Thursday, February 20, 2020

Reflections from Both Sides of Online Learning (Student and Professor)

For some, graduate school flows naturally from their undergraduate experience.  I’ve completed the “pre-med” slate of courses, so I will go straight to medical school.  I’m sure I want to practice law, so I’ll head for law school.  For others, myself included, the path is less obvious.  Having attended private school my entire life, I convinced myself I needed schooling from the “real world” beyond the peaceable kingdoms of my formal education before picking an area for deeper study. 

That decision proved to be correct.  I took a journalism job with NPR and learned about inequity in schools and neighborhoods, the ins and outs of land use and zoning, tradeoffs in transportation, and the impact of the rise and fall of bedrock industries.  I also encountered one particular story out of the ordinary: the re-emergence of conversations about a shooting involving the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Klan labor organizers on the streets of Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979.  I had never heard of the incident before living in the Greensboro area, and no wonder—it occupied the front page of newspapers for one day, followed immediately thereafter by the Iran hostage crisis.  More importantly, the five shooting deaths captured by television cameras embarrassed Greensboro, many of whose residents dismissed it as the work of outsiders using their community as a battlefield. 

But it was more than the historical aspect of the shooting and its aftermath that interested me; it was the decision of a local grassroots committee to create America’s first “truth and reconciliation commission (TRC).”  Patterned after similar commissions in South Africa and elsewhere, Greensboro’s TRC engaged seven volunteers (rather than judges or jurors) to hear voluntarily provided testimony in private and public and deliver a report documenting their findings and recommendations.  I covered the story for NPR and focused less on the shooting and more on the divided opinion over the notion of a truth and reconciliation commission.  Why dredge this up again? argued some, including the then-Mayor.  We can’t afford not to, argued others. 

The eventual formation of the Greensboro TRC and the completion of its work over the next two years remained a fascination for me.  Eventually, after a job change, I realized I had a broader fascination with resolving conflict, and that led me to explore graduate schooling in that field—one I hadn’t known existed when I graduated from college.  I later discovered that while the number of conflict resolution degree programs today is substantial, there were fewer such programs ten years ago.  I also was newly married and settled into a home, with hopes (later realized) of starting a family, so the notion of relocating to a new city for study felt impractical and unwise. 

Those considerations drew me to Nova Southeastern University’s online master’s (and eventually PhD) in conflict analysis and resolution.  As it turned out, NSU was a pioneer in distance learning and had one of the first degree programs in conflict resolution.  Its main campus also happened to be around the corner from my in-laws’ home.  But the notion that I could participate in classes from anywhere and, in some cases, at any time of the week or semester was very appealing.  I also met and befriended students from all corners of the world—from Saudi Arabia to Sudan—who may never have been able to enroll in a program that required a visa.  Our twice yearly “residential institutes” gave us unique opportunities to interact and practice our skills in person, and I was fortunate to receive some tuition reimbursement and paid time off (without sacrificing vacation days) to attend. 

All of that said, online education as I experienced it as a student came with challenges and limitations.  Some professors chose to have no “live” sessions or provide any significant course content beyond the assignment of readings, online discussion board posts, and a final paper.  Other professors would post written lectures but not interact with students except for a short session at the residential institute.  Still others used their “live” sessions online to review the contents of our assigned reading or to deliver a lecture with limited or no student interaction.  Some of this may have had to do with the particular online platform we were using and its limitations, or it could have related to the difficulty of creating a more interactive class session in the face of all the other responsibilities facing a full-time professor with other, face-to-face classes to prepare for and teach.

As someone who has designed an online graduate school course and delivered or hosted numerous webinars, I now believe that online education holds tremendous promise and power, along with challenges that educators and students must work to overcome. I believe that just as in face-to-face educational opportunities, interaction in an online setting is key—whether through poll questions, a chat window, or the solicitation of comments from students who can be seen and heard (or a combination of these).  I also believe that most learners in any setting benefit greatly from small group discussion.  Despite the potential for an online classroom to accommodate even larger crowds than a physical lecture hall, it is critical to make use of online “breakout rooms” to allow for deeper and more meaningful interaction than is ever possible in a bigger group. 

