FERPA. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. “Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under [certain] conditions (34 CFR § 99.31).” This law affects me and my students in regard to blogging and online access to grades. At my school, I was told that students fill out a release form to allow these activities. The office checks, at the beginning of the school year, to ensure all of my students have these permissions on file. After hearing the webcast by Adam Ross Nelson, I am concerned that the permissions the parents sign may not comply with FERPA. This is now on my agenda to investigate when I return at the beginning of the next school year.
My project for this course is to design an online unit of study for my students. As I contemplate the subject and objective for this unit, I think about my 6th grade students and their abilities and access to technology. I have sixteen students. Most are below grade level in all subjects. A couple are on grade level. All struggle with critical thinking and problem solving. The majority are not successful with independent work, but are slowly making strides in this area.
The study published in the Journal of Distance Education regarding rural experiences in distance learning found what I suspected to be true. The majority of the students were not engaged and needed their local teacher to keep them focused. I would imagine the same results from my group of students. I think that this project will be especially interesting for me. I have some ideas to keep my students motivated because I know them well. My students all want to do well. As long as I keep the level of learning within their capabilities and support them with interventions, I think I could achieve higher levels of engagement and independent work completion from my group.
The annual report Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning was chock full of interesting information. The report broke down online learning by age level, state, and type of learning. I had never seen this source before. I was surprised to see how many states offered full and part-time learning. Some states make online learning a requirement for graduation. The report also spelled out how a district and/or administrator might successfully plan out an integration of online learning into his/her offered programs. As I read through the information, I wondered about class sizes and teacher pay. It is inferred in the successful strategies section that teachers and administrators are fully trained to implement and support integration of online courses. Most of the schools that are successfully implementing online courses are charter schools. Traditionally these schools tend to do well, even with low SES students. They get to remove students who are not excelling in their schools, which translates into high success – on paper. Is that the case with all of these online schools? This report did not address this question. Also, I wondered if these schools got around union scale by hosting courses outside of the district. In other words, are these teachers paid the same as the classroom teachers? Again, this article did not address this questions. In spite of these couple lingering questions, this article left me with no doubt that online learning is part of the future of education.
Many years ago, I was introduced to WebQuests. These small group research projects gave students the opportunity to use higher level thinking and problem solving skills. Borrowing from the WebQuest model and infusing scaffolding for my students could also make for a successful experience.
Not all of my students have access to technology outside their homes. In many cases, home is not the place where homework gets done. As a matter of fact, many of my students did not complete homework. We already have a class-wide goal to work on this weakness in order to become more successful in middle and high school. In my school, all of my students have access to laptops (1:1 program). They do not take the laptops home, but they can be used outside of regular school hours in a “homework club” type setting.
Looking forward… I am leaning heavily toward building a unit with social studies content. More to come on this topic…
The personal ramifications of distance teaching/learning… What if I could teach students distance courses from the comfort of my sailboat… now, that’s an interesting idea.