Thursday, April 28, 2011

Investments in Digital Teaching Tools

According to Vicky Phillips, director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s College Ready program, teachers frequently express the need for more engaging teaching tools that deepen learning, allow them to differentiate instruction to students’ needs, and align with what students must know according to the Common Core State Standards. (Instructors, do these sound familiar to your needs in your own classroom?)

In response to the needs expressed by teachers, the Foundation announced yesterday that they are pledging $20 million to the development of tools and programs that approach instruction in new ways and that implement the technologies students use. New teaching tools that meet Common Core State Standards will incorporate games, the Web, social networking, interactive tests, and other digital formats.

The investment by the Foundation will benefit science, math, and language arts instruction.

With its investment in better teaching tools, the Gates Foundation is working with the Pearson Foundation, the Florida Virtual School, iRemix, Educause, and other organizations that build digital curriculum materials.

In the Foundation’s press release, Phillips said, “These new cutting-edge applications have the potential to inspire students and engage them in the way they naturally learn, while giving teachers the flexibility to be creative in their craft and customize tools to their students’ needs.”

TestOut has a very similar goal. We’re working to develop interactive tools to train students in technology and engage them in learning with methods they respond to, such as videos, hands-labs, and online exams with instant feedback.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Online Education Is Maturing

As online courses become more and more common in higher education, online delivery is not just for nontraditional students anymore. While the flexibility and accessibility of online education may have been its greatest draws in the beginning—making higher education possible for students in nontraditional circumstances—improvements in the quality of online learning are making it a desirable alternative for traditional students too.

As large universities make online education a staple in their course offerings, they’re investing in resources to increase the quality of their online courses. Professors are receiving training directed specifically at teaching online, and programs are being developed that offer only online courses.

According to Brian Burnsed at US News & World Report, experts are saying that for online higher education to become mainstream at universities, it will need to be “subject to regulation, governed by a common set of accreditation standards, and widely accepted by institutions.”

Burnsed quoted Richard Garrett, managing director at research firm Eduventures, as saying, "We're at the beginning of elite schools starting to take online seriously. They're trying to marry the online experience with the brand of the institution."

Because TestOut develops computer-based training courses used in higher education, we’re always interested in the curriculum needs of postsecondary online IT courses, and we strive to offer the highest quality in every LabSim course. Using LabSim online training, college and university students are taught IT concepts in videos and text lessons, they see demonstrations by industry experts, they gain practical experience in hands-on labs, and they are evaluated in quizzes and exams scored by the software. Professors can track each student’s progress through LabSim Reporting.

Professors who utilize LabSim for online courses, what has been your students’ experience? Are your students gaining the high-quality, postsecondary IT education they need?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Should High Schools Require Online Courses?

Some states are considering making it mandatory for high school students to take courses online. A group of lawmakers in Florida, for example, is proposing bills that mandate at least one online course in order to graduate and that open up the possibility for full-time online education for students K-12. In Idaho, the governor and the state superintendent are pushing for a requirement of at least four online courses.

Thousands of high school students already take Internet-based courses to make up credit, to have more choices of electives, or to take Advanced Placement classes not offered in their school.

In Tennessee, Memphis City Schools has developed an online program where every student, beginning the sophomore year, must take an online course to graduate. Sometimes the students complete their online course in a computer lab inside the school, during the regular school day, where a faculty or staff member is in the same room.

The school district points out that offering online courses helps prepare students for college, where they will likely take at least some courses online. Taking online courses in high school may help students build skills they will need in college and career.

Opponents to requiring online courses for high school students say that there is no research showing that online courses are as effective as instructor-led courses for K-12 students and that the push to require online courses for high school students is only fueled by a need to save money.

Administrators and instructors, what is your opinion about requiring high school students to take courses online?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blended Courses Have High Levels of Success

Do you use a blended approach to teaching IT? Do you incorporate online instruction and face-to-face instruction in the same course? Hands-on labs in addition to reading assignments?

Blended courses have some of the highest levels of student success in postsecondary education, according to the University of Central Florida (UCF). UCF is one of 29 institutions awarded grant money last week from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the Next Generation Learning Challenge, which gives organizations the funding and opportunity to research strategies for improving student success in and completion of postsecondary education.

UCF’s grant money was awarded for them to develop a national model for blended learning, “a practice that combines web-based learning with traditional classroom instruction.” Specifically, UCF is developing a “Blended Learning Toolkit” that can help hundreds of colleges design blended courses, including course content, assessment solutions, and training materials.

UCF has thousands of students enrolled in blended learning courses, and the university reports that students consistently rank the blended courses higher than courses that are completely web-based or that are purely in the classroom with face-to-face instruction. The university also reports that its blended courses have the highest levels of student success and the lowest withdrawals.

According to UCF, blended learning “encourages collaboration” and can “compensate for limited classroom space.” For faculty, blended courses can “infuse new opportunities for engagement into established courses.”

IT instructors, has a blended approach to teaching IT increased students’ engagement in your course? Has LabSim and its variety of teaching methods created new opportunities for learning in your classroom?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trends in Ed Tech: Mobile Devices in the Classroom?

Do you let your students use their mobile devices for learning in your classroom? Do you think there could be educational benefit to letting them do so?

eSchool News reported this week on the Speak Up survey, a national survey of K-12 students, parents, teachers, and administrators about the use of technology in education. The survey has been conducted every year since 2005.

Of the middle and high school students surveyed at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, 53% reported that the biggest obstacle to their education is that the use of their mobile device is not allowed for learning in school. 67% of parents say they think students should be allowed to use their mobile device in the classroom. On the other hand, 65% of school administrators strongly object to the use of mobile devices in school.

Other noteworthy themes that emerged in this year’s survey deal with digital curriculum materials, online courses, and the use of technology on collaborative assignments. Students expressed the desire for more interactivity and collaboration at school.

What do you think are the pros and cons of allowing students to use their mobile devices for learning in school? Have you had experiences when the use of mobile devices in the classroom has benefited your students' learning?