1989 NY distance learning pilot holds ideas for today

The DCMO-BOCES began a distance learning program in 1985.  The belief then was that distance classes were suitable only for highly motivated academic achievers, so the program offered AP courses, some of which could be taken for college credit.

In 1989, when I was the program’s coordinator,  we tried a summer session for eighth grade youngsters whose home schools predicted they would not graduate if they continued on their current trajectory.Screenshot of abstract about STAR program in ERIC database

Seventeen students at four schools participated in the 20-day, 60-hour Summer Telelearning for Academic Renewal (STAR) program. They were tied into a single class via phone lines with then state-of-the-art modems that permitted voice and data to be transmitted on a single dial-up land line. Each site had a single IBM computer, which everyone clustered around, and a speakerphone.

Blended learning, 1989 style

Roughly 90 minutes online of each day’s program was online and 90 minutes offline.

Each school site had a teacher who supervised the group at that site and taught the full four-site class during a quarter of the online time.

When one teacher was presenting, teachers at the other three sites participated in the whole-class activities just as if they were students themselves. That gave teachers a students’-eye-view of what constituted good teaching in the online environment.

Although there were many problems with technology, inadequate training, poorly defined expectations, there were some rather unexpected successes.

Team teaching benefits

Having a team of teachers sharing the teaching—and all its frustrations—turned out to be hugely important for students.

I suspect most of the students had never seen adults disagree without resorting to verbal or physical abuse. Their vocabularies were limited to the most basic words.  They lacked appropriate vocabulary for expressing frustration or anger.

In the team teaching environment, students mimicked the ways teachers interacted. By the third day of class, students were saying “please” and “thank you” without anyone having suggested they do so.

They also quickly caught on ways to express frustration without verbally attacking the person who aroused their ire. We heard them offer suggestions (“perhaps you could try—”) rather than criticism.

2 ideas that might update

Two ideas from that 1989 experience that might be worth investigating with 2015 technology are

  • Teacher teams at different locations share presentation responsibilities
  • Teachers participate along with students in the activities the instructing teacher assigns

The report I wrote about the experience is an ERIC document; however, since the original was not in digital format it is not readily available. Thanks to a very helpful librarian at SUNY Oneonta’s Milne Library who remembered how to use an ancient machine (I think it was microfiche) in the basement, I was able to print a copy three years ago.

Note 1: I retyped the ERIC document. If you would like a PDF of my retyped copy, drop me a note through my contact form and I will email one to you.

Note 2: The ERIC indexing information says the page count should be 23 pages but I have only 22. I think there should be a final page summarizing students’ responses to questions about the best and worst part of the summer program.  If anyone has access to the ERIC document ED317205 and could make me a copy of the page stamped 23, I’ll retype it and add it to the PDF I made for ERIC.