Monday, January 31, 2005

Models of Online Learning


  • can be a student-paced “distributed” model (e.g. online modules)
  • can also be a teacher-directed model (e.g. using web or software) 
  • can be individual or class/cohort-based 
  • interaction is not necessarily real time (email, blogs, webcollabs, and discussion boards) 
  • examples include Cool Schools (student-paced) or web-based delivery (student or teacher-paced)
  • advantages: allows flexibility to match courses with teacher strengths and individual needs of users (e.g. desire to work independently and to choose when to work and contribute to discussion), a web-based delivery can be very inexpensive
  • disadvantages: requires teacher to keep track of multiple media, learners, and timing or curriculum, requires students to have some independent work skills, extra tech support time, software/consortium registration (if used) can be very expensive 

class/cohort approach; usually teacher-paced
requires video conferencing or software such as Virtual Classroom (V-class)
real time interaction (e.g. through IM or video-conferencing)
advantages: imitates a real class by bring everyone together at set times and provides avenues for real-time interaction
disadvantages: creates need for supervision and class management without ability to be “present,” ties teacher and student to specific places at specific times, requires technology to be working effectively at exact times, extra tech support time, software/consortium registration or video-conferencing can be very expensive Other “blended” models and uses of online learning
flexible software such as WebCT (used by Cool School) or D2L (which also has chat and whiteboard features like V-Class)
free products such as Moodle (see -- free open source course management system for online learning)
blends of async & sync, also of classroom & online
use of online learning as supplement, enrichment, or support of regular classroom
use of online in combination with paper-based correspondence
use of online to support diversity and learning difficulties in the regular classroom by providing additional tools for communication and understanding material Common issues • cohort approach vs individual learner approach
meeting times and face-to-face contact (scheduling concerns)
teacher delivery and prep time -- cost & logistics
quality of teaching and learning (needs research, data, analysis, evaluation); some models may take the best part out of “T&L” and replace it with disengaged “terminal” time
profile of online learners -- why aren’t they in a classroom? What needs do they have that can or can’t be addressed by various models?
union, professional, qualification, and “power” issues (e.g. school vs. district offerings and staffing, choice vs. mandated models & organization)
praxis: does the model assist, ignore, or hamper various visions connected with PLCs?

Links -- Physical Geography -- this is an example of asynchronous learning environment using free web tools Login in with user:cool and DPTS password:future -- this is an example of software-based model


No two teachers will “deliver” a course in the same way. This proposal is what I would do with a Geography 12 course, not what I think should be done with online learning in general. This presupposes that the district’s structure for online learning respects the need for teacher autonomy in curriculum design and delivery. I wish to build an asynchronous teacher- directed version of Geography 12, a course, like any other I might design, which includes the use of rich media, use of essentially free web tools, and opportunities for planned interaction submitted online. I would do this to test the online process, not to replace face-to-face learning (given the choice I would prefer to teach Geography in a regular class which is enriched with online tools). Once learning moves away from the dynamic, embodied reality of the classroom, teaching tools need to allow students to develop other skills (such as considering meaningful “discussion board” responses) rather than imitating the classroom with synthetic senses. I have some misgivings about the ability of real-time class simulations to engage learners. My concern stems partly from my experience with “disembodied” learning situations and the frustration of working on tasks “on demand” without opportunity for physical engagement. While not all learners will feel restricted by sitting down at a terminal to work on demand, as a teacher, I feel limited by the approach, suspecting that the best part of teaching and learning in the class is missing when would-be students pretend their bodies are somewhere they are not. I would sooner see students (and myself) working outside the regular timetable, self-directed in tasks and style of engagement (respecting learning styles) yet class-focused in that meaningful, reflective interaction is solicited by the teacher and students in ways that the classroom does not afford. I would not try to replicate the things I am good at which require physical presence; I would focus, rather, on making use of new student skills and webtools which are difficult to find time for in the regular classroom. Without the writing, posting, displaying and responding using webtools such as blogs and email, an asynchronous course may have some of the limitations of a correspondence course. Dreyfus writes that, regardless of model, [i]f the teacher is detached and computer-like, the students will be too. Conversely, if the teacher shows his involvement in the way he pursues the truth, considers daring hypotheses and interpretations, is open to students’ suggestions and objections, and emotionally dwells on the choices that have led him to his conclusions and actions, the students will be more likely to let their own successes and failures matter to them, and rerun the choices that led to these outcomes. (2001, p. 38-39)


  • offer two Geog 12s -- one regular class in the timetable and one online course
  • experiment with online learning by developing an asynchronous teacher-directed course using existing web-based tools (no special software purchase)
  • provide opportunities for both classes to interact online
  • gather evidence for use in analyzing success -- not necessarily to set precedents, but to evaluate the results of the model 


