1. OSG Teacher Spotlight - Carrie Steakley (by onlineschoolforgirls)


  2. Time to Tinker

    Last year, my colleague Lorri Palko and I developed a six-month long blended professional development experience designed to help schools create comprehensive plans for online and blended learning.  Thirty-five schools in four regions participated in the program last year.  This year, we will work with more than one hundred schools in ten regions around the country.

    The program is structured with six months worth of online course work and two in-person workshops.  During the first in-person workshop, I am often asked what I think is most essential for independent schools to do in this field.  Every time, I answer: start tinkering.

    I know that this advice flies against the traditional operation of independent schools — we want to study and contemplate change.  And, this inclination comes from a good place — we want to make sure that we are offering the “best” education possible to our students and for our families.

    Today, with our understanding of brain development evolving and with the options for pedagogical change through technological advancements increasing, “best” is a moving target.  

    Schools that have been experimenting, trying things out, and tinkering are finding out that the benefits of doing so are not always the ones that are sought from the outset — they are finding unexpected positive outcomes.

    In the August 2013 Scientific American, Rob Lue, the Richard L. Menschel Faculty Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard, chronicled his journey with online education.  Lue was one of Harvard’s early pioneers in online education — creating an online course for the first time more than a decade ago.  Then, Lue, a molecular biologist and HIV/AIDS expert, saw online education as a way “to combat the many misconceptions surrounding AIDS in the public mind.”  That goal could be accomplished, but Lue found online education could do more:

    Online classes are not just about sharing educational materials via the Internet; they are also about developing new ways of teaching based on those materials for both on-campus and online audiences.

    Lue argues that success in developing new teaching methods is a direct result of tinkering and experimenting in the field:

    Underlying all these exciting efforts is the awareness that experimentation is key and that we do not yet know how to best harness the enormous positive potential of the online revolution for on-campus learning… Indeed, institutions of higher education must engage with this process of exploration if we are to develop effective new models that broaden access to high-quality educational content while sustaining and indeed growing the in-person structures that support the joint enterprise of research, scholarship and teaching.

    In our work with independent schools, we have found that some of the early “tinkerers” in online learning (schools that started tinkering two, three, or four years ago) are finding that their approaches to curriculum and teaching are changing (increasingly at a fast rate).  These tend to be the schools that experimented with flipped learning three years ago, that have developed some of their own online courses, and that have “blended” class time with online course work (to the point where some “seat time” is eliminated).  Over the next number of years, as independent school faculty tinker and experiment, and as we learn from practitioners like Lue, our teaching practices will change and new ideas will emerge.  But, however they change and however they emerge, it seems that the schools that have been experimenting and tinkering will be able to adopt and adapt quickly, while those who wait for one “best” practice to emerge before ever engaging, may be waiting, and waiting, and waiting…

  3. Brendan Burns is in the “Teacher’s Spotlight” this month.  Hear his thoughts about engaging girls in online classrooms.


  4. Place of Strength or Place of Fear?

    I’ve spent the last week out in California visiting a few truly wonderful schools and attending and presenting at two conferences: the OESIS and the CAIS Heads and Trustees Conference.  The OESIS was a gathering of independent school leaders to talk about approaches to online learning. The group heard from some of the true experts in the field, including Michael Horn and Mark Milliron, and from a number of practitioners (like myself and my friend Michael Nachbar from the Global Online Academy).  Over the weekend at the CAIS Heads and Trustees Conference, the conversation was more varied.  Sessions on data analysis, business practices, and marketing were mixed in with sessions on character education and community building.  

