Meeting My Heroes

Meeting my edugeek heroes this week. Yesterday I spent two hours listening to Chris Dede’s panel of Edtech superpowers talk about Augmented Reality. Today I shook hands with Henry Jenkins and Craig Watkins while listening to James Paul Gee deride propensities for ignoring evidence in favor of assumptions.

If I collapse it is not due to lack of happiness and hero worship.





Educational Theorists

In researching my doctoral core paper and eventually my dissertation I need to spend some time examining the various education, psychology, and motivation theorists out there. To give myself a forum for, and synthesis of these theories I have started this project page. Posts relating to this topic will be added here on a regular basis as I become more familiar with the original theories.

Current list of theorists I plan to examine: (links lead outside the blog – eventually I will add links to posts relating to each theorist.















Online Learning: Class Size Matters

  In regular classrooms teachers and administrators have long struggled with issues of class size. Teachers feel they can provide better instruction and individualization in smaller class environments and administrators appreciate the efficiency of resource use that occurs in larger classes. Both groups can draw on a variety of research studies to back themselves up but generally smaller class sizes win out in face to face instruction as the preferred learning environment. Feel free to find your own research studies to support your position – my position is this – a class between 10 and 23 students tends to work really well for me.

Recently I posted concerning my view that online learning needs some serious revamping in some cases. Today I picked up the September issue of the International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning and found a study that supports one of the things I argue for in online learning – smaller class sizes.

Check out Mingshu Qiu, Jim Hewitt, and Clare Brett’s research study, “Online class size, note reading, note writing, and collaborative discourse” for more information. This group from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto provides evidence of how class size impact learning online. Their findings suggest 13 to 15 students as the optimal class size for graduate level course work.

While I do not know how this correlates with K12 learning environments I find the numbers extremely appealing as a constructivist online educator. If I worked with even 15 to 20 students per section in a course I can see many opportunities to increase student interactions that would allow for greater social construction of knowledge. As with any group collaborative experience the greater the number the more likely you are to have students who become overwhelmed and quietly hide themselves from participating. On the other hand, 15 students can construct a courteous community of learners much more easily.

Contrast this with courses where I had upwards of 50 students assigned to one section. In one course the quality of student writing and my own responses devolved dramatically from those courses where I worked with twenty students or less. I actually had one course of 160 students, another of 60+ students and four courses of between 25 and 45 students as well as four courses of 18 or fewer students. I should have taken better data on my larger classes but their size alone led to a dramatic reduction in my ability to quantify, even subjectively, their progress.

The study suggested minimizing overload effects by dividing students into small groups for larger classes. This works fairly well but exists as a function of the learning environment (LMS) and whether or not this tool supports discussion groups of this type. Often I found the user-interface confused students and led to even less success though this is a topic for another post. Still – when it worked it really helped positive student outcomes.

The best thing about this study was the pedagogical recommendations at the end. I use many of the items discussed in all my online classes but I feel that a teacher new to online learning would benefit from reviewing these items before planning their course. Of course teachers already teaching online would benefit as well – probably even more than the new-to-online instructors.

Check out the full article:

Online class size, note reading, note writing and collaborative discourse

Why Leave Online Learning?

Many people know that I think online learning has a unique promise. Unfortunately I also feel that online learning at the K-12 level does not work as the sole source of learning for most students. Over the last year I had great experiences where online learning provided students with their first school successes. Students with immobilizing social phobias, bullying that turned their local school into a fearsome destination, and lives so mobile that they never stayed in one place for longer than a week while attending school were finally able to succeed. Simultaneously I struggled to engage students making a choice between education and familiar distractions. They sat at home, usually alone, choosing whether they should answer my call, log onto their computer, or even wake up.

Online learning works for students who are motivated and can see the educational benefit. Those who benefit the most are extremely well organized and highly motivated or have family members with those traits supporting them.

Schools are investing quite a bit of money into these programs. To get an experimental idea off the table one method employed by schools is to trial it as an after-school program or with at-risk students. Herein lies my dilemma. “At-risk” students are by definition unlikely to respond to a program that requires high levels of motivation and organization. So how do we test curriculum? How can we proof an idea when the motivated few set a curve (simply by reading material and completing assignments and succeeding on assessments) and then data gives a wide gap in the middle before landing with a swath of incomplete work.

I worry about the rigor of the work and yet at the college level students learn as much from online studies as traditional classes according to the Department of Education’s review of research studies. Some of those studies indicate that blended learning environments provide the best method – combining technology with traditional environments. Due to this last idea I have decided to take some time and reassess my professional goals. Whether I land in a regular classroom and work towards understanding this or continue online as an instructional designer I do not want to teach solely online. There needs to be a balance.

