Some students don’t benefit from online courses

“For advanced learners, online classes are a terrific option, but academically challenged students need a classroom with a teacher’s support,” Susan Dynarksi writes in the New York Times.

To illustrate that online courses are harming the students who need the most help, Dynarksi cites studies conducted in Chicago high schools and recent research by professors at Harvard and Stanford.

These scholars examined the performance of hundreds of thousands of students at DeVry University, a large for-profit college with sites across the country. DeVry offers online and face-to-face versions of all its courses, using the same textbooks, assessments, assignments and lecture materials in each format. Even though the courses are seemingly identical, the students who enroll online do substantially worse.

The effects are lasting, with online students more likely to drop out of college altogether. Hardest hit are those who entered the online class with low grades. Work by researchers in many other colleges concurs with the DeVry findings: The weakest students are hurt most by the online format.

Virginia highlights Digital Learning Day

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), in cooperation with the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) and the Alliance for Excellent Education, recently announced that February 23, 2017, will be Digital Learning Day. It will highlight the use of digital learning resources such as the Virtual Virginia Mathematics lessons in eMediaVA, GoOpenVA, and other Department of Education technology initiatives.

All education stakeholders are invited to review the Digital Learning Day resources. Participants will have access to ideas and ways to plan their celebration as well as updates, informational videos, webinars, and other resources.

Several activities will be held February 23 to highlight and celebrate participants across the nation. VSTE will be partnering with the VDOE to provide a full day of virtual events for Digital Learning Day 2017.

VSTE will host an evening webinar beginning at 8 p.m. that will highlight the VSTE 2016 award winners talking about educational technology past, present, and future. Throughout the day, VSTE will be featuring students from Metro Richmond area classrooms talking about how they learn, how they use technology to learn, and showing some of the innovative projects they are working on in their classrooms. VSTE is partnering with the local Greater Richmond Area Educational Technology Consortium (GRAETC) to provide these classroom visits.

To access the full schedule for the VDOE/VSTE Digital Learning Day 2017 events, go to link takes you out of the Virginia Department of Education website for more information. To learn more about Digital Learning Day, go to http://www.digitallearningday.orgThis link takes you out of the Virginia Department of Education website.

Questions regarding Digital Learning Day should be directed to Jean Weller, Instructional Technology Specialist, Office of Technology and Virtual Learning, at or (804) 225-2825.


Fairfax starts program to give laptops to students

New program will give some Fairfax students their own laptops. The Washington Post reports that Fairfax County Public Schools is giving laptops to every student at Chantilly High and its seven feeder schools for an entire year through an initiative called FCPSOn. It will cost $2.1 million to provide 7,800 laptops to students and train teachers.

Phase one of FCPSOn will also include five high schools that are part of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) e-Learning Backpack Grant.  Those schools are Stuart, Lee, Annandale, Falls Church, and Mount Vernon High Schools as well as Fairfax Adult High School. The grant provides funding for the purchase of a laptop device for every ninth grade student for up to four years to assist in the transition to digital learning. The e-Learning Backpack grant schools will be included in professional development opportunities and will benefit from the new learning resources developed for phase one of FCPSOn.

Walt Carlson, a long-time advocate of expanded use of computers in Fairfax schools, says he supports FCPS’s plan to eventually get to 1:1 computers in all schools. He disagrees with the recent warning by Thomas Hazlett in Politico that schools should not spend so much on broadband and educational technology.

Hazlett had reported that in 2013, Los Angeles United School District planned to spend $1.3 billion to give an Apple iPad to each of its 640,00 students. The program was a disaster and was suspended after $100 million was spent. “Kids almost instantly hacked their way out of the firewalls that limited access to inappropriate sites, while customized software proved inoperable,” Hazlett reported.

The Post reports that Deputy Superintendent Steve Lockard said that Fairfax “wanted to start small with its rollout, hoping to avoid the pitfalls that have hampered other one-to-one efforts.”

I’m not sure how starting small will help to avoid these pitfalls. This sounds like wishful thinking. When I mentioned to Walt Carlson that I was skeptical of the one-to-one program, he shared some of his thoughts in favor of the program:

  1. Our entire nation is becoming a wired nation. It is difficult to accomplish many tasks in commerce and government today unless you have adequate access to the Internet capabilities and know how to use them.
  2. Technology has had a major – mostly beneficial – impact on almost all major aspects of our society – except education and medical care.
  3. Many textbooks are no longer available in paper format.
  4. Newspapers are closing and those that remain are not performing many of the oversight functions they used to perform.
  5. Our students are going to have learn to survive in a wired world so they need a place to learn how to do that.
  6. Low income families will never be able to fully function in society unless they have easy access to them and are capable of using them.
  7. Teachers have not been able to use technology to improve their effectiveness due to several reasons, one being easily accessible, adequate access for students at home and in school.
  8. Technology may be able to help our schools address the growing shortage of teachers.

