Tag Archives: online learning

Online Learning: A Dual Perspective

As an online educator, I have seen the power of online learning from the perspective of a teacher.  I have seen online education be a vehicle for bright students to move quickly in through concepts that they have mastered so that they can go more deeply into concepts that interest them.  I have seen online education be a vehicle to allow students who are involved in rigorous competitive activities such as gymnastics, snowboarding, or horse jockeying stay in school while competing nationally and globally. I have seen online education allow students with challenges meet their goals of obtaining their high school diploma.

Online learning is powerful.

I was reminded again last night about the power of online learning for my own children.  As they sat in the live session with their teacher from New Zealand, my heart was so happy.  My children have used online learning off and on for the past six years as needs have come up with scheduling or class offerings (mostly math).  Our son spent a year and half as a full-time online student before he returned to a seat-based school due to the extra-curricular options available to him and his desire to have daily in person interactions with other kids his age.

Online learning can be full-time or part-time.

Often when people hear of online schools, they only imagine the full-time students who work from home in their pajamas.  (An aside: not all full-time students work from home in their pajamas, but it is a nice benefit – as my son.)  However, many students enrolled in a seat-based school take online classes as part of their educational experience. 

Reasons for this include the following:
    • Scheduling issues
    • Limited course offerings at the seat based school for a variety of reasons (funding!)
    • A desire to expand on the high school experience through electives
    • A desire to pursue outside activities

    By the way – all students in Minnesota are eligible for part-time online classes.  The school where they attend can reduce their course load by the number of courses they take online. They law states that students can take up to 50% of their courses online, and their enrolling school can sign a waiver to allow them to take more.  Click here for more information on this in Minnesota.

    The challenge for full-time online students is in person interaction.

    As part of my job as dean of students at an online school, I go to court when students (who stayed in their pajamas but never logged in and did any work) have had attendance issues.  (An aside: In Minnesota, students who attend the publically funded online schools remain subject to attendance and truancy laws.)  I obviously cannot share the details of the hearing because of privacy laws.  However – after the hearing – I had a conversation with the county attorney who asked about how online schools overcome the challenge of person-to-person interactions.

    It is a challenge!  However, in the same way that homeschoolers have stated that they can overcome the challenge, students in online learning can.  It takes dedication on the part of parents to help coordinate these efforts, and many online schools encourage it through field trips and giving course credit for service learning (volunteering).  While our son spent his time as a full-time online student, he volunteered with his elementary teacher and helped younger students with reading.  It was a great experience for him!

    Online learning needs to be embraced.

    Although challenges exist, these challenges can be overcome through planning by parents and online programs.  Students will continue to seek online learning as a way to challenge them and support them through their K-12 experience.  It opens doors that the traditional model of school cannot, but traditional models are learning and becoming more flexible.  As online schools become more accountable by state departments for student attendance and testing, they will continue to gain more credibility.  The workload is not lighter, and it is not an easy way to do school.  In fact, most attendance policies require that students do more than simply log on – they need to make progress.  This adds a layer of rigor which is needed to maintain credibility.

    What have readers heard or experienced in terms of online learning?  Have others had children take online classes? If so, what is your impression of the programs?

    ps: Tomorrow will be Day 1 for a weekly webinar series for parents of online learners at my school. I am so excited.  If you want to ever watch one of these, let me know.


    Other posts about online learning from this author:

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    Attendance: Common Sense?

    In my job, I am confronted almost daily with the need for common sense when we approach attendance.  The idea of attendance in an online school is a completely foreign concept for most people, and it was for me until several years ago when I jumped into teaching at an online school.  While at Wolf Creek Online High School, I participated in the development of attendance policies for the online world.