It is worth considering the blend of live and asynchronous content as well.  Most professors who lecture, which in my view remains a valuable teaching tool, do so without interruption for questions or discussion.  This content could easily be recorded and viewed whenever convenient for the student, with perhaps a quiz included to check comprehension.  That said, students learn from each other differently than they learn from a professor; in fact, the best professor helps stimulate and facilitate that form of peer-to-peer learning.  As such, any live/real-time gathering of students online should include opportunities for them to learn from one another. 

I also think that the traditional notion of “office hours” common on college campuses should endure online—perhaps in the form of an online “room” that one can enter (log in) at a designated weekly time to meet with the professor, perhaps in the company of classmates.  This form of informal learning can be deeply valuable, even in ways not possible in the formal class session, and online technology should accommodate it. 

I also want to make mention of the technical aspects of the online education experience.  While many of us, including you reading this blog, have easy access to the Internet, many around the world do not.  Some may also only have access to the Internet via a mobile phone or a public space like an Internet café or public library.  This demands of those of us in online education to consider how a web-based application might work on a mobile (whether there is a mobile app, for example, or at least a mobile friendly website).  But we also have to consider the possibility that someone may only be able to login briefly each day or each week, so our content should be easy to print or download for review at another time.  Furthermore, we have to consider that some of those students whom we want to reach simply cannot access the Internet.  Most of them, however, will have access to text messaging or telephone calls, and they can interact with their classmates and professors via group texts, conference calls, and perhaps materials sent by mail.  As archaic as this may sound to some, it remains an important consideration if this form of education is to live up to its promise of broadening access to education.

We must also consider the amount of time often wasted (in my view) on technical difficulties encountered by teachers/presenters and students alike in an online setting.  While I have encountered these myself and occasionally technical difficulties cannot be avoided or predicted, they nearly always can, and it is incumbent upon anyone hosting such a session to make time for students and presenters to test their technology.  We also must ensure that the technology required to participate is either limited to that which comes with most computers or mobile phones, or is made widely available to the students whom we want to reach. 

I am pleased to have taken advantage of the opportunity to study in an online program with a face-to-face component and to have the opportunity to teach online.  All of us who have either learned, taught, or experienced online learning can easily see its potential to help more of us learn.  We must only ensure that access to the education we provide online remains widespread, and that we maintain a commitment to student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction. 

About Blog Author Dr. Larry Schooler:
After an award-winning career as a journalist across the globe, Larry Schooler became a mediator, facilitator, public engagement consultant, and educator. He works with agencies around the world to resolve disputes, build consensus, and involve the public and stakeholders in decisions that will affect them. He also specializes in land use mediation, strategic planning, and visioning.  Dr. Schooler holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale and a doctoral degree in conflict resolution from Nova Southeastern University.  He is the author of a manual entitled “Keys to an Effective Public Meeting” and a forthcoming book on truth and reconciliation commissions.  Larry is married to award-winning businesswoman Jolie Schooler and father to Sammy & Robby.  

Monday, February 10, 2020

How can online teaching simulate the interactivity of a classroom?

This is probably my number one question about online education:  How does the instructor engage learners to simulate the interpersonal dynamics and learning of a physical classroom?  And especially for skills-based classes (like the negotiation classes I used to teach), how can we replicate the one-on-one interaction in a virtual learning environment? 

There is a Chinese proverb that epitomizes my personal approach to teaching and learning: 
I hear, I forget.
I see, I remember.
I do, I understand.

In my classroom, I generally reversed the order of the proverb’s process.  I had students read about the new concepts first.  Then I lectured about the key components I wanted them to remember.  Then the students engaged in group discussion or exercises to have the concepts become real or to put them into practice.  This approach generally corresponds to current thinking about adult learning:  adults learn by doing.