Researcher warns against overspending on broadband and educational technology

Some independent academic research has tended to find zero or negative results studying the correlation between more and faster broadband internet in schools and student achievement. Thomas Hazlett characterizes President Barack Obama’s plan to connect schools to the Internet as “misguided.” In 2013 the president proposed expanding the $2.25 billion E-Rate budget to $4 billion a year. “The Federal Communications Commission quickly enacted the plan under authority granted to the agency in 1996.”

In The Agenda in Politico, Hazlett reports:

Even during times of political gridlock, connecting schools to the Internet has always received bipartisan support. Politicians ranging from Bill Clinton to Newt Gingrich have endorsed the concept, and the federal government has funneled billions of dollars annually to boost Internet access for students under a twenty-year-old policy called “E-Rate.”

E-Rate is almost the perfect Washington D.C. program. It hits the hot buttons of education, technology, and good jobs at good wages in one shot and spreads federal monies to vendors and consultants in every corner of the country. And no politician has ever been defeated for public office by touting improved Internet connections at local schools.

But in a large study of students in North Carolina, two colleagues and I recently found that the actual benefits for students—the kids the program is supposed to help—are about zero. In fact, our research found that the E-Rate program marginally hurt student performance rather than helped it.

Hazlett recommends suspending the E-Rate program until the theory behind it passes an objective performance test. “Using online data sources, we can see if subsidies for broadband improve student understanding,” Hazlett says. “If results mirror our research, and outcomes remain negative, the program should be terminated.”

If further evidence quantifies positive impacts, those gains should be compared to different ideas for using $4 billion annually, such as teacher incentives, superior principals, more vouchers, tax credits or charter schools. Only if E-Rate is the best use of money should Congress reinstate the program. If we want our children to learn something important using computers, we should start by showing them that we can, as well.

Hazlett warns that educational technology is often oversold. He notes that in 2013, the Los Angeles United School District planned to spend $1.3 billion to give an Apple iPad to each of its 640,00 students.  The program was a disaster and was suspended after $100 million was spent. “Kids almost instantly hacked their way out of the firewalls that limited access to inappropriate sites, while customized software proved inoperable,” Hazlett reports.

Thomas Hazlett is H.H. Macaulay Endowed Professor of Economics at Clemson University, where he also directs the Information Economy Project. He formerly served as Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission.

Walt Carlson pushes for computers for each student

Walt Carlson recently urged the Fairfax County School Board to increase the number of computers in classrooms. He also warned against unequal implementation of technology as some schools move ahead on their own to provide a computer for each student. Here is the email he sent May 19:

Hi School Board Members:

During his presentation at your Regular Meeting the week before last, the ever eloquent, informative, irrepressible Mr. La Teef [the former student representative on the school board] informed us that during his visit to Great Falls ES – along with Michele Obama – he learned that they had gone to 1:1 computer devices for students in grades 3 to 6. That was great news to hear.

Thank You Mr. Le Teef for letting us know about that!!

I’ve also heard other FCPS schools have also gone 1:1 for some grades. As is that case with Great Falls ES, those schools were probably only able to do so because of a lot of help from their PTAs.

While I applaud the schools that have moved to 1:1 on their own – their doing so is making possible improved learning and allowing FCPS to gain experience with 1:1 environments – I have a major problem with their doings so:

it exacerbates the potential for UNEQUAL education being provided in FCPS schools.

Due to the limited funding of their PTAs, Most FCPS schools are not able to go 1:1. But a lot of wealthier school communities will be. This is just going increase the allegations that the FCPS is two separate but UNEQUAL school systems, one for the rich and one for the poor. Selective 1:1 school conversions are just going make it easier for these allegations to be supported.

At your last Retreat Dr. Garza informed you that — after discussion with some LT [Leadership Team] staff members — she felt that FCPS would be able to begin planning to convert to 1:1 computers. I was surprised by your lack of reaction to Dr. Garza’s announcement. I don’t recall any questions from you about how and when that would be accomplished. I would have thought someone would have asked “How can we help?”. Because it is doubtful that getting to 1:1 computers anytime SOON will be accomplished without:


Because that is what it is going to take for a lot of good things to happen in the FCPS: addressing the digital divide, reducing the minority achievement gap, and realizing the goals of the “Portrait of a Graduate”. To say nothing about implementing the new strategic plan uniformly across the FCPS!  It’s not going to happen! Not you get involved and make getting to 1:1 computers one of you highest priorities.

Do you really think it will be possible to effectively, equitably implement the Strategic Plan without all students having equal access to technology?

