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A Need for Consistent Online Education Policy

While the U.S. Department of Education has outlined recommendations for states, districts and schools in their National Education Technology Plan (2004), Kerry Lynn Rice (2006) states that only a few states have policies in place for K-12 development, and “further, (Watson, et al, 2004) found that in most cases, online learning is little understood by policymakers.”  Policy created for physical schools may need to be adjusted for online programs in order to better serve students.  There is a need not only for research necessary to form consistent policy for distance learning but best practices associated with them. This current lack of available research is a problem for policy making that is compounded by numerous complex variables that make conclusions regarding distance education difficult to make.

In his Phi Delta Kappan article, author Wayne Journell (2012) cautions school districts to consider more than cost savings when considering development of online courses, stating, “Online learning may be cheaper than traditional schooling, but it isn’t necessarily equivalent ot face-to-face instruction, nor is it an appropriate substitute in every case” for teens. Schools should not assume that a successful classroom or technology teacher will be able to transfer skills to teach effectively online. “Online structure requires a different skill set and dispositions” (Garrison & Anderson, 2003; Journell, 2008; Quinlan, 2011).

Amy Murin, interviewed by Sheila Regan (2012) of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, is a researcher for Evergreen Ed Group and reviews online policy and practice on a yearly basis.

According to Murin, Minnesota is thoughtful in its approach to offering programs online, districts are collaborating and a legislative task force is “promoting a statewide discussion.”  A 2011 state audit, however, showed that students taking online courses were less likely to finish the classes they started, full time online students were more likely to drop out and math scores on the MCA II were lower than for students in traditional school settings.

Several strategies are offered for the improvement of online classes.  Teachers must get used to using technology in different formats.  Instant messaging and virtual meetings to connect with students who use emoticons to help express their understanding help bridge the lack of face to face interaction. Building a constructivist community of trust, facilitating discussion and giving timely, caring student feedback are essential elements for student success in online learning.

A Time (2012) article suggests that teachers need to be trained to adjust to communicating without the advantage of communicating in real time.  Some schools of education and online schools have begun to teach how to instruct online.  Online teachers know that students need to be motivated to self-reflect and become independent.  Teachers also need to connect with other online teachers in order to learn from one another.

This is another article that emphasizes the crucial importance of appropriate training for the teacher and communication between teacher and student.  The courses must be planned in great detail to clarify expectations for learning.  Again, student motivation is a clear factor in whether students will be successful online. They will not succeed if they do not even “come to class,” which indicates that online classes are not a viable option for some students.  More research is needed to find out what constitutes a good candidate for online learning.

Due to scarcity of research in the K-12 distance learning realm, it is tempting to generalize research of adult learners.  It is vitally important that researchers begin the gargantuan task of collecting and analyzing data from K-12 sources not only in order to set consistent policy for improving outcomes but to screen prospective students to determine whether they are good candidates for online learning.  We are obligated to use technology advances to benefit every student in both the cognitive and social formation of knowledge to prepare them to evolve with the changes of an unknown future world.


Journell, W.(2012). Walk,, don’t run. Phi Delta Kappan 93(7), 46-50.  Retrieved from

Pandolfo, N. (2012, June 13). The teacher you never met: inside an online high school class. Time. Retrieved July 5, 2012 from,8816,2117085,00.html1#

Regan, S. (2012, April 16). Kids online: best practices for teaching and learning. Twin Cities Daily Planet.  Retrieved July 5, 2012 from

Rice, K.L. (2006). A comprehensive look at distance education in the k-12 context. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(4), 425-448.  Retrieved from


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A Summary of “Science Talks” in Kindergarten Classrooms: Improving Classroom Practice Through Collaborative Action Research

Authors Meilan Zhang, et al. focused their study on  an experienced kindergarten teacher, Sarah.  Sarah joined other teachers in her professional development program to do collaborative action research with a Problem-Based Learning model.  Their goal was not only to promote student growth but Sarah’s professional learning as well.

Sarah’s research was aimed toward answering the question of how to engage kindergarten students in deep science discussion rather than just participating in activities.  She began to have regular Science Talks (discussions) with her class in which she set a comfortable atmosphere and regular routine.  She used tally sheets to record student participation and videotaped the sessions.  She also met with peers and facilitators on a regular basis to discuss research progress.

In initial discussions students just stated their ideas but with regular practice what gradually emerged was the students’ ability to ask relevant questions of each other as well as articulate appropriate responses to others’ thinking.  Best of all, their discussion engagement and participation transferred to other subject areas.

As for Sarah herself, she found her professional growth was enhanced by learning how to deal with misconceptions (revisit and keep parents informed) and by using Science Talks as a basis for assessments and flexible lesson planning.  She was listening more and talking less with her class.

The authors suggest that since action research is “demanding and time consuming and requires a great commitment from teachers” (Hendricks 2005), it needs to be seen as relevant and useful to teachers so they should choose to do research of interest to them.  Collaboration with peers and scaffolding from mentors are also valuable components for successful action research.

This study proves that kindergarten is not too early to begin to teach appropriate academic interaction between students.  They construct their knowledge together and these discussions can be used to get students to understand the big ideas not only in science but in other subject areas as well.

Zhang, M., Passalacqua, S., Lundeberg, M., Koehler, M. J., Eberhardt, J., Parker, J., & … Paik, S. (2010). “Science Talks” in Kindergarten Classrooms: Improving Classroom Practice Through Collaborative Action Research. Journal Of Science Teacher Education, 21(2), 161-179.

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A Summary of Programming is the New Literacy

In his 2008 Edutopia article, Programming is the New Literacy, author Marc Prensky discusses the current definition of literacy “the ability to carefully read and write a contemporary spoken language” and how that definition is evolving as technology increasingly influences our behavior in everyday life. “I believe the single skill that will, above all others, distinguish a literate person is programming literacy, the ability to make digital technology do whatever, within the possible one wants to do–to bend digital technology to one’s needs, purposes, and will, just as in the present we bend words and images” (Prensky, 2008).

Prensky compares today’s proficient programming “nerds” to the reading and writing “scribes” of the past.  Rather than continuing to be the arena of a select few, the future literate person will be defined by their fluency in programming.  We will not want to hire someone to write the code that will solve our challenges; we will need to learn to do it ourselves.

Nearly all of us program devices daily; cell phones, DVRs and GPS units require us to customize to fit our likes and needs.  This involves interacting with menus and choices.  Prensky envisions computer code manipulation being used to further customize our machines.  “Most of us have problems a computer or other digital machine could easily solve for us, if only we conceived them as programming problems” (Prensky, 2008).  As programming is becoming more user friendly, rather than giving up or hiring digital natives to solve problems people could “take matters into their own hands” by using what is already developed and available on the Internet and alter it to fit their needs.  The fact that many choices are free add to the appeal.

Prensky concludes that the current generation of teachers is woefully ill equipped to effectively teach programming skills to students and students will continue to teach themselves with or without educated adult guidance. Our current goal of teaching all students to read at a tenth grade level may not be as important as ensuring that students meet the adult world with flexible programming knowledge.

Reflecting on this article’s message, it occurs to me that as current teachers struggle with the attempt to revise traditional teaching practices to incorporate important technological advances, we must understand that we don’t need to know everything in order to be effective teachers.  As teachers and students work to prepare for the future, we should embrace the idea of sharing knowledge; teachers need students to share what they know and students need teachers to allow that contribution to the learning process.  If we all learn together hopefully we will eventually educate the next generation of digital native teachers to teach in a way that will flexibly evolve as technology does.

Prensky,M. (2008,January13). Programming is the New Literacy. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from Edutopia:


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