    What stuck me as interesting is that at both conferences I heard more pessimism than normal (perhaps more than I have heard before, save the 2008-2009 school year).  There were many people at both conferences who were not just worried about the future of independent schools and the independent school business models, but downright scared and fearful.  For those of you who know me or read this blog, you know that I generally share concerns about the long-term sustainability of our operating models.  For me, that concern was primary catalyst to become engaged in online education, change jobs, and become involved with the National Business Officers Association as a board member.  However, I am also a person who cares deeply about independent schools, what they have to offer, their communities, the personal relationships they foster, and deep care for good teaching and learning.  What I have started to see develop (and which was readily apparent at both conferences) is that there is a growing number of people who are willing to not just change the business model but also compromise the character of independent schools along with it.

    There are tough questions and problems that schools are grappling with right now, and the financial pressures that schools are dealing with will likely not get better any time soon in many communities around the country.  We should look to new possibilities for teaching and learning; we should figure out ways to be expanding our communities; and we should take hard look at current resource allocations and be willing to make tough choices.  However, as we do so, I think that we’ll be better served by operating out a “place of strength” rather than a “place of fear.”  This past week, I saw lots of folks approaching challenges from that place of fear.

    Online learning is a field in which it is easy to see how a difference in approaches plays out.  Schools operating from a place of fear worry about “being left out of the game.”  They see online learning as a potential cost savings tool or revenue generating tool.  They see that resource allocation change and a handful of universities, for-profit companies, and schools generate new funding streams.  They look to engage in the field quickly, and likely think of online education as a potential “silver bullet” to solve financial concerns.  On the other hand, schools operating from a place of strength look to see how they can further their mission through engagement with online learning.  They work to expand opportunities for students and build community in new ways and forms.  And, they hold true to an independent school model of valuing personal connections as an essential element of the learning process.  Financial concerns are on their mind and are likely mitigated, but the primary focus is following mission and holding true to core beliefs.

    For years, some of the wisest voices in our community have argued eloquently that independent schools operate best when they maintain a dogged focus on mission.  I believe that this could not be more true as we explore opportunities with online education.

  5. OSG Teacher Spotlight - Jennifer Webster


  6. More Students Take Online Courses - Faculty Seem to be the Last Skeptics

    The Sloan Consortium has released their annual report on the state of online education in colleges and universities.  Not surprisingly, online education continues to increase both in terms of students taking for-credit courses and the number of universities becoming more involved in the field.  Key findings include:

    • More than 6.7 million college students took at least one online course last year, an increase of 570,000 over the previous school year (and 32% of all college students)
    • 2.6% of universities are now involved in MOOCs, with another 9.4% actively planning to be
    • 77% of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face
    • The proportion of chief academic leaders that say that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy is at a new high of 69.1%

    Perhaps the most surprising finding (on the face of things, at least) was that:

    • Only 30% of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education - a rate is lower than recorded in 2004

    While it might be surprising to see a declining rate of support from faculty for online education, another research report (from Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group) gives some insight as to why this is the case.  They found that:

    • 80% of administrators viewed online education with more excitement than fear, whereas only 42% of faculty felt that way
    • 66% of faculty members believe that the learning outcomes for an online course are inferior or somewhat inferior to those for a comparable face-to-face course; and yet, for faculty who teach at least one course online, this number drops to 39%

    Experiences of colleges and universities suggests that faculty who engage in online education are both more positive about online education overall and supportive of greater moves into online education, whereas those that do not see it fearfully (and potentially as a threat to their positions).  The lesson learned for independent schools is that as they engage in online education it will be increasingly important to help faculty  have the opportunity to engage in online learning themselves.  It will not be enough (though may be a good start) to support individual pioneers, and may require (depending on the culture of the school) faculty to engage.  

    In my work with the Online School for Girls, I have seen some anecdotal evidence of great success in schools that have offered (or even required) faculty engagement in online education — through professional development or teaching courses themselves.  And, it is certainly the case that the most engaged independent schools in online learning are the ones where faculty members have experienced online education (teaching or taking) the most.

  7. Our November Teacher Spotlight focused on creativity… Charlotte Evans explains how online students can be inspired to be creative.

