Keith Feiring

Professor Janet Cook

EDUI 6705

June 1, 2003

Proposal to Create an Online Learning Program
in the Alternative Education High School Where I Teach

Preface

I was hired by a school district in Northern California to be a high school alternative education/independent study teacher.  I was hired in part because of my background as a computer applications instructor and because I had private industry experience. I was told that I could look forward to helping the district set up an online learning program that would be used by Independent Study Students and Home and Hospital Students. However, this program has never started and is no longer discussed.  I have made a commitment to being a teacher in the California K-12 school system, and I am presently enrolled at California State University at Hayward in order to complete a Master of Science in Education with an Option in Online Teaching and Learning.

As part of the master’s program, I received an assignment to write a proposal to my school district, recommending the creation of an online learning program. An element of the assignment was to interview one of my school’s administrators in order to investigate her thoughts on setting up such program. I welcomed being given this assignment because it afforded me an opportunity to follow up with the administrator regarding the original promise of my setting up an online learning program.

I went to my interview with the administrator with preconceptions of how I would like to set up a program. However, one of the outcomes of the interview was that I was made aware of major obstacles to creating a program at this time. The paper that follows reports on my interview with the administrator and presents, based on the interview, a proposal to create a trial online learning program for the school. The information is presented in the following order:

  • Present School Learning Environment
  • Interview with Administrator
  • Goals of the Proposal
  • Current State of Online Learning within Our School
  • Proposal
  • Conclusion

Present School Learning Environment

In our school, students in grades 9 – 12 are enrolled in an independent study program in which they are taking all of their required high school courses. The way their schedule is currently arranged is that they come to school one hour each week to meet with their teacher, receive and turn in assignments, take tests and discuss questions regarding all of their courses. The rest of the week they work independently at home, having no further contact with the school or their teacher. They have no opportunity for student interaction or to participate in discussions.  The limited amount of time students physically attend school impacts on their teacher’s ability to provide lessons and other resources that could enrich their learning. The students represent a cross section of learner levels, from remedial to accelerated. Their school is in the California school system which is presently undergoing severe budget cutbacks. The effect of these cutbacks is increased class sizes and a reduction in available resources such as textbooks and learning materials. In addition, there is no funding to pay for any new programs or systems such as a commercial Course Management System (CMS.)

Interview with Administrator

I interviewed the Director of Alternative Education of our school district. The district is located Northern California. The interview took place on May 20, 2003. I utilized an unstructured interview approach. This interview method, “does not involve a detailed interview guide. Instead, the interviewer asks questions that gradually lead the respondent to give the desired information.” (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003, p. 240)

The following are her opinions and thoughts, paraphrased, as they relate to creating an online learning program in the school district:

·        Much consideration is now being given to the benefits incorporating online teaching into school programs. This is being done by state officials in Fresno, California.  

·        It is going to take time for online teaching to become integrated into public schools.  It will require more teachers and administrators who are skilled in the use of computers and who have been exposed to online education to move up to the highest positions in the system. Presently,  many of the highest level administrators, for example, the superintendent of our school district, do not use email for communications. Many existing administrators and teachers are not computer literate. The movement towards incorporating online learning in schools will not really take place or be supported until the older non-computer-user educators are replaced by the upcoming computer literate generation.

·        Because of the present budget problems within the State of California, it may take another five years, until the year 2008, before online education programs start to become integrated into our school system.

·        Regarding teacher training: If certain skills or courses are required by the State in order for a teacher to acquire or maintain teaching certifications, the teacher must pay for these courses. However, if the school requests teachers to participate in a special program, the school will pay for it.

·        As many teachers without computer skills retire, new teachers, applying to teach in our program, will be screened to see that they possess computer skills and have been exposed to online learning.

·        We should look to fund online programs through grants,  rather than plan or depend on receiving money from the State.

·        Attention is needed for students in the areas of English and Math. However, these are not viable subjects to teach online. Students would be better served in studying electives online..

She explained major obstacles to implementing an online learning program at this time:

·        The State will not pay schools for students enrolled in online learning courses.

·        Politically, the California Teacher’s Association (CTA) will not get behind online education. A core group in the CTA feels that online learning will promote the loss of teachers’ jobs. The perception is that class size would be greatly increased.

·        Schools must provide education on an equal basis to all students. This is called Free Appropriate Public Education or FAPE. This has been the centerpiece of lawsuits based on claims that students have not been given equal access to educational opportunities. Applying this to distance education, many students will not be able to participate because many do not have access to computers. In addition, there is also the whole area of providing equal access to the disabled.

Based on the information I obtained from this interview I have structured a proposal to set up an online learning pilot program in my school. The proposal is for my local school rather than the entire Alternative Education school district.

Goals of the Proposal

The primary reason to set up an online learning program now, as opposed to waiting five years, is to benefit our current student population. The program will be designed to help them:

·        Develop computer skills and use Internet technology: Email, Chat, Discussions, and Multimedia.

·        Interact and hold discussions with other students and their teacher over the Internet regarding subject matter.

·        Display, share and discuss with each other their essays and projects.

·     Learn to work and collaborate with other students utilizing the Internet.

·        Prepare them for taking future online classes.

·        Prepare them to utilize computer skills in the workplace.

