Best Practices

I enjoyed both readings this week. The Michigan Virtual study supported my belief that a good virtual teacher is very similar to a good face to face teacher. I can see that the time used by each type of teacher would be divided up quite differently.  The face to face teacher spends most of their teaching day actively teaching the lesson to different groups of students.  The online teacher is not doing the day to day teaching so much of their time is spent in evaluating student work. Both teachers still need to plan their lessons and the face to face teacher still needs to evaluate their students.  The time each teacher spends daily is probably about the same… it is just how they use that time.  I especially enjoyed reading the teachers comments in the article. There was a statement made by one of the Michigan teachers… “The teacher has to make sure they are logging in at certain times every day, they have to make sure they’re checking certain areas of the course, for example, the message area, organizing the discussion board, having grades set, and sending grades back to students” I think the flipped classroom and blended learning teachers probably have an even more difficult time as they need to check the online resources as well as plan and teach the daily lessons.

Every teacher needs to give feedback to their students whether it is online or on paper. I gave an online assignment a few weeks ago that had my students simply comment on a video they watched on Schoology.  I have to admit that it took me a lot longer to grade their responses online than it would have on paper.  But for some reason while I was grading the online student responses, I was inclined to give more feedback.  Maybe it was the ease of typing the comment to the student that led me to give more feedback than I usually would.  The nice surprise was that some of the students responded back to my comment and that led to a discussion with individual students that I am pretty sure would not have happened with the paper version of the assignment.  I was able to respond to a few students and let them know that we could carry on a more in-depth conversation when I saw them in class.  I can see how the online teacher would have to spend considerable time providing detailed feedback to students on a daily basis if they never had the chance to see those same students in class.

Another Michigan teacher commented that “When the instructor doesn’t respond at all … the kids lose their drive for excellence because they don’t feel that they are working toward impressing anyone. So, the communication is really important and in particular when a student asks questions, Michigan Virtual requires a 24-hour turnaround during the week.”  I think that often even students in high school will work harder for a teacher they can relate to. If you do not give that positive feedback to students they can lose interest and drive.  The responsibility to respond to a large number of students in a 24 hour period would be somewhat overwhelming to me.

Another rather depressing statement made by a teacher …. “The longer I taught online, the less students shared with me and confided in me and that worries me because that tells me that they are getting used to the idea that I turn it in, I get a grade, I walk away and I’m done.”   I would also worry that with a purely online course, it would be next to impossible to develop the same type of teacher – student relationship that the face to face teacher enjoys.  The topic I am currently covering in my AP Chemistry class has a fairly large online component.  They have podcasts and tutorials to watch as well as some online questions and homework.  Then we have the time together in class to explore topics to a greater extent and to do labs that support their learning.  I think that having the flipped classroom gives me the best of both worlds.  I am looking to improve my presentation of online material to make it more effective and interactive.

I would also disagree with the idea that there are no discipline issues with online learning. When I had the duty last year of watching a group of online students, many of the students did not use their time very effectively, they slept or were on their phones…etc. I assume they were not very successful in their online classes, but just because they were not bothering other students with their behavior,  does not mean that there were not discipline issues.  How do online teachers deal with students that do not do their work?  Confronting my students face to face is every effective. Can you be that effective with students online?  I guess classroom management is difficult for all teachers, both face to face and online.

I found the information provided in the NEA article very informative. Many of the skills of the online teachers match those of face to face teachers.  But one skill that online teachers must have really stood out… “Because online communications may lack the full array of visual and oral cues that help listeners interpret speakers’ messages, it is important that online teachers be sensitive to problems of misinterpretation, and that they are careful to use an appropriate online tone in course design and course delivery. Moreover, they should be able both to model an appropriate tone, and to guide students toward an appropriate tone when they stray” I would think that this would indeed need to be an important skill for the online teacher.  As face to face teachers we have the ability to use our voices and facial expressions and gestures to communicate with students.  It must be challenging to do the same in an online class where you never see your students.  I tend to joke quite a bit with my students and I am not sure how this would come across online… or even if I would feel the desire to joke with students I had never actually met.  I imagine the suitable face-to-face practices might not always translate to good online teaching practices.

