Monday, November 19, 2012

Learning On-Line

Move fast – don’t be afraid of failure
Empower your dreamers – say “yes”
Develop a vision and tie it to your mission
Focus on areas of most importance
Think about connecting with others
Brad Rathberger
Director, Online School for Girls

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Derek Purdy
As happens time and time again, at a professional learning experience related to technology, I learned not as much about technology as about learning.
I’ve enrolled in Charting a Direction for Online Learning, a year long course designed for educators at independent  schools. The course is sponsored by Online School for Girls, a learning organization serving a consortium of independent girls schools by assisting member schools to collaboratively develop blended learning experiences for their students. Most of the learning in this professional course occurs on-line, yet this past week I attended the first of two face to face sessions.
“Blended and online learning is as evolving of a field is there is in education. It is flipped on its head every six months or so,” shared Brad Rathberger, Director of Online School for Girls. We are beginning to recognize the potential to dramatically shift control of learning from teachers to students not as much through the technology as through the previously unimaginable potential for flexibility in the use of space and time made possible with technology.
Among the greatest moments of learning was the opportunity to hear from a number of students at School of the Holy Child. “We learn a lot about responsibility, academic integrity, learning to work with other people, and flexibility,” shared one of these very impressive high school seniors, reflecting on a course she was taking in multi-variable calculus. Participating in a college level math course, and interacting with some of the top female high school math students in the country, she interestingly didn’t reflect as much on math or technology, as on learning and growth, noting with maturity how she is less shy and more able to manage her time than she had been prior to her online learning experience.
While one cannot make generalizations about online and blended learning as there are so many approaches, evolving so rapidly, there are a number of broad models currently in use:
  • Rotation Model
  • Flex Model
  • Self-Blend Model
  • Enriched-Virtual Model
Rotation Model
Station Rotation Model
  • Students rotate through three broad types of activities in a continuous loop: individualized online instruction, teacher-led instruction, and collaborative activities and stations. This is the simplest blended learning model.
  • Alternatively, instead of one component of online learning there are two components, the individualized on-line instruction and the on-line assessments. Students rotate through four broad types of activities in a continuous loop: individualized online instruction, individualized online assessment, teacher-led instruction, and collaborative activities and stations.
Lab Rotation model
  • There is direct instruction for 3/4 of the day in math/science and literacy/social studies with teachers. There is a learning lab with on-line activities for the rest of the day, supervised by paraprofessionals.
Individual Rotation Model
  • There is a central computer lab along with numerous other learning settings, chosen depending on what a student might need; intervention, seminars, direct instruction, and group projects.
Flex Model
  • Students learn in a massive computer lab staffed by paraprofessionals for about half their day; and work with teachers in small groups for the other half. They come together for lunch and social activities.
Self-Blend Model
  • There is a physical place for students to come to learn in a collaborative environment when they choose to do so. Students can also work at home with their online teacher. They are not required to be in school.
Enriched Virtual Model
  • Students participate in supplemental on-line courses.
Independent mission-driven schools, not yet as fast moving or skilled at collaboration with other schools as we will need to become, must overcome a number of challenges, and capitalize on numerous strengths and opportunities, in order to design our own solutions for utilizing on-line and blended learning. If we are not proactive, as Brad Rathberger warns, we may find ourselves forced into solutions that do not reflect our missions.
As we move forward, what shall we consider in the move to blended learning options? How might we imagine anew possibilities for use of space, time, and financial resources? How might we assess the quality of on-line options? How might we support teachers to adapt and prepare for teaching and learning in a blended environment? How might we prepare our students? What cautions might we consider? What might inspire and enable us to dream?

Cross Posted on Sharing Our Blessings: by Shira Leibowitz

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Lots of Small Sections and Efficiency Too? The Economic Case for Building Competency in Blended Classroom + Online Learning

Guest post by Dr. Harry Bloom (

Few topics have engaged the Jewish media and Shabbos table more intensely than the day school “tuition crisis” which is jeopardizing the sustainability of our day schools by placing tremendous stress on family budgets on the one hand and on schools’ abilities to fund first rate programs on the other hand.
The pressure to reduce expenses and tuition levels is intense. Based on benchmarking analysis conducted by the YU School Partnership (YUSP) in approximately forty schools in five East Coast and Midwestern communities*, a prime source of potential efficiencies lies in making more productive use of faculty resources in our schools. After all, faculty members are the most valuable, highest cost element within our schools.  A key challenge to productivity is thinly populated class sections. By “section” we meet a course offering such as 9th grade honors Talmud or Advanced Hebrew language.
An examination of course offering and enrollment patterns at five high schools drawn from our benchmarking school sample illustrates the point. All of the schools are college preparatory in nature, all are co-ed. Enrollment ranges from about 100 to 300.
When the schools’ sections are arrayed from high to low in terms of enrollment, we see the following pattern.
Section Enrollment
School A
School Avg
Lower 1/3
Mid 1/3
high 1/3

In terms of the extent to which the schools’ are filling their enrollment capacity with capacity defined individually by each school, a picture of underutilized capacity in two thirds of the sections emerges.

The cost implications are significant since the cost of offering a section is basically fixed: teacher compensation and facilities costs.
Options to improve capacity utilization must obviously include offering fewer sections where this is possible. Schools often take the position that they need to offer a large range of sections to meet the needs of diverse learners and to be competitive in their marketplaces.
Another obvious solution is to fill seats in low capacity sections through enhanced recruitment and retention activities. This should obviously always be a priority. But in some markets the potential student populations are already saturated and retention is high.
Fortunately, another emerging powerful solution is for schools to build their competency in blended classroom instruction and online instruction to enable fewer, larger sections coincident with more individualized instruction and high quality student learning. In a blended classroom, teachers can utilize online resources in a variety of ways to complement their own teaching: to convey new concepts and/ or reinforce concepts taught in the classroom through structured exercises tailored to each individual student. Teachers can also utilize new learning management systems to monitor the precise degree of mastery of concepts by each student and group students with common learning needs in small groups so they learn together independently.
The range of online course offerings and curricular materials is proliferating. Open source learning management systems like Moodle enable faculty members to put their own blended curricula together . We are on the cusp of a golden opportunity to blend efficiency and higher quality learning experiences. Now is the time for active experimentation with blended learning by all schools.
The YUSP’s educational technology expert, Dr. Eliezer Jones (, is actively exploring all of the available options including commercial platforms and curricula, open source (free and ability to customize) learning platforms and curricula, as well as the creation of consortia that pool proven open source courseware and collaboratively develop affordable and high quality online curricula in general and Judaic studies. This fall, Dr. Jones will be facilitating an online certificate program for Jewish Day School educators in online/blended instruction and design in an effort to build schools’ capacity to implement these models effectively and efficiently. He is an available resource as part of the YUSP education team focused on 21st century learning in Jewish Day Schools. Interested parties can sign up at to follow YUSP's work in this area.

For additional information or to share your own experiences and thoughts about this topic feel free to contact Dr. Harry Bloom at

High schools should also actively consider the creation of consortia of schools with similar educational aspirations and market and customer challenges. Having school 1 take the lead in subject A and school 2 in subject B is a way for schools to capitalize on scarce talent and resources while learning through active experimentation.
It is only through this kind of purposeful and collaborative experimentation that we will learn how to achieve the benefits of truly tailored instruction and learning and efficiency, both critical elements for sustainable, high quality day schools of the future. “If not now, when?”
*This work is generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation and federations and foundations and schools around the country