2018 Book Challenge #2: The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

New book review available! I’ve enjoyed KK.com for a while, and finally finished this longer work on the verbs that HUMANS will be doing in our new digital age. I’m having a little trouble with YouTube Live, so there’s a delay in posting, but I have a third book review video hopefully processing now on Little Book of Conflict Transformation by John Paul Lederach. I’m also in the process of reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and Laudato Si by Pope Francis.

Please support this read-a-thon by subscribing to the YouTube playlist and sending a donation to Henderson Library Association, 54 E Jefferson St, Jefferson, OH 44047.

If I Ran the School: Blended Learning

If you ran a school for at-risk teens or non-traditional adult learners, what would you do?

I’ve been fortunate to work in adult education, where this question gets asked daily. What do you do when 100% of your students have the most barriers to learning, and a bad taste in their mouths?

What works, and what doesn’t?

I would focus on two words:

BlendedLearningCover

Next week, I am facilitating a live course about BLENDED LEARNING for Virginia Department of Corrections educators. 

Want to join us? Sign up for details about how to follow along online!

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Here’s a closer look at common adult education program structures (and why I think blended learning is the best):

Business as Usual: Face-to-face Instruction

No matter your student population, some teachers are all about classic face-to-face group instruction:

  • lecture,
  • textbooks,
  • long videos,
  • and now many students ignoring it all in lieu of cell phones…

Okay, Ferris Bueller is a super exaggeration. I mean, I have seen some really excellent group instruction: engaging, interactive, relevant. But… it’s still face-to-face group instruction.

“What’s wrong with business as usual?” you ask.

Well…if you miss a day, you’re behind. Or you show up, but you don’t understand it, you’re behind. Guess what? Most at-risk students already start BEHIND!

Actually, the truth is that a slim majority of high school students actually pass with business a usual. At least, they graduate.

But I’m not worried about “most students,” and neither are you. We’re worried about the ones who didn’t get it the first time, the ones who fall through the cracks.

What alternative programs do high schools or adult education classes offer for the large minority of students who do not succeed in traditional face-to-face group instruction? How do they stack up against 

Worst Outcomes: Self-Paced Online Learning

A few years back, some members of the educational press were crowing that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were going to be The Golden Ticket that was going to FIX education!

As predicted, MOOCs did not fix business as usual… follow up studies showed that only 10% of students who enrolled completed a MOOC.

These outcomes could be improved by adding elements of faciliated coursework. But that required removing the Massive and Open parts of a MOOC. Then it’s just an OC (online course), and stops being entirely self-paced.

The high school where I worked fell into a similar trap as MOOCs. The district offered online learning for students with barriers:

  • teens who had babies,
  • were ill for extended periods, or
  • their behavior was too disruptive.

Most of the at-risk online students didn’t have the discipline to complete their coursework. For the 10% of motivated, self-paced learners, online learning is critical.

But purely online learning needs additional support, not less than traditional teaching. It works well for traveling artists & athletes, not discipline cases.

Moderate Success: Dual Enrollment

With the merger of workforce development and adult basic education through WIOA, career pathways are all the rage.

Dual enrollment combines high school level study with post-secondary credentials.

Technical training, classes at a local college campus, and supervised work-study tend to help students persist in learning, and give them a head start on productive careers.

There are plenty of data backing up the effectiveness of these programs for those who enroll.

Men in ties in a carpentry workshop
Returned soldiers at vocational training in Queensland, 1920

So why aren’t they top on my list?

These approaches are not scalable because enrollment is limited.

And limited enrollment is a good thing! Specialized technical training is not for everyone, especially when we’re preparing people for jobs that won’t exist a decade from now.

On top of that, the students with the most barriers–OUR adult basic education students–are often the least likely to benefit from highly structured programs.

Best Solution: Blended Learning

What can we do? 

How can we consistently improve outcomes for adult education or alternative high school programs?

How do we reach the at-risk adults and teens who lack:

  • the stability for dual enrollment programs,
  • the discipline for self-paced online learning, and
  • the attention span for face-to-face instruction?

We throw in a mix of each with blended learning!

Blended learning combines face-to-face, instructor-led programs with self-paced student use of technology.

Multiple pathways are accessible for students in the same building. Through online learning, students can engage the world… while maintaining the support and continuity of instructor oversight.

WhyShouldWeBlend

Vulnerable students of all ages need genuine human connection to successfully graduate.

But they also need the flexibility and autonomy to make their own choices, and accommodate the messiness of life.

Graduate schools have figured this out: they are expanding their reach by adding flexible, blended learning programs that encourage individual inquiry while developing a community of scholars.

Those at “the top” of their careers share the same barriers as those who are most vulnerable:

  • unpredictable schedules,
  • work and family responsibilities,
  • need for increased support, and
  • an inability to participate in an immersive on-campus experience.

Blended learning meets all those needs, plus it’s scalable. Thus blended learning is the optimal solution to prepare at-risk high-school-level graduates for a 21st century economy.