There are other issues as well. Households earning at the “lean” end of the economic spectrum tend to not have broadband access to the internet. Those at the other end tend to have much higher rates of broadband access. Minorities tend to use mobile devices and that segment of the technology market is growing so perhaps mobile learning environments will provide the best avenue for education. (Economics and Statistics for the exact figures).

So right now I am thinking I need to work on a plan that brings mobile learning environments into traditional settings. One problem – how to convince the teachers that they want their students to have their cell phones on during class?




Game MOOC on Hold

Original image from – I decided to do something a little more entertaining instead of my normal swirling oil paint effect. The Game MOOC game with so many bricks and layers and each layer easily isolated itself from the rest of the MOOC that I thought this was appropriate. One of my favorite things about this MOOC in comparison to others was that once you dove into a community of practice you could almost ignore the mainstream discussion in favor of sharing ideas with content specific co-educators.

The Game MOOC is closing up shop for a couple weeks right now. As with past MOOCs lead by Kae Novak and other trustees of the Center4EduPunx I feel that there will continue to be conversations amongst those who really enjoyed the learning so do not feel you need to pause (in game or in learning) until things resume. Keep the conversations going! I know the little micro-GameMOOC group I have been spending time with will continue to share ideas for the next several weeks. Our conversations may move more onto the Edmodo Games group just to have a central area to share from but they will be ongoing!

Teaching at Portland’s Dart Program – Over

Students Sitting in Class

I grabbed this Creative Commons Licensed image as it cracked me up. The teacher or student at the front of the room appears to be tied up. Sometimes I wondered if my students, whom I did not have permission to photograph, thus the CC image, considered tying me up at any point. I hope not.


The Last Days of School – Summer at Least

Today was my last day at Portland Public’s DART program. Usually I try to post resources and other things for teachers but this summer was a bit rough and I find myself feeling extremely reflective. Normally I would avoid a reflective post so I apologize to all those who dislike overly meta-cognitive educator thoughts.

This summer provided a huge challenge. Portland’s DART program serves students who for one reason or another do not live with their family and instead reside within a residential program of some form or other. Basically this means I spent time working with kids who’s behaviors do not fit within the norm that a teacher might expect at a regular school.

Other educators I spoke with felt that teaching during summer “vacation” was crazy enough but that to teach students with such a high level of need would burn me out of teaching. Instead this experience revitalized and recalibrated my enthusiasm for teaching. When I first began working with students after finishing my undergraduate degree I worked with students experiencing these same types of struggles in New York. Having a chance to work with students like this again re-motivated me and helped me examine my role during the school year.

This last year I worked for a virtual school. I worked hard to connect with students at this school and developed some really positive relationships where I was able to guide students to some extraordinary outcomes. At Portland’s DART program I made those same connections but they happened so much quicker and something about the face to face environment fed my excitement for teaching so much more than the online environment. Due to this I decided to leave my position with the online school.

Right now I am not sure whether I committed career suicide or not. Schools are facing continued budgeting issues, few are hiring and applicant numbers seem huge! Also I seem to have a reputation as a great online teacher. This is true of course – with no modesty whatsoever I can say that I bring personality and draw a strong sense of community among my online students. I also bring these same qualities to the brick and mortar classroom and refuse to allow myself to develop the reputation as “that online teacher” when I can do both.


Things I would love to do in a regular classroom:

  • Help students view issues and ideas from many points of view.
  • Share my passion for learning and help students respect themselves, the learning environment, and each other.
  • Encourage students to accept their thoughts and ideas as unique attributes that make our learning community stronger rather than rejecting their personal potential.
  • Explore our roles as citizens today in this digital era and our future in whatever form that may take.
  • Discover the greatness each student possesses and help them care for and forgive themselves and others when they are not as great as they can be.
Of course I worked to accomplish these things in the online environment with varied success as well :)

Today, at the end of the school day, I distributed letters to each of my students where I identified what I felt was their strongest talents or skills. As part of that process I realized that I was able to delve more deeply and learn more about my students than I was able to with online learning. That personalization really makes a huge difference in my ability to assess student growth – not the academic growth which is important for planning curriculum – their actual development as a person with individual needs and cares. This makes a huge difference to me as the teacher and whether I feel positive about my teaching experience or not.

Both learning environments offer a lot for teaching and learning. I think some of the blended and flipped classroom models take advantage of the positives from both and I hope to have the opportunity to practice them as I did during my student teaching and community college teaching years.