I am committed to being a better teacher as a means to stimulate both my thinking and that of my students.  I am also committed to making my students become active learners, responsible for their own instruction and learning.  I believe that the only real way to come to understand a subject is to actively participate in learning it (as we are doing in this class).  I truly believe the following: we learn by example, we learn by doing, we learn by creating our own meaning, we learn through discovery, we learn from our mistakes.   I love the idea of adding online learning to my teaching; I just want to make sure that it helps to increase the depth of learning for my students.



Digital Learning

I found this week’s article Keeping Pace very informative. There was a lot of information in the article that I want to go back and explore when I have more time.  Initially the online experience was provided mainly for students that had health or behavioral issues, for credit recovery and for home-schooled students. There has been a big shift in the digital learning focus in the last 15 years.  Instead of focusing mainly on students with behavior issues and credit recovery, online learning is now focusing on providing additional courses for students.  Students now have the opportunity to access more Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes while still attending their regular school.

The supplemental online courses are the foundation of the virtual schools. These courses are beneficial to students that wish to remain in their local school but also want to take advantage of courses that are not available at their schools. Virtual Virginia is going to pilot a “full-time” online course. The pilot will offer all of the required courses for grades 9–12, while the student remains enrolled in their local school.

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the iNACOL website.   iNACOL is a nonprofit organization that is seeking to transform education as we know it.  I was particularly drawn to the following statement on the Our Work section of the website:   “New learning models have the potential to dramatically improve student outcomes by providing high-quality, scalable education opportunities. These models optimize and personalize education, ultimately improving access and equity for all students.”

 After clicking on the link to find out more about these new learning models I found a great article: iNACOL’s New Learning Models Vision.   This short article discusses the powerful promise of blended and online learning as a means to transform the educational system.   The goal is to enable higher levels of learning through a competency based approach. There was a discussion of technology-based models that can allow student performance data to be collected and then the instruction can be differentiated and tailored to the needs of the individual student.

 Under the Resources Heading I was captivated by the topic of Blended Learning. I believe that blended learning is part of what I am trying to accomplish with my flipped classroom.  I downloaded the PowerPoint of the webinar A Day in the Life of a Blended Learning Teacher. The webinar followed two teachers through a typical day in a blended classroom. One teacher was a 7th grade teacher and the other was a high school science teacher. The presentation focused on the following topics:

  • How to personalize the teaching for students (e.g. room arrangement, teacher interaction, communication with students)
  • How to use data on a daily / weekly basis to personalize learning for students
  • How to use a variety of technologies to help students access course content
  • How to interact with students (e.g. grouping, via course management system, email, in person, etc.)

The blog I chose to read,  Education Transformation: From One-Size-Fits-All to Student-Centered Learning was under the blended learning tag. The author believes that blended learning is a shift in the instructional model towards a more personalized learning experience for students. Blended learning combines the strengths of both the classroom resources and the online resources.   She also believes that the blended learning design encourages greater teacher–student and student-student interaction. The author goes on to say that the most important part of blended learning is the element of student control. The model allows for increased student-centered learning. One statement the author made really stuck with me, “Building on competency-based instructional designs, blended learning should ensure that failure is not an option and offer immediate interventions when a student is not demonstrating mastery.”    I love this statement!

After reading through the webinar presentation and the blog I was really inspired by what these teachers were doing in their classrooms.  While I have been working for the past several years to develop a flipped classroom, I am now getting really excited by the idea of a blended classroom.  I am excited to explore more Blended Learning resources on the iNACOL website!

Course Project – Topic

I plan on developing an online module focusing on gas law chemistry. I will be using Schoology as my LMS.  I teach 3 sections of honors chemistry and this is subject matter that all chemistry students are required to master for the SOL.  I think this will be a topic that will really allow me to take advantage of the online/hybrid format.  There is a math component to the topic that I would like to explore with online resources. The subject also has some real world and historical applications that I think will work well for discussions.

hot-air-balloons     hindenburg-disaster

There are a large number of resources available on the internet for the gas laws, from virtual labs to simulations to tutorials. This is one of the topics in chemistry that can be effectively explored by using animations and simulations since the topic is very conceptual in nature.

Students often struggle with the gas law concepts because they have difficultly visualizing matter on the molecular level.  Having access to multiple online simulations ought to allow the students to develop a deeper understanding of the concepts and help them to develop better visual models.  Hopefully I can then get some good student discussions going.

I am not quite sure about the time line at this point, but I am thinking the module will be about two weeks in length. Two weeks would cover the entire topic, so I am not sure I can get all of that done, but I would like to try.