    As I have worked in this now for several years, I have refined my thinking, have shared the concept around the state of Minnesota and in other states (most recently in Michigan – so fun!!!), and have started to think outside of the online world and into the seat-based world.

    attendance pyramidSchool attendance is important, but we often go too far and lack common sense in our application of this value.  As one can conclude from the graphic to the left, I firmly believe in a correlation between school attendance and students passing their classes which eventually leads to graduation.  As this is the ultimate goal that schools presumably have for all of their students, it follows easily, then, that school attendance should be expected from all students.  But notice that, in addition to attendance, access to curriculum is also part of the pyramid. This is there because of my use of this pyramid in the online world.  Accessing curriculum is attendance in the online world.

    But it is not in the seat-based world.

    My latest and greatest question is this: WHY NOT?

    With more and more schools using course management systems such as Moodle, BlackBoard, or Desire2Learn in order to house curriculum, lessons, and videos, accessing curriculum (which used to equate to the butt-in-seat of classroom) now can be done from a sick student’s bedroom while the student recovers from pneumonia.  This completely destroys the concept of seat-based attendance because accessing the curriculum is no longer dependent upon the student being in the classroom.

    As options expand for accessing the curriculum, our definition of attendance and truancy will need to change.

    And it should.

    And when it does, horrible grievances against students will be avoided.

    Within the past year, I have jumped into the Twitter world (mostly due to being able to disseminate my blog posts).  In that same time, I also read Think by Lisa Bloom and then followed her on Facebook and Twitter.  While she and I would likely disagree on some things (and we would both be ok with that as long as our stances can be clearly thought out and defended), she and I do agree on many things such as the need for literacy, the need for an emphasis on education, and the need for many to start thinking!

    Last night, she shared a link on her Twitter-feed that sent me through the roof!

    Click here to watch and read the news story about Diane Tran, the 11th grade honor student who was sent to jail for missing too much time in class.  Instead of dropping out to support herself when faced with a difficult situation, Tran chose to stay in school while also working a full-time job.

    There are many questions that I have about this situation:

    1. Why is she supporting herself and two siblings?

    2. Why are her parents not involved?

    3. Why has no school social worker intervened and kept this student from going to court?

    4. Why has no one talked to this student about taking an online class instead of the first hour class that she often misses due to her life’s schedule?

    5. Why is she still getting good grades when she misses so much class?

    There are solutions to the issue that did not need to involve the student paying a fine, going to jail, or even going to court!  The courts should be used when students and families are not able to cooperate with the school in a reasonable fashion.  They should not be used to punish honor students who are doing just fine in their classes even when they miss the classes.

    I have said and will continue to say it: our system needs an overhaul to get it caught up with the times.  Our laws are still based on the education system of fifty years ago when schools did not even have fax machines.  The last revision of the truancy laws in Texas occurred in 2003; two years later, the Texas legislature passed the law allowing for virtual schools.  Like most other states across the nation, these two lines of thinking did not intersect.

    But they need to do so.

    Moving all of our schools to progress-based attendance will solve issues like that of the case of Diane Than.  She is but one student who has been caught in the cross-fire of attendance and truancy laws being outdated and poorly applied.  The intent of these laws are to engage all students in learning which would lead to successful lives.  When we lose of the intent of laws in the midst of applying them without common sense, we do the students of our nation a disservice.

    This is why I do what I do.  I want to see these laws applied correctly to the students and families who need them.  And I want to see students and families to whom these laws no longer apply be freed from the shackles of old thinking.

    What do you think?

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    Exploring Minnesota–Testing Style

    It is testing season in the Minnesota education world. Children and teachers alike dread this time.  Kids do not like to take tests – especially ones that take a long time. Since all kids test at difference speeds, there is frustration that abounds.  There is so much to this, but that is not the point of this email.

    As an online educator, testing season brings specific challenges. Although the curriculum my online school is entirely online, testing needs to be done in person in a specific location.  My school sends out testers to locations all around the state to test kids on site.  We try to make it so that no student has to drive more than two hours for a testing site on the first round – that was last week.  We are now on round two for those who missed last week; their drive might be a bit longer.

    Minnesota is a huge state – about 360 miles from east to west and about 407 miles from north to south.  To put this into perspective for my Rhode Island relatives: 149 Rhode Islands would fit into Minnesota.