I’ll be coming back to some of these techniques in more detail in future blogs, but for now, here are some of the main techniques my research into the question has turned up.

Students interact with each other a-synchronously
·      Threaded discussion (have students comment on each other’s posts).
·      Peer review of other students’ written materials.
·      Invite students to contribute course content (e.g., via online group study sessions, doing their own research and presenting results to full class)
·      Create an exercise or game that students perform with each other, taking turns virtually.
·      Teamwork assignments (encourage/require students to solve problems together, often via group chats online).
·      Chatroom (video and/or text only) with instructor or fellow students.
·      Group discussions in online forums.
·      Study-unit blogs.

Students practice skills directly with each other
·      Role-playing simulations (combining synchronous and a-synchronous communication using email, chat rooms).
·      Using Zoom, Skype or similar web-based personal communication technologies, students set up an appointment to conduct exercises (e.g., a negotiation simulation) with each other.
·      Chatroom with instructor or fellow students.

I’d love to hear some of your experiences with making the online learning experience more interactive, especially techniques for recreating the feel of face-to-face (F2F).  Email me.


Thursday, January 30, 2020

No More Excuse For NOT Learning,

BECAUSE practically E V E R Y T H I N G is available via ONLINE Learning. And since you can connect to it from your iPhone or Android from anywhere any time, learning can be easy and fun. You’ll be able to have live connections to almost any kind of teacher, attend video lectures, take part in science experiments, learn history, languages, how to cook, whatever subject of your choice. One such platform is “Google Classroom” which gives teachers the tools to teach, and for learners to go to and learn. According to Wikipedia, “Google Scholar” is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and much more: Apart from the Google connections, the classroom can come to anybody at any place where they can be in front of a computer or TV screen. Likewise, anybody being exposed to such educational presentations will be able to interact with them, asking questions, receiving additional and deeper background information, taking tests, and communicating with a teacher, regardless whether that teacher is physically nearby or continents away. Here is a list of educational websites, Online Learning Institutions & Portals one of which may be your perfect fit. Why not try them out? Have fun!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Online Pre-K Literacy Program UPSTART Powers Educational Success for At-Risk Children

The online pre-kindergarten (pre-K) literacy program called UPSTART created by seeks to blend the best aspects of learning science, mentoring relationships, and innovative technologies to form community, school, and in-home programs that deliver literacy excellence and equity for unserved and under-served four-year-old learners.

About half of America’s four-year-old children are not prepared to begin kindergarten when they turn five. In Philadelphia, for example, nearly two-thirds of children cannot read at grade level by the fourth grade, which is a challenge made worse by a shortage of affordable pre-K literacy programs. Children without access to pre-K education may enter school as many as two years behind and may never catch up with their classmates. Their parents have little or no affordable access to early education solutions to prepare their children for school. And their children therefore are at the greatest risk of multi-generational functional illiteracy that can adversely affect them for the rest of their lives.

The nonprofit in Salt Lake City, Utah, has created an evidence-tested, home-based, successful, online pre-K literacy program called UPSTART. UPSTART enables early education access to unserved and under-served families in their homes by providing parental support, technology, and internet connectivity, thereby ensuring equity and fairness for all four-year-olds, regardless of their socio-economic status. In Utah’s Washington County School District, for example, about half of its schools are Title I schools with students who faced significant achievement gaps and were unable to catch up with their peers. The district ran two early learning programs simultaneously to prepare their children for kindergarten. After a head-to-head comparison, the children who used software displayed greater gains in early literacy and were better prepared to enter kindergarten than students who did not use Waterford UPSTART.

Waterford UPSTART empowers parents because the program is voluntary and it increases parental choice, parental involvement, and parental control of their children’s learning. UPSTART supports families through personalized parental coaching, empowering parents as their children’s first educator in the home to prepare their children to arrive at school ready to learn. Parents help their children invest 15 minutes online for five days per week for nine months using exciting literacy programming. Waterford UPSTART children thereby enter kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level and outperform their peers on standardized tests at least through the fourth grade.