Not all of the student work will be done online.  I am imagining a hybrid module where students will work online with the concepts and math and in class for the hands on laboratory experiences.  I have laptop computers in my classroom so selected online assignments and virtual labs will be done by groups or pairs of students in the classroom using the laptops.

My main area of concern is my ability to create the online social presence. The students currently work very well together in the classroom and lab, but will that translate to the online module?  I am not sure how I will be able to successfully create that component of the module.   I can see that this will be an exciting learning experience for me!

Community of Inquiry??

After muddling through the article by Garrison, Archer and Anderson, I could not help but feel a bit frustrated by all of the “educationese” that was being thrown at me.  I was really feeling pretty simple minded and I really just wanted to find some nice clear definitions of the terms cognitive, social and teaching presence. There was one clear statement in the article that really stood out for me… “The main finding over the last decade with regard to teaching presence is the growing evidence as to the importance of this element. Teaching presence is seen as a significant determinant of student satisfaction, perceived learning, and sense of community” (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007, p. 163).”  Yes! Finally something I could understand and agree with!

While the article was a challenge to get through, the COI website was a very enjoyable experience.  The website does a very nice job explaining the COI theory.  I especially enjoyed exploring the Interactive Model.  The video presentation by Dr. Mark Kassel on Teaching Presence is excellent.  He clearly describes the methods he employs to establish his presence and spell out his expectations for his online students.   I particularly enjoyed his ideas about posting announcements and emails and even being redundant to get the students attention.  In fact his video inspired me to stop what I was doing and post an announcement to my chemistry students on Schoology!  I liked Dr. Kassel’s down to earth approach about communicating with the students as if you are with them in the classroom.  He also had some great ideas about creativity and creating a balance between autonomy and teacher assistance.  His simple 10 min presentation gave me the feeling that I really could develop a successful teaching presence online and left me excited at the prospect.  I think it will be these simple communications with students that can decrease the transactional distance.

So now this diagram was beginning to make some sense!


I moved onto Cognitive Presence. How can students show their understanding when they are not present in the classroom?   It was clear from watching this video that getting students to show their understanding when they are not present in the classroom is going to be a challenge.   It is challenging enough to get them to do this when we are with them in the classroom.  For me it was nice to see a science teacher trying to deal with this issue. The use of simulations and virtual labs are all exciting ideas that I can relate to and use in developing my own module.  The presenter had some great ideas on how to get students to show higher levels of thinking online.  It was evident that the online assignments will need to be carefully selected and developed for rigor.

I enjoy the process of designing lessons that I present in class and I can see that designing my online lessons will be just as exciting. I know that Schoology can give me a great platform to start building my module, but I am going to need to find other ways to increase the interactions between teacher and student and between students.  I need to delve more into the Social Presence as this is a more difficult concept for me to grasp.

In reading one of the discussion forums on the COI website,  I came across the following statement “Oftentimes, online instructors rush the course creation process by focusing more on the course content than creating a sense of human presence in the virtual online community of learners. Simply placing content on a website and expecting students to learn without guided facilitation of reflective practice activities is not the most effective way to invoke critical thinking skills in students.” I believe this is a very powerful statement and I can see how I could easily get caught up in the excitement of building the content and putting in all of the “bells and whistles” at the expense of the Social Presence.


E- Learning Generations – ds106

After reading the article on E-learning generations/MOOCs, I decided to research ds106. I had no idea what to expect and I was excited about what I found.

Digital Storytelling or ds106 is an open, online course that originated at the University of Mary Washington.  It is now offered by many other institutions. Students can join and leave whenever they want. The course is free to any and all who want to take it.

Digital Storytelling is an evolving term. The term comes from the idea people will use digital tools to tell stories in a creative way. The stories can take the form of a short story or they can involve art and photographs, video and even computer games. Since this is a relatively new idea, the definition of digital storytelling is still being developed. Basically the storyteller develops their own digital program and also participates in a larger conversation with the group. Individuals and groups can work at any time and at any pace they choose. There are daily creative assignments that students can take advantage of. Students are also able comment on the work of others and engage in discussions via Twitter and Google+.

So at this point, I still was not sure exactly what ds109 was. By searching through the site I began to see what was going on. These digital stories use a wide variety of media and I can see how they could be used in the classroom to integrate subject matter. Students can work alone or with partners or teams to create their own digital stories. Once the stories are finished, they can be uploaded to the internet and made available to a larger audience.