    I have been on the road since 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday to support this state-wide testing effort. It just so happened that some truancy court cases coincided with some needs that we had.  I spent Tuesday dealing with International Falls. If I had taken my passport along, I could have visited Cananda!  On Wednesday, I headed to Grand Rapids. And today, I will am in Two Harbors.

    I have had a great week!!!

    I have seen wooded areas, wide open areas, lakes, lakes, and more lakes.  And I have crossed the Mississippi River more times than I can remember.  I even saw a little snow bank!  I have seen lighthouses, birds of prey that I cannot identify, and border patrol officers.  I have seen signs for wild rice, maple syrup, and organic veggies.

    While watching (on TV) the Red Sox and Twins battle it out last night, I saw a GREAT tourism commercial for Minnesota.  Please check out the video by clicking here – it is so great!

    I love Minnesota. I love its variety of landscape, its wonderful people, and its excellent roads – even if I wish the speed limits on the non-interstate roads were faster. I love this state.  And I love my job which has allowed me to Explore Minnesota a lot in three days!

    Happy Thursday!

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    Tangent: Drive-Truancy-Support Network

    Oy vey!  I love to drive; I really do…but this month is hitting an extreme.  For my job as dean of students at an online school, I do a bit of traveling to attend court for students who are truant.  Today I am in Hibbing, MN.  Where is that?  Google it.  Next week, I will be in Thief River Falls, MN.  And the week after that, I will be in International Falls, MN – almost in Canada!  Fun stuff…and tiring.  I left my house this morning just after 6 a.m. (not on time, by the way), and I was thankful that my maps were correct in their estimation rather of how long it takes to get there.  Today is a long day.

    How can a student be truant in an online school?

    Great question!  It is the question that consumes most of my working (and lots of other) moments.

    Being truant in an online school is easier than in a traditional school.  Do not be offended by this, but truancy in a traditional school can most easily be avoided by simply showing up.  The student does not have to do work. The student does not even  have to stay away.  If the student’s butt is in the seat, the student is in attendance.  In an online school, attendance is defined as the progress that a student makes.  This still does not ensure that the student will pass or do quality work, but I do believe that it is one step closer to a decent requirement over the butt in seat requirement.

    libraryWhat are you up today? 

    My office is the Hibbing Public Library. 

    No cell phones!


    I can honestly say that if you are not thinking about how you can be a part of student’s life, you should consider it.  Students need support networks.  Every student that goes to court has a situation that makes my heart sad.  I am not asking everyone to be everything for every kid.  I am asking you to consider how you can be part of a network…how you can be one part of a fence that goes around a kid to support success.  Maybe you are good at something…like encouraging the student to dream…

    What do you think?  Who was your support network? How was that network important to where you are today?  What is the small thing you can do to be a part of something great?

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    The Law is the Law

    When I attended Jamestown College and received my teaching degree in English, I never considered that my path in education would lead me to pouring over Minnesota state statutes.  In fact, I thought I would teach grammar and literature until either I turned blue or my students did.  It did not take me long to realize that the classroom was no place for me.  As much as I love to read, motivating the unmotivated in terms of reading, writing, and correct grammar and punctuation really left me unsatisfied.   Classroom management seemed tedious, and I often felt like I had 150 children instead of my own two.  I felt badly for few the students who wanted to learn when I could not wrangle in the many who did not.

    Over the past six years, I have blazed through the online learning world with a passion that I did not know I had.  Even though for the better part of those six years I still had to teach a bit of English, I put up with that for a while because other things on my plate were fun.  Helping students get into college, arguing with army recruiters that an online diploma from a certified online learning provider in Minnesota had come under more scrutiny that one from the nearby high school and therefore warranted my student a spot in the infantry, and essentially creating a framework for truancy in the online world gave me life.   In my most recent employer change from Wolf Creek Online High School to Minnesota Virtual High School, I have learned the difference between a small online school and a very large one.  Problems are multiplied.  There are more students who need more of the same.

