Saturday, October 13, 2012

Researching multiple roles and ecologies

One of the great things of studying online is that you can work at your own pace. I have been very busy over the last weeks, getting prepared for the annual ULearn conference in New Zealand, so I had to pause for a while my VS MOOC attendance. As always, this year ULearn was a successful conference with over 300 workshops to select from! I'm now back on track with the VC MOOC course, focusing on the third topic - Research into K-12 online learning - and the question: Given your specific interest in K-12 virtual schooling research, where are questions left unanswered? Why is that question (or those questions) important?

Having a specific interest in blended teaching and learning, this is where I would like to focus on regarding this question. Blended earning is developing fast in educational providers around the world. We have many teachers implementing a range of online tools in their face to face classes, as a way to enhance students' learning experience and we also have another type of blend with online distance courses that students can take in addition to the face to face courses that their schools offer, as for example courses through the Virtual Learning Network here in NZ.

Across the literature there are a range of advantages that blended approaches involve for school students, such as increased flexibility, independent learning and enhanced collaboration opportunities. However, the effective implementation of blended approaches is a complex process with many threads connecting to make it happen (Davis, 2008). It is not only a matter of teacher, school leader and student readiness, since there are other individuals and their organizations within and beyond the school that have an important role in the effective implementation of blended approaches.

Taking an ecological perspective, Davis presented the arena of change with digital technologies, aiming to clarify this complexity (Davis, 2008; Davis, Eickelmann & Zaka, in press). The arena shows that change with ICT in classrooms depends on the schools in which they are embedded in; schools are also nested within a wider ecosystem that includes additional organizations that can impact on change with ICT in a classroom/school. Therefore, in addition to teachers, students and school leaders, there are other educational stakeholders whose roles are important in the whole process, such as individuals in professional, bureaucratic, political and commercial organizations. And as blended teaching and learning continues to grow, there are a range of roles and responsibilities in different ecologies that research needs to clarify, in order to develop best practices.

Davis, N. (2008). How may teacher learning be promoted for educational renewal with IT? Models and theories of IT diffusion. In J. Voogt and G. Knezek (eds), International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education (pp.507-519). New York: Springer.
Davis, N. E., Eickelmann, B., & Zaka, P. (in press). A co-evolutionary perspective on the restructuring of schooling systems in the digital age. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.

Are we there yet?


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Student outcomes: Shifting focus

The second topic of the Virtual Schooling MOOC focuses on the history of distance learning. It is very interesting to see that the history of distance learning goes back many years – early 1700’s – and that increasing access to education has been one of its major purposes. This second topic ends with this activity:

On your blog, post an entry where you:
1. Make a case either that K-12 online learning must achieve (a) equivalent student outcomes or (b) improved student outcomes, to justify its use in expanding access to curricula or providing educational choices.

If we look at K-12 online learning as a way to expand educational access to curricula, it is like saying that it is an alternative to face to face teaching and learning and therefore we expect it to result in equivalent student outcomes. However, K-12 online learning implementation in classrooms across the world has shown that it is an option that does not only provide an alternative way to achieve the same outcomes we can achieve with face to face teaching, but a way to achieve different outcomes.

ICT and the www have transformed key aspects of our society and it is also pushing for educational change (McLeod, 2011). Students have to be prepared for a world that we don’t know how it will be. That is why collaboration, independent and lifelong learning, reflective thinking are important skills that students need to develop today more than ever. Online education has the potential to encourage the development of these skills if implemented effectively. 

I don’t think that with online education we can achieve better results – we can achieve different results. That is why with reference to the use of online education the focus should be on improved outcomes, but in terms of quality, rather than quantity. This requires a big shift in our ideas about education, knowledge (Gilbert, 2007) and what matters as student outcomes.

Gilbert, J. (2007). Knowledge, the disciplines and learning in the digital age. Journal of Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 6(2), 115-122.
McLeod, S. (2011). Two big shifts and one big problem: The growing disconnects between schools and our digital global society. Keynote at the Learning@School 2011 conference, Rotorua, New Zealand.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Classifying online learning...?

The first topic of the Virtual School MOOC is about classifying K-12 online learning. A range of resources were cited to introduce the various definitions that have been used to describe different types of online learning. One of my thoughts after watching the videos and readings in this section was that we cannot easily classify and provide exact definitions for online learning, because there is so much variety – and it should be to my view – in the ways that schools and educational systems innovate and use online learning approaches. To me, it’s all about blending different approaches depending on different needs and objectives. That is why I think that blended learning is an overarching term that includes a wide range of approaches that can be used in combinations. And there are many possible combinations!

Some examples from New Zealand...

In New Zealand, the Virtual Learning Network enables clusters of schools to offer distance courses to their students, in addition to the face-to-face courses that their schools offer. Teachers of these courses are called eTeachers. These courses usually involve one hour of video conference between the eTeacher and the students (who are spread across different areas in New Zealand) and three hours of independent study from the students at home or at their home schools. Schools with students enrolled in courses through the VLN usually have an onsite facilitator (often called eDean) to provide additional support during their one hour of video conference with the eTeacher or the time that they study independently. This type of online learning could be under the self-blend model (Staker & Horn, 2012). In addition, teachers in New Zealand schools are implementing a range of online tools and environments in their face-to-face classes, such as Moodle, ePortfolios, Wikis and other Web 2.0 tools. This could be classified under the rotation model (Staker & Horn, 2012).

Coming back to the idea of using the term blended learning as an overarching term, in my research on blended teaching and learning in New Zealand schools I used the terms blended distance and blended web-enhanced teaching and learning to describe the above two types of online learning:
  • “Blended distance teaching and learning, referring to the combination of online distance teaching and learning (often through video conference with an eTeacher) with self-study at the school or at home (often with the use of an online learning environment for scaffold) that also involves asynchronous communication with the eTeacher” and
  • “Blended web-enhanced teaching and learning, referring to the use of online content as a way to enhance face-to-face teaching and learning” (Zaka, 2012,
Classification is a useful way to help us to understand the different types of online learning. When we speak the same language it is easier to communicate with one another and of course to improve our approaches. However, I think that having many and different definitions and classifications for online learning is amazing! Peoples’ needs are different, contexts are different, cultures are different and so are the ways that we can innovate.

I’m really looking forward to the next topics of this MOOC – the quest to Ithaca has just become a bit more exciting for me ;-)

Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K–12 blended learning. Mountain View, CA: Innosight Institute.
Zaka, P. A. (2012). Blended teaching and learning in a New Zealand rural secondary school: Using an ecological framework. Unpublished master's thesis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Participating in a Massive Open Online Course: An Introduction to K-12 Online Learning Research has given me the motivation to start my own blog. I have previously participated as a guest author in my friend Simon's blog contributing a range of articles about ICT in education. My quest for Ithaca does not begin now – I have been looking for quite a few years – but I believe that this is a good point to start sharing some reflections and resources that might be useful to others too. This will make the quest for Ithaca less of a lonely adventure...

I recently completed my Masters on eLearning and Digital Technologies in Education at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. I have a primary education background and completed my Bachelor of Education and first Masters in Science Education at the University of Athens, Greece. I worked as a primary school teacher for five years before moving to New Zealand and beginning a new and exciting adventure! I am currently working as a tutor at the University of Canterbury in the field of research and eLearning and I am also a research assistant for a range of research projects undertaken at the University of Canterbury eLearning Lab