Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Disclosure: The following thoughts/reflections are not necessary the views of ISB or its community

It has been a few weeks since we were in a virtual school situation here in Bangkok. Although the flood water continues to slowly move South into Bangkok our school has reopened with no immediate threat to flooding in sight if at all.

floodingimage
SOME RIGHTS RESERVED BY MITH17

Some rights reserved by mith17The school was closed for a week, along with all schools in the Bangkok area, by the Ministry of Education. ISB is lucky in did not get hit by the floods. Not all International Schools were as lucky.I have done presentations throughout Asia on preparing for school closure as it seems they follow me where ever I am in the world. Saudi Arabia with terrorism, Shanghai with Typhoons, Bangkok with riots and flooding, and even Washington State with snow and earthquakes. Depending on the situation many times schools try to move into an virtual school situation. Here are some things that no matter why the school closes seem to be factors in having a successful virtual school experience.Blended Classrooms to Virtual Classroom is an easy Transition  Those teachers who use technology on a daily basis in a blended classroom environment have the best success when it comes time for virtual school. The technology is already in place and more importantly the students know where to go to find information and what the expectations are. The students and educators who struggle the most are those who have to try and set up the technology at the last minute….it just doesn’t work.

Virtual work isn’t Homework Virtual work is different than homework and both educators and students need to understand this. Many teachers not being trained as online educators have a hard time understanding what kind of work can be done other than just “busy work” or homework type of assignments. Creating lessons that are interactive, that are deeper in meaning then what educators are use to giving online is PD time worth spending.

Videos are Good Students like videos. They really like videos that their teachers have taken the time to make. Quick 3 to 5 minute videos (no longer then 10 minutes at the most) seem to always get high marks for students. A good YouTube video isn’t bad, but there’s something about a teachers touch that kids still enjoy.

Preparing Students for the Future

future of elearning  

Lastly I think every school should follow the lead of Idaho and require every high school student to take classes online as a graduation requirement. If for no other reason than to prepare them for the university that awaits them. The lastest research from universities shows that online classes in undergraduates is still on a very steep raise with over 500,000 more undergrads taking at least one online course last year than the year before.

According to the Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011 report, university presidents view online learning as a very significant part of their future school plans, which means more and more students will be taking classes online. The key finding in the report were:

  • Over 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2010 term, an increase of 560,000 students over the previous year.
  • The 10% growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population.
  • Thirty-one percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Reported year-to-year enrollment changes for fully online programs by discipline show most are growing.
  • Academic leaders believe that the level of student satisfaction is equivalent for online and face-to-face courses.
  • 65% of higher education institutions now say that online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy.
  • There continues to be a consistent minority of academic leaders concerned that the quality of online instruction is not equal to courses delivered face-to-face.

With the economy where it’s at, online schooling also makes fiscal sense for many families. As a university student you can take your classes and still live at home saving anywhere from $10,000 on up in room and board cost.

 

If we believe that part of our job as educational institutions is to prepare students for their future then I believe we need to prepare them to learn online.

bigmarker2
 

A couple weeks ago I was contacted by a representative at bigmarker.com about their product. I usually just delete solicitations like this but this one came at the right time. Kim and I had been trying to find a way to hold virtual meetings with our COETAIL EARCOS cohort. This cohort is made up of 24 teachers spread all over Asia which is an issue in itself. Vietnam, Thailand and China all have bandwidth issues that make connecting into virtual platforms like this sometimes difficult especially if the servers for that program are located in the U.S. That’s a long way to push a signal and then all the way back when you’re running on less than a 1MB connection. You loose quality at best and most of the time you just loose the whole connection.

 

bigmarker
 

Earlier this week we connected to 13 of the cohort members and bigmarker worked perfectly! Here are some of the key points that have me so excited about this product.

1. FREE
A conference room can hold up to 300 people. That’s the largest free conference room that I know of. It can be public or private and people do not need an account to join a conference.

2. Specific Server Location
This is a HUGE one to me. When you set up a conference you can actually choose what region you want to host your conference in. For our gathering I was able to choose Southeast Asia. I would guess their servers are sitting either in Hong Kong or in Singapore either way the connection was fantastic and helped teachers in countries with low bandwidth to connect at a speed that allowed them to push video.

3. Open Mics to All
One feature that I didn’t realize I would love so much is that more than one person can talk at a time. Unlike other services where you have to push a button to talk and then give the mic to someone else. Everyone’s mic is always on making it much more conversation based rather than lecture based. The moderator still has permission to mute everyone or certain people if they would like.

4. Up to 10 simultaneous webcam connections
Now it might actually allow more than 10 but I was told that after 10 the quality starts to fade. We had as many as 8 web cams going during our session on Wednesday and it worked great. Amazing how seeing people changes the nature of communication. Everyone was clear and the audio synced up nicely with the video. 

5. User customizable conference room
Each user once they connect can customize their own conference room. You can move the windows around and arrange them the way that works for you the learner.

6. Simple
Bigmaker.com is still pretty new there aren’ t a lot of bells and whistles which I actually enjoy. Simple to use, simple to navigate. You can upload a presentation or an image but really it’s about the conversation which is why we get together in the first place. I hope as they continue to build the software they keep that as a key concept.

Overall I’m finding it to be a simple piece of software that does exactly what it’s suppose to do. Connect people to have a conversation. Here’s hoping that it stays free.

One of the best conversations I had at NCCE was about the new virtual high schools that are starting up in in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. I have to say I was surprised to learn that Spokane School District had started a virtual school and it was gaining momentum in Washington.

Spokane School District started the virtual school in 2005 (SVL) as a way for “alternative” students to take course, gain credit and graduate. As of late it looks as though they are changing their focus from not just alternative students….but all students. Not just all the students in their district…but all as in all of Washington.

There are two ways a student can pay for the courses. They can either have their state allocated funds sent to SVL to pay for their course, or they can pay out of pocket. In a down economy there is more than one way to make up fund deficits…and ‘stealing’ FTE funds from other schools is a way to do it.

School is about being Social

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Michael Thompson talk last year in Shanghai and I’m looking forward to his talk this year to teachers and parents in Bangkok. Dr. Thompson tells parents and teachers what we should already know.

Why do students come to school?

  1. It’s where their friends are
  2. Because they have to

and it’s in that order as well. The majority of kids do not come to school to learn….they come because that is where their friends are, that is the ‘hang out’ that has been around for years.

But what happens when those two reason no longer exist? What happens when kids can be social online and do not have to go to a physical location, like school, to ‘hang out’. Then the option to take classes online presents itself whipping out reasons #2.

Why do students go online?

  1. It’s where their friends are
  2. Because they can learn there

Word on the street is that there are some districts big and small who are loosing a significant amount of students, and therefore funds, to this and other online schools.

When the fundamental reasons of why schools exist is all of a sudden replaced, that leaves schools in a difficult position. No longer do students have to come to school to ‘hang out’ and now they don’t have to go there to learn either…where does this leave schools? Where does this leave teachers who do not know, or refuse to learn to teach online?

I have a feeling virtual high schools are going to continue to see growth in America and beyond. If I can take credits ahead of time (paying for them out of pocket, and therefore graduating early), or use my FTE funds to pay for my online learning and not have to wake up until 9am what’s the down side?

Stop for a second and think like a 15 year old. The only downside I see…is you still have to get out of bed…but only far enough to reach the laptop.