Graduates will be entering a world that mixes:

  • oversight and autonomy,
  • independence and teamwork, &
  • technology and human connection.

Blended learning prepares students for the “both… and” aspect of our strange new world.

“Blended learning is the optimal solution… for a 21st century economy.”

Next week I look forward to discussing the details of how to implement blended learning in adult education programs. I hope you can join us!

 

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What DO You Do All Day, Meagen?

“You’re a house-sitter, Mom, because you sit in the house all day!” That’s my four-year-old’s understanding of working from home.

When I was a kid, my Dad worked from home for IBM. On conference calls, he would wear a hands-free headset while watering plants or doing dishes. My brother joked that Dad’s job was, “Yelling at plants.”

Today my own family is just as mystified by what I do up in my attic office, and maybe you are curious, too, Farrell Scholars.

Attic OfficeI have two jobs: Teacher Trainer and Instructional Designer

TEACHER TRAINER

The easiest way to explain my job is online teaching. Thanks to phones, email, and video conferencing, I can teach without being physically in the room with my students.

My “students” are teachers and administrators who are using computer-based products for adult education. The company I work for, Essential Education, is based in Corvallis, Oregon.

Here’s a picture of Global Headquarters! This is “The Vatican” of Essential Education, where my awesome Boss works and decisions get made!

Office BuildingInside, you are greeted by a cardboard cut-out of Leonard, the teacher character who is the virtual voice and face of all of our programs.

Meagen and cardboard cut outI visited Oregon once, but I live in Ohio.

Our customers are located all over the U.S. and we’re branching into international markets. We’re making headway in South Africa, but I haven’t been invited there…yet!

When an adult literacy organization purchases one of our products, then I set up their account and help them get started using the product.

Webinar Welcome PageFour times a week I provide interactive webinars for new teachers or customers. Another Teacher Trainer, the fabulous Dr Carmine Stewart, provides one webinar a week.

After the webinars, I provide ongoing support along with the sales reps and our other admin staff. This means I respond to emails and phone calls from teachers and administrators.

Sometimes it’s as simple as logging in for the first time, other times they have questions about program design or how assessments are scored.

Meagen Thinking
Thinking about a customer question

Most days, I only get a few requests but some days the phone is ringing off the hook. I try to clear my inbox every day, too. Customer communication is my first priority, but not my only job.

The rest of the time, I am BUILDING!

INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNER

An instructional designer is a fancy name for a multimedia author. I don’t just write text. I create interactive, online lessons, quizzes, tests, and work with a team to design courses for adult learners.

GED Academy Social Studies
I helped build this!

Right now I am focused on Social Studies with another designer who is based in Hawaii.

We divide up material to be created (right now lots of quizzes and practice tests), and the other team members provide editing and feedback.

Our materials adapt to the student, so the tests and quizzes we’ve been writing create individual learning plans to prepare students in different subjects.

We also share articles and videos about education, technology, and topical issues, discussing perspectives and ways we can incorporate best practices into our work.

My job is similar to Instructional Coordinators or Technical Writing, with a bit of Computer Support Specialist thrown in.

MYTH 1: I work with kids home

Um, no.

True, occasionally me or my co-workers have kids at home during work time. But if you’ve ever met my children, the two of them together are like the Tazmanian devil.  They will tear up the house if I don’t give them my full attention.

Kid yelling with utensils
This is my kid relaxing. No joke.

On the other hand, I’m not tied to my phone and computer 24/7. Some people work like this, but not me. I protect my family time. After-hours calls automatically go to voice mail. When I’m off work, I’m unavailable.

Myth 2: I work part-time

Nope!

My hours are 8:30am to 5:00pm weekdays, and some evenings.

I have to be responsive to the teachers, students, and design team. I have deadlines, meetings, provide trainings, and that definitely adds up to a full-time workload.

If I don’t “show up” or do my assigned work, it’s obvious pretty quickly.

While I’m not in the physical room with the team, they know whether or not I’m “there” on Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and Dropbox.

Truth: No Snow Days

Since I don’t have to commute, I don’t get snow days or most federal holidays. My office has a nice view of the houses and field across the street.

Snow houses trees
Can you see the SNOW? In March?

So what kind of projects do I work on?

Example 1: Grading Extended Responses

Essential Education is unique among adult education publishers in that our team grades all the Extended Responses that students submit online. I grade on Wednesday mornings, and we typically get 40-60 responses each day.

If I don’t get my responses graded, then it’s quickly obvious to the next in line if they log in and see 30 still to be graded!

Example 2: Tagging and Testing

This month we’re entering tons of metadata on lessons, tests, and quizzes in our new course management system.

It’s data entry–mindless and repetitive–but still engaging because I helped to build what we’re entering.

I do my best to keep myself entertained and focused. A couple weeks ago, I was adding lessons to a unit called “Social Studies Analysis.” To find “Analysis” I got to type “anal” over and over again, 25 times.

So that’s what I do all day: type “anal.” I love my job. No joke!

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