In addition, there will be other benefits. The local community will see that our school is making efforts to teach current practical skills to our students in spite of the budget problems. Teachers wishing to participate in or learn about online learning will have the opportunity to access the program, as observers, contributors and later as instructors. The pilot program will provide an initial structure on which to base grant applications and also will give us a chance to gain experience in educating our students online.

Current State of Online Learning within Our School

Our school’s Independent Studies/Alternative Education program has a student body of approximately 250 students, 8 full-time and 2 part-time teachers.

Faculty

All the teachers’ ages range between 45 and 78 years old. With the exception of one teacher, myself, none of the teachers have experience taking or teaching courses over the Internet. In addition, the majority of teachers do not integrate utilizing the computer into their approach to teaching. Most teachers either have no computer skills or are very limited in them. They do not know how to perform basic tasks such as typing, sending email and attachments, creating and saving documents, accessing the Internet, performing research utilizing the Web, or utilize the Microsoft Office Suite. Approximately 50% of these teachers will be retiring within the next two to five years. There are, however, a few teachers who are not near retirement. They are computer literate and try to utilize the computer and Internet in their lessons.

Technology

Each teacher has a Pentium III processor computer, which is connected to the school’s LAN and also has a high speed connection to the Internet. Each computer has its own printer attached. None of the computers are set up to share files on a network. There is an Information Technology Staff available to support network access and hardware problems; however, they are not set up to support software or user problems.

Training

Presently no time is allocated for teacher training, whether it relates to computer technology or any other type of training.

 

Support for Students

Presently there is no support for students using computers or attempting to interact with their teachers over the Internet. Student households have a range of capabilities related to computer access: from no access through access to powerful computers and reliable Internet connections. Students’ computer skills also range from no skills to being highly adept in the use of various applications and the Internet.

Proposal

My proposal is to set up a trial online learning program within the next school year, September, 2003 to June 2004. This can be considered Phase One of a number of steps until our school fully integrates an online learning program into its curriculum. Many of the present teachers are leaving due to reaching retirement age and should be replaced with computer literate and online experienced teachers.

Learner Support

This will be a hybrid program. “Hybrid courses are courses in which significant portions of the learning activities have been moved online, a combination of traditional classroom and Internet instruction.” (Hybrid Classes: Maximizing Resources and Student Learning, 2002). Hybrid means, as related to our school, providing students with learning over both the Internet and a weekly physical meeting with their teacher.

By providing a hybrid teaching environment, students will continue to meet the state guidelines for the school to obtain Average Daily Attendance (ADA.) The students will receive the benefits of online learning and our school will continue to receive income from students, attendance.

Course Content

The course content will meet all the requirements of the California Department of Education in order to award High School Course Credit to participating students. (Content Standards for California Public Schools, 2003)  The program will provide content for the multi-subject, multi-grade setting. It will adapt present curriculum and place it online.

Student Participation

In this initial phase, the program will be limited to no more than twenty students. In order for these students to participate, they must meet certain requirements related to their past grades, interest in the program, computer skills and computer access.

Course Monitoring and Evaluation

Data will be obtained for later evaluation of the course through surveys and observations made by the instructor.

Revision of the Course

The instructor will evaluate the course when it has concluded and make recommendations for its revision in order to improve the course. These recommendations will be presented to the Administrator.

Course Management System (CMS)

In order to significantly reduce the cost of hosting an online program I am recommending the school use a custom CMS I have created. The yearly savings will amount to thousands of dollars compared to using a commercial CMS such as Blackboard or WebCT.  Because I have created the CMS, it can be easily altered and customized as needed.

Faculty/Trainer Support

In this first phase of integrating online education into our school, I will be the only instructor. Fellow faculty members will be encouraged to log on to the site and observe. They will also be encouraged to contribute their ideas. I believe it takes exposure to taking online classes and training before a teacher can effectively teach online. Since no other teachers have online class experience, I am recommending that I be the sole instructor in this phase.

Facilitator training has a significant impact on student learning. Training provides an opportunity for facilitators to learn about online learning, but also provides a model for best practices. Training is essential to the successful design and delivery of an online course. To allow instructors to teach online without formal training may be condemning the process to failure. (Gibbons & Wentworth, 2001)

Costs

I should be compensated for the use of my CMS, for hosting the web site and for any additional hours I work beyond my regular teaching hours to support this online program.

Conclusion

Many factors exist within our school system that presents obstacles to beginning an online teaching program. However, the overriding need to assist our existing students is paramount. Setting up the trial program I have suggested is a way to address the needs of our students at a low cost. It is also a way to take the first step towards implementing online learning within our school.


 

References

Content Standards for California Public Schools. (2003) . Retrieved May 27, 2003 from California Department of Education. Web Site:  http://www.cde.ca.gov/standards/

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. D., & Borg, W, R. (2003) . Educational Research an Introduction       Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Gibbons, H. S., Ph.D., & Wentworth G. P., M.P.A., C.P.A. (2001) . Andrological and Pedagogical Training Differences for Online Instructors. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume IV, Number IIIRetrieved May 28, 2003 from State University of West Georgia Web Site:
http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall43/ gibbons_wentworth43.html

Teaching-Learning Center. (2002) . Hybrid Classes: Maximizing Resources and Student Learning. Retrieved May 27, 2003 from Durham Technical Community College Web Site: http://courses.durhamtech.edu/tlc/www/html/Special_Feature/hybridclasses.htm