I have spoken to members of the Leadership Team who say FCPS is already falling behind in regard to the use of technology. They are right. Only you are going to be able to prevent that from happening by getting involved in coming up with a plan to obtain the resources to get to 1:1 computers. Like other school systems have done! Like Montgomery County has done. Like Mooresville NC has done! And it can be done without significant increases in funding from the BOS. Ideas on how other school systems have done that are described in Every Child, Every Day. Hopefully you already read that book by Dr. Mark Edwards of Mooresville NC school system.

One way in which FCPS is falling behind is potentially the rate at which the use of educational technology is being introduced and planned for in the FCPS. At last Monday’s work session on “High School ESOL Pilot Program” I watched and listened carefully but during the presentation I did not see or hear one mention of the use of technology. With a world that is drowning in technology, with more and more powerful language tools (translation, text to audio, audio response) available, with tools like SKYPE and YouTube making it possible for increased opportunities for students to listen to and practice speaking, you would have thought that the planned Pilot would have provided for SOME use of technology.  Perhaps it was concern about not having sufficient student access to technology. But I find it difficult to believe that with FCPS staff in the process of developing a strategic plan that I assume is based on taking advantage the of latest technology you would have thought the pilot would have least mention the planned use of technology!

And unless we do that FCPS is going to fall behind in many areas.

Only you can prevent that. Will you?

Carlson, a member of the Fairfax Education Coalition, has monitored the implementation of technology in Fairfax schools for over 20 years.

Online learning, still on the line

Advocating learning through various technologies and digital media in schools is still a bit of a tight-wire walk. To live and work within our modern online world, students of all ages must engage in ongoing experiences with various technologies including computers, tablets, video and online learning.  However, there are numerous studies suggesting that we’re still not getting it exactly right.

VentureBeat published an interesting story about a study by Public Policy Institute of California concerning online learning at local community colleges.

The availability of online learning is doing some really strange things to California’s community college students: It’s dramatically increasing their persistence to a degree, but it’s lowering how often they finish each course with a passing grade.

Another article in The Conversation references the above study as well as problems online students are having with Georgia Tech’s online curriculum.

Obviously both of these articles are specific to higher education, but their findings can be easily broadened to education in general including elementary-level education.   Online learning is still a very useful tool but it is still a relatively new phenomenon.  There is still more work that needs to be done to improve the experience.  Both teachers and students need to develop the right skill sets to teach and learn effectively from this kind of environment.

In the meantime, classroom-based education where students and teachers are face-to-face is still the most effective environment for learning.  This includes learning about and using online technologies and online learning centers.  It is not an all or nothing proposition.   In-school class time should be as much about developing the skill sets to learn in the online modern world as it is to learn in the more traditional ways.  Online learning should supplement but not replace the need for effective in-school class time.

Few students register for “Bring Your Own Device” program

Under the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program in Fairfax County Public Schools, students may register and use their own laptops, netbooks, tablets, smart phones, etc. to access the internet (with the approval of the classroom teachers).

On October 26, Maribeth Luftglass, chief information officer of FCPS, sent Walt Carlson a report on the number of devices registered since September 1, 2012. Walt, the chair of the Technology Committee for the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, raised several questions about the BYOD data. His November 5 email to Luftglass, other administrators, and the school board concludes with the question: “Is it time for the FCPS to consider discontinuing the BYOD program?”

The full text of Walt’s email is shown below. (I did not indent the quotation in order to provide more room for the table at the end.)—

Thanks for the providing us the September 26 “Bring Your Own Device” report.

The primary reason for which the report was requested was to obtain a better understanding concerning student access to devices which could be used to take advantage of FCPS technology capabilities. It appears the report will not provide much insight into that question. A review of the report’s data provided the following observations that led to that conclusion:

1.     As you can see by the tables below, registration of devices by students was not entered for all schools. Only the following percentages were reported for schools at the indicated level:

Elementary Schools = 46 of 141 or 32.6 percent
Middle Schools = 19 of 26 or 73 percent
HS & SS Schools = 15 of 24 or 62 percent

2.     While a total of 1,124 students registered devices at the “Middle School” level that represents less than “5” percent of the 27,590 current middle school students. One would have thought that by two months into the school year a higher percent of students would have registered devices if they were going to do so.

3.     Only three middle schools had more than ten percent of their students registering devices: Carson (16.7), Poe (12), and Twain (11.6).

4.     While a total of 805 students registered devices at the “High School” (HS and SS) level that represents “1.4” percent of the 56,153 current HS and SS students. One would have thought that by two months into the school year a higher percent of students would have registered devices if they were going to do so.

5.     Only two High Schools had more than five percent of their students registering devices: Lake Braddock (5.1) and Woodson (6.2).