  • Geog 12 online is offered during the same semester as the regular class of Geog 12, but is not tied to a particular block, there are a number of reasons why it should only be run if there are enough numbers to first fill a regular class session
  • the online “cohort” has a few scheduled meeting times for orientation, field trips, and tests -- these could be outside of the regular school day
  • the teacher directs the pace and curriculum of both courses with online tools. Like the example shown in the links (Alameda’s Physical Geography Online), the instructions and course structure would be centered on a website and will also involve the use of important course textbooks
  • some of the curriculum is fixed in advance (e.g. expectations, assignment lists, course material, resources, rubrics, practice quizzes, exam review)
  • some of the curriculum is flexible (discussion of issues and content on a blog, posting of student work samples and reflections, adaptations for cohort needs, response to current events, paying out of material & deadlines to match timeline & assignments)
  • the online students and teacher interact and post work using asynchronous online tools such as email, weblogs & discussion boards, webcollabs & wikis, and websharing (documents, websites, media swap).
  • the regular class can post work in the same way, use the server’s Classwork (hand in/out) features, or work with paper
  • the regular class receives direct/live instruction, labs, demonstrations, discussion, and is invited to participate/mentor/interact with the online students using the same asynchronous tools. Video and sound may be introduced as a means of recording lessons and providing material for reflection by either group.
  • like any other course, part of the block needed for the online course involves work with the curriculum, (web updates, etc.) and part of the time involves interaction with students (blog posts, etc.)
  • like any other course, the teacher builds material and responds to an evolving cohort identity and understanding of material by adapting and revising content and methods Costs
  • 1 block in the timetable for teacher, classroom , and <30 students
  • 1 block for teacher to “teach” <30 online students (deliver, administer, update, interact, evaluate, respond with feedback, etc.) -- includes the regular demand for curriculum design
  • no new software or e-learning “seats”
  • regular tech support of teacher, student accounts, and local computers
  • potentially, new tech time if the district bans commercial webtools like Blogger (as it did with MSN) and starts to build its own service (which is never “free” in terms of tech time)
  • regular school costs associated with a class (e.g. admin & textbooks) Examples of meeting dates for online students
  • one 2-hour afterschool session for orientation
  • two field trips scheduled for Saturdays (regular Geog 12 students invited) -- could also be on a school day or a NID
  • four 2-hour afterschool sessions for unit tests
  • one 2-hour afterschool session for exam review
  • some flex time for “office hours” during prep block of designated afterschool slots when teacher is available for phone, IM, or visit Other considerations
  • some department program advertising or solicitation will likely need to be done at DPTodd (or elsewhere for online) to fill up one or more Geog 12s (similar to what is done in Science Dep’t) 
  • counsellors, teachers (especially in Socials Dep’t) may wish to become reacquainted with reasons for encouraging students to try Geography 12
  • some process and formula will need to be used to decide whether to run a regular Geog 12, an online version, or both (for example, would 40 students total be enough to run two blocks?) -- I would prefer that a face-to-face course be offered before any online version is offered at the same location, and that online course registration is subject to the same class-size logic applied to regular courses
  • in general, the district plan for online learning needs time for experiment, observation, literature review, discussion, and research/analysis -- moving quickly to support a very particular, expensive, and relatively unexamined model does not help promote online learning or public education 

Further Reading/References
“How Far is Distance Learning from Education” (H. Dreyfus, On the Internet, Ch. 2, Routledge, London: 2001) -- see attached or download at
“Disembodied Telepresence and the Remoteness of the Real” (H. Dreyfus, On the Internet, Ch. 3, Routledge, London: 2001) -- see attached or download at

Friday, January 07, 2005

What I'm reading

Right now, I'm reading Ken McGoogan's book Ancient Mariner (a biography of the Arctic explorer Samuel Hearne). While impressed with the hardship Hearne endured, and the Voltaire-inspired humanism he (presumably) displayed, I am disgusted by the brutal massacres he describes as taking place between his Dene guides and various other Native groups they encounter. I am very engaged by the narrative, although I'm guessing that McGoogan has filled in a lot of blanks with fancy and he often repeats himself. I'm O.K. when an author fictionalizes to make a story richer, but it appears that the author moves between research findings and made-up conversations with the same presumption of factual authority. Nonetheless, a very good read which makes me want to read Hearne's original travel account (Journey to the Northern Ocean.). It also has me wondering about my respect for David Thompson (explorer for HBC/NWC in Canadian West) -- McGoogan digs up some dirt on him which doens't fit with previous idea(l) of Thompson the intrepid and sensitive trail wanderer -- I actually lost some sleep over this. I'm not being pretentious here! I have very few heroes... most of them are historical figures like Thompson so I feel unsettled when part of my personal myth comes under review. BTW, I saw a first edition (1795) of Hearne's journal for sale online for only $7800 U.S.!.