    The past six years have also provided me with quite a lesson in Minnesota state statutes as they pertain to all things education.  Whether truancy law or charter school law, concurrent enrollment definitions or PSEO age restrictions, open enrollment permissions or independent study funding – I have learned a lot.  Much of that is due to my the director at Wolf Creek.  She positioned me to be on committees, working groups, and even a drug court in  Chisago County.  I represented the school, but more than that I was learning about Minnesota education law.  And there is plenty – and at times conflicting items – to learn.

    Although all of this has served me quite well professionally, the area where I find myself the most thankful is in educating my own children.  Minnesota is Pandora’s box of educational opportunities.  From the time a child starts kindergarten, there are choices and decisions to be made.  Who needs a private school when we have Minnesota education?  There are district magnet schools that focus on the arts, science, math, or computing, charter schools that promote language immersion programs, online schools, and even project based schools.  This is all in addition to the typical traditional school district that resembles my own Grand Forks Public School District back in North Dakota.

    As children grow older, there are more opportunities, more literature to sift through, and more decisions to be made.  In the current charter school where I work (Minnesota Transitions Charter Schools), there are more than ten programs alone – each with a different focus.  These choices overwhelm parents, and I even hear some them say, “What if I choose poorly?”  I understand this feeling as I have struggled with the same question with my own children.  What if I choose the wrong school district, program, or emphasis?  And, of course, there are other things to consider – school size, programs offered such as International Baccalaureate, advanced placement classes, or pre-professional training such as EMT certification, sports, theater, choir, language…oy vey!  I get tired just thinking about it, and I work in this system!

    The one thing that I have valued most as I maneuver these “halls” of choice in Minnesota is that the law is the law.  Schools will try to limit the number of students who attend college during their junior and senior years (a program called PSEO – post-secondary enrollment options), but they cannot limit that number except for what is allowed in law.  They will try to tell students that they cannot take up to half of their coursework online with an online provider in Minnesota, but they cannot limit students except for what is allowed in law.  Schools may try to keep that seventh grade student from taking advanced math available online as a high school credit, but they cannot.  The law allows that seventh grade student to take advanced classes as long as there is evidence to support that the student has the ability to do it.

    In the most recent Minnesota legislative session, changes were made in the areas of PSEO, concurrent enrollment (ie: College in the Schools), and early graduation incentives.  I am thankful that I am on a listserv where I find out these changes as they occur.  This past week, as I worked with Josiah’s counselor to set up his schedule, I brought up the newest legislation changes as it would benefit my son greatly.  Most schools are not even telling their guidance counselors about these changes, and that is a tragedy for those younger, more able students who would benefit from these programs.  In fact, the website for the Minnesota statutes has not been updated.  I had to get the newly approved language sent over to me from the department of education.

    The law is the law, but if no one knows about it – what good does it do?  The intent of the lawmakers who authored the bill that became a law (check out the Schoolhouse Rock video for a refresher course on how that happens) was that students would have more opportunities open to them.  However, if no one is telling students and parents about these opportunities, what good does it do?  While I am thrilled that I know what I know and that it will benefit my son (and possibly my daughter…still waiting to hear back from her counselor!), I am a little annoyed that others may not know about this.

    And this is not the only instance of this…online learning, PSEO, alternative learning, open enrollment, charter schools, homeschooling – each of these areas have laws that pertain to them but they get pushed underground in the muck and mire of traditional schools.  I am not against traditional schools.  Beth goes to a traditional school and does very well in it; however, she has taken advantage of some of the options allowed in law so that she can personalize her education.  That is what these laws really are about.  They seek to undo the cookie-cutter approach to education because they recognize that we are not all one shape.  If that were the case, these laws never would have existed.

    Oh my – I have stood on my soap box!  The bottom line is that I want others to know about the choices out there so that all students in Minnesota can seize what the law permits them to seize – an education that differs from their siblings if that is what is best for them.

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    Paperwork – Just Details!

