Reply – Re: Topic #1: Introduction to the Online Learner
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Re: Topic #1: Introduction to the Online Learner
— by Eddie Mercado Eddie Mercado
In order to describe the current state of online or blended learning within my school, I need to give a little background about how we got to where we are and my role in our district.  We are a medium size rural school in a relatively affluent farming community.  I am our district's 7-12 ELP teacher, so I have the privilege of working with our district's highest ability learners.  When I started 9 years ago, we had very limited access to computer-related technology.  One lab for middle school, and another for high school.  Pressure on these resources was extremely high, and caused all kinds of management issues as people scrambled to secure spots to align with their curricular plans.  This was a nightmare.  Staff had to plan literally months in advance to get a spot, and then had to face the occasional situation where they had the lab, but weren't in a spot where they were ready to use it.

Advance a few years and our district took the bold (and costly) step to move to a 1:1 environment.  Despite the anxiety this caused initially in our community and school, we eventually made the transition that allowed every Intermediate, Middle, and High school student to have their own laptop.  Early learning used iPads.  This of course helped to increase the usage of technology across our curriculum, but the district struggled to find ways to make this technology compliment what was happening in the classroom.

After a few years of experience, we began to realize the variety of ways that teachers and students could utilize their computers to advance their learning.  This opened up a dialogue about what we would allow students to do with this new access and capability.  As the director for our Extended Learning Program, I was given a lot of flexibility to open up more and more opportunities for our students to pursue curriculum that fell outside of what was offered in our regular classroom environments.  I just had to demonstrate that each pursuit had a clearly defined academic purpose and would be an appropriate way to address the needs of the students involved.

2) For our school, there are limits to the number of staff and curricular areas offered for our students.  Online/Blended learning has opened a whole new world of content to our students.  Primarily, this world is open to those members of our ELP that have demonstrated a willingness and capability to direct their own learning in a meaningful and responsible way.  Self-directed learning works for some, but not for others ... regardless of their ability levels.  For the students that can handle the autonomy and responsibility required to manage this effectively, this has been a great addition to our school.  The key has been to establish clear expectations of progress and performance, and to utilize some alternative assessment strategies that allowed students to more accurately show what they are doing and learning.

3) The primary challenge we faced to implement online learning in the classroom was to find affordable and credible resources to drive the variety of learning that students were interested in pursuing.  As we started to become more familiar with what was "out there", we began to accumulate a pool of tools that students could use to build or design content aligned to their interests.  Now those tools are made available to all students that choose to follow the steps of others before them.  When new content areas are requested by students, it becomes necessary for them to start with the location of resources before they can gain approval for their ideas to make sure that they will have a academically valid and purposeful experience.

4) I found the history of online learning at the beginning of the course to be very helpful.  Understanding the way that this process has developed over time has helped provide me with some valuable perspective about how we got to where we are.  It also helped develop some appreciation for how far we've come in such a relatively short amount of time.  The other component that I found really helpful was the variety of examples of assessment that can compliment online learning.  This dramatically expanded my understanding of how to effectively capture what my students are learning while engaged in online learning.