Author Archives: kyank16

Online Learning and the At-Risk Student

Can online learning be a successful model for at-risk learners?

Early articles regarding successful online learners describe students who were motivated, self-directed, and able to “teach” themselves. These are characteristics not often associated with at-risk students.  Recently, there has been an increase in the use of online programming for at-risk students.  Is this a feasible option or are we setting students up for failure?

As with any environment, a carefully planned online program or course can optimize learning for the at-risk learner.  The online platform offers some tremendous opportunity to address some of challenges at-risk learners face.

Successful online learners report the following as some of the components of their online course that supported learner success:

1.     Flexibility

2.     Social presence

3.     Quality interaction and feedback

At-risk learners report the following as some of the aspects of a learning environment that help them become successful:

1.     Flexibility

2.     Relationships

Research also indicates that a blended learning environment support at-risk learners most effectively, as they have access to assistance as needed.

There are clearly many more factors that need to be considered when working with at-risk learners or in designing an online course than those listed here.  However, if careful consideration is given to the areas where the “characteristics” overlap, a program that will help at-risk students succeed can be developed.

Works Referenced

Hart, C. (2012). Factor associated with student persistence in an online program of study:

A review of the literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 11(1), 19-42.

Watson, S. (2011). Somebody’s Gotta Fight for Them: A Disadvantaged andMarginalized Alternative School’s Learner-Centered Culture of Learning. Urban Education, 46(6), 1496-1525.

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Action Research and “Knowledge of Practice”

What kinds of professional development activities can lead to the greatest positive changes in the classroom?  It seems that professional development activities are often planned for large groups, with little applicability to one’s individual situation or classroom.  In this article by Karen Goodnough, a collaborative action research model is reflected on through a case study of a first grade teacher. Professional development using collaborative action research may prove to have greater effects on teacher and student outcomes than other models of professional development.


Goodnough, K. (2010). Teacher learning and collaborative action research: Generating a “knowledge of practice” in the context of science education. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 917-935. doi: 10.1007/s10972-010-9215-y

This article followed a first-grade teacher who was participating in an individual action research project while sharing resources and feedback from teachers working in three different school districts, as well as research assistants. The author wanted to focus on teacher learning in this case study, as opposed to student outcomes.  “The main purpose of this study was to examine how conceptions of teacher knowledge and learning (knowledge-for-practice, knowledge-in –practice, and knowledge-of-practice) emerged within a collaborative action research community.” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 918).


As this study references a specific method of describing the relationship of teacher knowledge to teacher practice, it is important to clarify these terms:

Knowledge-for-practice: content area knowledge, important based on the idea  that “the more teachers know, the better they will teach” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 919).

Knowledge-in-practice: day-to-day classroom experiences, based on the idea that “formal and practical knowledge are viewed as separate entities”  (Goodnight, 2010, p. 920) .

Knowledge-of-practice: this is most closely related to the concept of action  research as “teachers themselves become the researchers and knowledge creators…It is strongly linked to the context of where teachers work; however is  not restricted to improving the practice of one teacher.” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 920).

Study Context

This case study was set in the context of a large collaborative action research based project that involved more than 50 teachers over a 3-year period that joined and dropped out for a variety of reasons.   The design of the project was strongly dependent on collaborative action research as the teacher enhanced their individual projects through “self-reflective spirals of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting.” (Goodnough, 2010,p.922). The teacher followed in the case study, as well as the others involved in the project, has the opportunity to meet for approximately 40 hours each year of the project for the purposes of planning, support, feedback and reflection.


The participant in this case study early in the development of her action research project recognized that there existed a “gap between her beliefs in science teaching… and her actual practice.” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 925). Her action research project then was to find a way to narrow this gap.   In the reflection regarding her process, this teacher discussed the amount of time needed to plan appropriately, share, and reflect related to her action research project. One of the key ideas that came through was that the teacher was able to modify and improve based on student and peer feedback throughout her project to improve her teaching practice. The ideas, feedback, and modifications each teacher would gather during his own action research would likely be different, but can still be used to inform one’s practice.