  8. OSG Teacher Spotlight for October - Jennifer Adams


  9. Listen to the Kids

    This post is also located as a guest post on the Introit blog: http://introit.typepad.com/

    We know innately in independent schools that relationships are central to the learning process.  That is something that we have done well for decades and centuries — and, not incidentally, something that we should not lose sight of as independent schools move into work with online learning (as Michael Nachbar and I noted last year: http://www.onlineschoolforgirls.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Online-Independent-Schools-OSG-and-GOA1.pdf).  And yet, do we really listen to our students voices about the relationships forged in classrooms?  We hear teachers describe it.  We can sometime witness it (in classrooms, on our playing fields, and in our lunchrooms).  But, what do the students actually think about their relationships?  Certainly, our students have something to say— the proliferation of websites like ratemyteachers.com attests to that.

    The Atlantic wrote about just this topic in their October 2012 edition in “Why Kids Should Grade Teachers”: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/why-kids-should-grade-teachers/309088/2/?single_page=true  The article focused on new research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the importance of student voice in the evaluation of successful schools:

    [Student] responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

    Students were better than trained adult observers at evaluating teachers. This wasn’t because they were smarter but because they had months to form an opinion, as opposed to 30 minutes. And there were dozens of them, as opposed to a single principal. Even if one kid had a grudge against a teacher or just blew off the survey, his response alone couldn’t sway the average.

    Last week, I was speaking to a Board of a school in Connecticut about online learning.  Before my presentation, there was a presentation on a recent parent satisfaction survey done for the school.  After the presentation was complete, one Board member asked the researcher whether it was worth having a student satisfaction survey and whether other schools were doing such a survey.  The researcher (one of the absolute best out there) replied that it was certainly worth thinking about, but that he did not know of a school that was collecting regular feedback of this type.

    After the researcher was complete and before I took over the microphone, I pulled him aside and told him that in the future when he answers that question, he can say that he knows of a school that monthly asks for student feedback and uses that feedback as part of our faculty evaluation process and the school’s commitment to maintaining a “growth mindset”: the Online School for Girls.

    Now I admit, maybe because we run an online school we figured from the start that student surveys would be as essential for us as it is for the Head of School to walk the halls in the middle of the day or greet students when they arrive on campus in the morning.  However, early on, we decided not just to use student polling data for the purpose of gathering a sense of student engagement, but also as part of ongoing professional conversations with our faculty.  And you know what surprised us, the teachers wanted that data too!  They never really heard from students on the topics that we were polling on: how their classes met the pedagogical approach of the school; how their courses were organized; how much time students were spending on their course; and how easy it was to communicate with their teachers and how approachable they were.

    This corresponds well to the reporting in the Atlantic:

    Patricia Wilkins… received her survey results about two months later. She’d been teaching at the school for more than a decade, and had seen a lot of reforms come and go…But she was curious about the survey results… As she looked at the data in a small conference room during a planning period, she was quiet. Then she smiled. “I’m highest on Care. That’s what I felt, but I didn’t know that they felt it.”  Nine out of 10 of her students said they liked the way their teacher treated them when they needed help; that was high compared with the average response from kindergartners nationwide. Her students seemed to think she challenged them, too, which was reassuring. Still, only half said their classmates stayed busy and didn’t waste time. “This is very helpful,” she said, nodding.

    What we have found is that a combination of student feedback, administrator feedback, self-reflection, and close attention to adult contacts in our consortium’s schools has allowed us a fairly complete picture of our classrooms, student performance, and student success.  When I was a division director at a great independent school in Maryland, I always felt like I was missing an important element in determining success of our teachers.  I met with parents often, had good long conversations with faculty members themselves, made myself a presence in classrooms and in grade-level events, and talked to students all the time.  The funny thing now is that I can’t do half of those things in the online environment and yet my Academic Dean and I feel like we have a pulse of our classrooms better than we ever did when we were present in the schoolhouse.

  10. OSG Teacher Spotlight: Victor Ortiz