I thought I would give you an idea of the type of creative assignments that are provided, so I just randomly picked one…   Assignment: What’s in your toast? What can you edit into your own toast today? Upload your photo to flickr and tag it dailycreate. Here is a response given by a participant:


There is a ds106 assignment bank for visual, audio, web, writing and even 3-D printed assignments! You can search through an exhaustive list of creative assignments to share with students. There are hundreds of assignments in ten different categories. It was fascinating to just browse through the assignments and look as the creative work. If you get a chance just go and check it out

I am not exactly sure how I would use this in my class, but I can see tremendous possibilities.

Transactional Distance Theory

After reading the articles, I was struck by the different definitions of transactional distance as described by both Moore and Dewey. Moore defined transactional distance as “the psychological and communicative space” between the teacher and learner. Dewey’s definition of transactional distance referenced “the distance in understanding between teacher and learner”.  I believe that all teachers are quite familiar with Dewey’s idea of distance in understanding.  Teachers deal with this distance in understanding on a daily basis.  The distance in understanding between teacher and learner will always be there, so are we now creating even more distance between teacher and learner with online learning?

It seems to me that when we as teachers are designing online or hybrid courses we must have a comprehensive understanding of Moore’s variables of both dialog and structure. Selecting a LMS that allows for more contact and dialog between teacher and student appears essential.


To me this simple graph summed it up very nicely, even if it was only qualitative, and I am a science teacher that loves empirical evidence.  I was indeed struck by the logical and simple interaction between the two variables of structure and dialog.  By carefully choosing a LMS that allows for both good communication and the ability to adjust the structure of the course, I think we could significantly decrease the transactional distance and create a very effective learning experience.

For me the face to face interaction between teacher and student is still ideal. I am beginning to think however, that a hybrid class that uses a very interactive LMS along with a face to face aspect might be even more powerful and effective than the face to face alone.

With Schoology, I have found a very effective method of communicating with my students. The system allows me to not only send out an announcement to all of my students, but also the ability to message each student individually.  The ability to message each student privately has allowed me to get to know some of my students better than face to face contact.  The students will share concerns in writing that they might not share in person.  I have found this messaging ability to be very powerful. I need to consider how I can use this messaging function to make my current Schoology class even more interactive.

I have a YouTube channel where I post all of the videos that I create for my students.  Making the videos myself allows me to control the information that I want them to get from me and allows me to control the structure of my class.  I have learned how to embed discussion questions within the videos and then use these questions for in class discussions.  This method has allowed me to connect the online experience with the in class experience.

Of course the autonomy of the learner must be considered. Younger students might require a more structured online course while older learners would require less structure.  A balance for each group could be achieved by the instructor following the structure and dialog interaction set forth my Moore.  It might not always be possible to predict how each group of students would respond, but by using the ideas of structure and dialog teachers could work to reduce the transactional distance and create the best learning experience.

OK…. I just had to share this. A student just came up to me the library, where I am writing this blog, and reminded me to post the answer key to the homework on Schoology! Posting the key for all of my students would be something I would not have been able to do without the LMS! At the same time another student dropped by to let me know that one of the videos that she needs to watch for homework on Schoology was not working and we were able to solve the problem together….. a nice blending of online and face to face.  It must always be the feedback from students that guides our courses.



Christy Thomas

My name is Christy Thomas and I am a chemistry teacher at PHS.  In my free time I like to swim with my dog and read and travel.

I have had some experience with eLearning.  I taught an online class at the Math Science Center and I use the LMS Schoology to “flip” my chemistry class.  I want to learn how to engage my students to a greater extent in the eLearning process.

I was familiar with the educational opportunities that online learning provides.  What really surprised me in the reading was the idea that the online learner might experience social isolation. That students could feel isolated with online learning had never occurred to me.  I agree that the relationship between the instructor and the SLR is very complex.  I feel that this relationship is crucial to learning.  I am able to interact with my students both online and in person.  I am unsure of how effective I would be as an instructor if I did not have that face to face contact with my students.

I use a blog on my Schoology site and  I have had a Twitter account for several years. I had planned to use Twitter to communicate with my students, but I never really figured out how to do that very effectively. I am really interested in how I can use new technologies and methods to create an active online community with my students.


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