be seduced by the media, but for things other than education and learning.

We also live in a world that supports entertainment and sports over academic performances for the most part. We glorify sports at all levels and also the entertainment industry most of which is very shallow. The news hardly reflects anything of importance of a thinking nature.

Education is like fashion. It depends on the whim of the politicians in Washington and the local school leaders. And there is no punishment for mistakes like those of the No Child Left Behind era when those of us who were teaching thinking-based learning were pushed into using test-based evaluation and modifying anything innovative, creative or science-based.

I went to Catholic schools where we were tested in the beginning of the year and the end of the year so the legacy of who was teaching well or not teaching well stopped at the source, the teachers from grades 1-to-8 who did the work and did the teaching.We did not have PE or science. I hate it that I missed the opportunity to grow into loving science until after my formal training. Thank god for museums and museum educators and courses for teachers. I had the Smithsonian as a learning playground.

We have in the US this testing that purports to measure a whole year and it starts in midyear, February in many instances, when in fact there are chapters and levels of knowledge still to be taught. I have been told that the statistics make up for the fact that we have not taught subject x, but I do not believe it.  Continue reading