The author of this article focused on the “knowledge-of-practice” conception of teacher knowledge in this study.  One important implication of this was that “the demarcation between novice and expert teachers is replaced with the notion of all educators working systematically to support each other in learning and to reach shared goals.” (Goodnough, 2010 p.930).  The focus becomes improving practice for the good of the student.  Teachers play a critical role in the development of their knowledge and are “not just being given information from a policy maker” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 931.)  This promotes teacher inquiry as a viable and practical form of professional development- one that has “considerable potential to effect positive change in the lives of teachers and students.” (Goodnough, 2010,p. 933).

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Engagement in Online Learning


Engagement in Online Learning



Robinson, C., & Hullinger, H. (2008). New benchmarks in higher education: Student engagement in online learning. Journal of Education for Business, 84(2), 101-108.

As online learning opportunities continue to increase, the need to measure the quality of education provided in this format also increases.  Robinson and Hullinger summarize a survey study conducted of student engagement.  There were 225 participants in the study, each of which were enrolled in at least one completely online course. The participants attended one of the following institutions:  Oklahoma State University of Tulsa, Cappella University in Minneapolis, MN, or Northeastern State University of Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

One of the challenges in evaluating the quality of online courses is that most measures or descriptors are specific to more “traditional” classrooms.  Bucy (2003) says, “ Rather than using research to help replicate what is done in the traditional classroom, researchers should focus on identifying what is done well in the online learning environment.” (Robinson & Hullinger, 2008, p. 101). Engagement was selected as one criterion for evaluating the quality of online courses, as high levels of student engagement are often indicators of student success in traditional and online educational settings.   Specifically, the authors used specific dimensions of engagement set forth by Kuh (2001) of “ level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, and enriching educational experiences.”(Robinson & Hullinger, 2008 p.102).

The authors discuss that online course lend themselves to using the five levels of thinking commonly discussed in educational settings: memorization, analysis, synthesis, judgment, and application. The higher order thinking skills may be even more prevalent in online courses than in traditional courses. “ The availability of technology serves to increase the opportunities for higher order levels of thinking.” (Robinson & Hullinger, 2008 p. 103).  Student survey participants found the standards were high, and they had to “work harder than they thought they could” (Robinson & Hullinger, 2008, p. 103) to fulfill the academic requirements to their satisfaction.  One area of weakness in online settings related to academic challenge was, not surprisingly, speaking.  The authors suggest more thought be put into incorporating academic speaking skills development in online courses.

The second and third categories of engagement designated by the authors- Student-faculty interaction and Active and collaborative learning- showed related themes.  Feedback from faculty, as well as feedback from peers was a frequent type of interaction.  Online classrooms are commonly referred to as learning communities and the “collaborative work empowers and engages the learner” (Robinson & Hullinger, 2008, p.105) in ways that allow for application in the future. This would also allow for increased academic rigor, as described earlier.

Enriching educational experiences was the last engagement dimension the authors sought to explore.  This can be a somewhat ambiguous term.  Kuh (2003) and Avendano (2003) define this as an educational experience that “involves the development of the person to learn to work effectively with people from different background and enables the use of technology to facilitate collaboration.”( Robinson & Hullinger, 2008, p. 105).  This definition has two aspects that students identified on the survey- interactions with people and the opportunities to participate in authentic learning activities.

This study by Robinson & Hullinger sought to describe student engagement in online learning settings.  Using four dimensions of engagement, the authors found that student engagement can lead to a quality online learning experience. Generally, interaction between peers and between students and faculty increased engagement encouraged high academic standards.  Chickering & Ehrmann( 1996) say, “Learning online promotes applications to real-life situations and problem-solving.” (Robinson & Hullinger, 2008, p. 105). Authentic learning promotes enriched educational environments, which correlates to increased student success.  As Hiltz & Shea (2005) described, “ Central to the success of online education are active learners who proactively take charge of their learning.” (Robinson and Hullinger, 2008, p. 105).  This reflects a recommendation by the authors to extend studies to larger groups and to extend studies to address student engagement, but how we can seek to increase engagement.

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