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.


Integrating Life with School for Adult Highschoolers

Providing non-academic services to students, their families, and even the wider community is becoming increasingly common. Successful integrative programs seem to share a few characteristics:

  • They are developed by local people.
  • They respond to perceived local needs.
  • They are carefully planned to meet the needs of clearly defined target populations.

In rural areas, integrative programs often begin as a response to financial pressures caused by declining enrollment. Communities often begin by doing such things as putting the public library in the public school building, thereby cutting facility costs and expanding the staffs of both libraries.

In urban communities, integration is more likely to arise from a need to put support services such as health care and counseling close to the students and their families. The impetus there is to harness the power of families to improve students’ home learning environments, which, in turn, helps to keep students in school.

For example, Providence, Rhode Island, is the site of two online high schools targeting the needs of student drop outs, who now with the added burdens of jobs and  parenthood, are coming back to get their diplomas.

The Providence program limits the amount of required classroom time because its target group is juggling home, parenting, and work responsibilities. It provides laptop computers so students can access class materials at their convenience. It provides assistance in connecting with social services. And the curriculum deliberately draws connections between academic content and workplace skills.

I suspect that programs that integrate non-academic services into academic programs have a powerful impact on local support for schools as well.

[Fixed broken link 2016-01-22]

School attendance has social value

A discussion swirling around Twitter today got me thinking about school attendance.

Several people said that school attendance was foundational for school achievement. I’m sure people cannot achieve in school unless they are there, just as I could not walk on the moon without being on the moon. However, you don’t have to look too hard to find people who have become educational achievers without ever being in school. There is no cause-effect relationship between seat time and scholarship.

School attendance does, however, have one societal value that educators sometimes overlook: Showing up for school is an indicator of whether a person is likely to show up for work after they leave school for a job.

Years ago I directed an online summer program for  students who had failed at least two eighth grade classes and were seen by their school counselors as likely high school dropouts.

Each morning when I connected the program sites, there was one student who was always at her site. I’ll call her Sue, though that was not her name. Sue was not outstanding in any way, except for her reliability.

Nearly every morning after I greeted the site teacher, I said hello to the girl, often accompanying my greeting with a comment like, “We can count on Sue’s being in class on time.”

At the end of the program, when students were asked what was the best part of the program, Sue said the best thing was being praised for being on time.

The story didn’t end with her feeling good.

Sue went on to graduate with her class.

I’m sure that we didn’t teach Sue any academic content that made the difference between a dropout and a graduate.  What made a difference was discovering there was something she could do well: she could show up.

Showing up is a small thing unless you happen to be an employer. In that case, an average Sue who shows up is superior to a genius who goofs off.