    School is about to start in Iowa and North Dakota; I am so thankful for two more weeks of summer vacation here in the Minneapolis area.  Most Minnesota school start after Labor Day, but Minneapolis Public School District #1 and the charter schools within its boundaries have received approval to start on August 29th.  Thank goodness for at least two more weeks!  I have so much to do as an employee of MTS/MN Virtual High School, but what is really pressing on me today is the paperwork and details of our son’s fall education and activities.

    I went to Patrick Henry High School this morning to pay my $60 fee for Josiah to participate on the cross country team.  When he comes back from working at Village Creek Bible Camp in a few weeks, we will have to buy him some new running shoes.  The fees and purchases are not what bothers me, though.  It is the paperwork!  I completed three forms in preparation for this morning; they all had similar information on them with one or two details on each that differed from the others.  Without one of the forms, he could not participate, so I had to complete all three.  I love my son, I want him to run on the cross country team, but I hate filling out forms.  An act of love = filling out forms.

    I came home and proceeded to tackle the next stack of forms which also relate to Josiah.  When people ask our son where he goes to school, he takes a deep breath, gauges how much to say, and then details how he is enrolled at Patrick Henry High School but does all of his schooling at home online.  Depending on how interested the person asking appears, he may continue.  He would then explain that this year, he will take Latin from one online provider (MN Virtual Academy High School), math from another (NorthernStarOnline), and the remaining classes (including a potential favorite – Forensic Science) from yet another online provider (Socrates Online).  In 2010-2011, he took classes from Minneapolis Online and Wolf Creek Online High School.  If you have questions about online in Minnesota, Josiah might just be your resource.  All of these online providers operate out of Minnesota in some form, are certified to provide education to Minnesota residents, and – thanks to online learning law in Minnesota and MPS district waiving the 50% limit for him – access public education funding so that the courses do not cost us a cent.

    The paperwork – some online while other parts in actual paper form – is daunting.  And I have worked in online education for six years!!!  Fortunately, one of the pages is identical for all three providers, so I simply copied it.  All of this prepares me for a meeting tomorrow with Josiah’s guidance counselor who seriously looked like I had run her over when I stopped into her office this morning.  The school decided to pass the ninth grade class from last year onto a new counselor just as I had taught the prior counselor how this all worked.  I quickly gave the new counselor the “fast fact” speech and told her I would be back tomorrow morning with all of the paperwork.  She said that would be just fine.  I think I saw her hold her head in her hands as I left her office.

    It seems that every aspect of our lives involves endless amounts of paperwork.  Most of it duplicates other paperwork.  Imagine the trees that have died in the name of paperwork…or just in the name of online learning in Minnesota!  Even the 5K run/walk that my school will host on Saturday requires paperwork.  Email me if you want the form so that you can participate as well.  The more important or detailed that the item we seek it, the more paperwork that is involved.  Participation in a 5K needs one page with my signature saying that I won’t sue the school; buying a house requires a book of signatures that somehow promise that I will pay my bills to the mortgage company.

    These details walk all over us, crumble our spirits, and steal our time.  However, I doubt any of them will disappear soon.  As I closed a conversation with one of the online providers this afternoon, I made a comment that these details, though time consuming, are necessary.  He agreed; signatures on the bottom of one of the forms ensures that the school gets paid and that I do not have to foot the bill.   Most of the paperwork that we complete, whether an insurance form, a school enrollment packet, or a sign up sheet for a 5K, lead to something that alleviates our checkbook, to an exciting new adventure, or to ensuring that we have a roof over our heads.

    These details are necessary, but we do not need to begrudge the fact that we have to do them.  Instead, we can look to end and realize that the means are but a stop along the way to something else.  Saving $6,000 a year to educate my son in Minnesota is worth the thirty minutes of paperwork details.  I doubt that Josiah will think of me with gratitude as he crosses the finish line of a meet or learns some interesting fact in his forensic science class; however, as his mother, I have provided the end for him in both cases by attending to the details that each required.

    That is satisfaction enough…and it is my job.

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