6.     While the Carson middle school had the “Highest” percent of students registering devices (16.7 percent), it was also the school with the “second lowest” percent of Free/Reduced Lunch students (4.35 percent). At the same time, the middle school with the “Second” highest percent of students registering devices was Poe (12 percent), it was the school with the second “Highest” percent of Free/Reduced Lunch students (60.62 ).

7.     Approximately 40 percent (991 of 2,434) of the devices registered were iPod Touches and Smartphones.

Observations  and Questions:

1.     Based on the information provided by the BYOD report, it could appear that:

many students don’t have devices to bring to school,
or they are not bringing their devices to school
or they are not registering their devices with school staff. [Read more…]

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in Fairfax County Public Schools

What is the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy in Fairfax? This answer is from the August 30, 2012, edition of  my fcps family: News for Fairfax County Pubic Schools Families:

Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to assisting students and staff in creating a 21st century learning environment. In efforts to support this progress, students and staff are now able to access our wireless network with their personal devices (laptops, netbooks, tablets, smart phones, etc) during the school day. With classroom teacher approval, students may register and use their own devices to access the Internet and collaborate with other students. By allowing students to use their own technology on campus we are hoping to increase the access all students have to the technology they need to succeed.

Last year, FCPS developed a framework for embracing and managing the use of personally owned computing devices within the school system. This framework quickly became known as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and parents are once again encouraged to allow their students to register and bring in their personally owned devices to school for authorized instructional use.

The introduction of BYOD allows for much creativity and innovation in our classrooms. One primary motivation for BYOD is to allow students to bring in personally owned computing devices to support increased student access to online digital instructional resources. Many students also use their devices to take notes, to complete assignments, to create study tools, and to collaborate with other students and teachers.

To register a device for BYOD, parents and students are first required to complete a device use agreement permission form. Once completed, students can register their devices at their school where they will be approved for use on the FCPS secured wireless network. This ensures Internet content is filtered for each student connected to the network while on school property.

To get more information about the BYOD program at your school, contact your local school administrator.  The permission form, a set of frequently asked questions, and a brief video about the BYOD program can be found at

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching will research alternatives to the Carnegie Unit

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an independent research and policy organization based in Stanford, CA, has received a $460,000 grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to support research on the Carnegie Unit and its role-past, present, and future-in American education.

Created by the Carnegie Foundation in 1906 to raise academic expectations in secondary and post-secondary education, the now century-old Carnegie Unit continues to serve as the de facto standard for measuring student progress toward high school graduation and through college. Though the time-based Carnegie Unit was not intended to measure, inform or improve the quality of teaching or learning, it became and still remains the near-universal metric for student attainment across our nation’s secondary and higher education systems.

But as expectations for schools and students have risen dramatically and technology has revealed the potential of personalized learning, the Carnegie Foundation now believes it is time to consider how a revised unit, based on competency rather than time, could improve teaching and learning in high schools, colleges, and universities.

The Foundation will to lead a program of research and analysis that will lay the groundwork for a potential redesign of the Carnegie Unit. The project will include substantial input from a range of stakeholders and will culminate in the release of a report that analyzes the value of the Carnegie Unit in today’s educational context and examines the potential consequences of creating a new unit of learning.

Thomas Toch, a Carnegie senior managing partner, and Elena Silva, a senior associate for research and policy, will lead this project from the Carnegie Foundation’s Washington, DC, office.

Jack D. Dale, the superintendent for Fairfax County Public Schools, has advocated replacing the Carnegie Unit for several years. Speaking May 6, 2011, at a meeting sponsored by the Discovery Educator Network, Dr. Dale told more than 80 administrators from Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., and North Carolina that in the last century educational changes were based on the “industrial model” of manufacturing a large number of high school graduates. He said that the concept of standardizing time in classrooms has not changed much since the Carnegie unit was created in the early part of the 20th century.

“The early adopters were, at first colleges, then secondary schools, Dr. Dale said. “We still count time to determine the amount of course credit to be given, or to validate the length of a school year.”

Dr. Dale suggested a new educational model “based on learning…perhaps without the constraints of time, particularly time in a brick building…perhaps available 24/7/365… perhaps one where technology can replace the routine, static portions of our current education system and where advanced thinking, and team learning becomes the purpose for the ‘public’ portion of our educational system.”

Most Ohio school districts did not apply to the state to allow online classes for snow days

“Snow days will be free days for most Ohio students this school year, despite a state law that could turn some of them into days of online class, ” Collin Binkley  reports in The Columbus Dispatch. “Only a few central Ohio school districts submitted the paperwork that lets them use a 2-year-old law allowing them to hold classes online up to three days a year.”

This year about 120 of Ohio’s 614 districts applied for this online option. “That’s 20 more than last year,” Binkley says.

Hat tip:  Web class on a snow days : The eLearning Site.