According to a New York Times story, most states have preschool choices — some public, some private, half day, full day, local and state run. But many families fall in between, earning too much to qualify for public programs while not being able to afford private ones, or living too far from the nearest site-based pre-K school, or living in states which do not yet provide publicly-financed pre-K education.

UPSTART has been pilot-tested in urban working-class families, low-income rural families, and non-English-speaking refugee families. The online UPSTART lessons are animated, funny, and interesting to children; they keep children’s attention as they learn. In one lesson, for example, children listen to a song and watch a video about how “gh” is silent in many English words. 

UPSTART is funded by state legislatures, private donations from programs like TED’s philanthropic arm called the Audacious Project, and grants from the federal Department of Education. was founded by Dr. Dustin Heuston, a pioneering educator who believed every child is entitled to lifelong learning success. Over the years, Dr. Heuston built a technology-based collaborative model of child, family, and educator engagement that delivers significant and lasting academic achievement gains. 

Blog Author James R. Holbrook is a retired clinical legal professor who is a board member of

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Happy New Year 2020!

In this first blog post of 2020, I’ll introduce myself and some changes coming to the Straube Foundation Education blog. 

I am Michele Straube.  I am recently retired as an environmental mediator and law school professor.  Meaning I have a background in teaching, albeit not online teaching.  I am currently a student working toward a certificate in teaching English as a second language.  The certificate program is virtually all online (even though the program is based at my local university), so I have personal experience as a student of online education.  I have great curiosity about the pedagogy of online education, especially how the benefits of in-class interactions can be replicated online. 

I am looking forward to taking over blog management.  I hope to share with you what I learn about my many open questions.  There will also be guest blog authors and re-posts from their blogs, focusing especially on the great variety of online education programs, their successes and challenges.

I’d love to hear what online education topics you, our readers, are interested in learning more about.  Email me your suggestions here, and we’ll see what we can do.

Until the next post, here are some online education resources to keep you learning:

·      Top 100 E-Learning Blogs, Websites & Influencers in 2020

Monday, December 30, 2019

New Year’s Resolution a la 1900:

Contributed by Werner Kappus, Apia, Samoa
This image was created in the year 1900 in France, showing how the author thought education would look like in the year 2000. It is part of a series of future technologies imagined, published in the form of cartoons which adorned cigaret and cigar boxes. Later, the images were available also as postcards. A full coverage of these are published here:   Enjoy! And let your imagination roam as to what kind of technologies will be doing 100 years from now …

Friday, December 20, 2019

Why put so much effort into learning?

That’s the problem:  There are individuals who don’t want to learn at all, or spend the time, or the effort to learn.  And if they absolutely have to, they’d like to do it the easy way, or the easiest way possible.  I guess that’s human nature, or at least some humans’ nature.  Yet the parents and the community are usually very anxious for their offspring getting a decent education.  In the case of grownups, also that they continue learning throughout their life, enhancing their capabilities to more fully benefit from their increased knowledge.  And deep down, even the most reluctant is then likely to undertake some effort of learning.

Therefore, IMHO, the very first task for parents, educators, and the community at large (through its representatives) is to convince everybody to get going and learn, and then keep on learning.  It’s the motivation of wanting to learn that needs to be instilled in its citizens, ALL its citizens.  That’s where many countries fall short, or are even opposed to bringing motivation to some reluctant masses.  Maybe, some day they may wake up to find that this is a duty they should be pursuing wholeheartedly.

OK.  Now when you have the subjects in the mood to put effort into learning, then, of course, that learning should be made as easy as possible, even as play rather than work.  And there are, of course, many ways which have been pursued throughout history.

Now, here is a method which was recently developed under the name “active learning” (also called “active instruction”) which, so far, consistently has produced best results. It involves chaperoning students in working  through problems and reasoning things out as an inherent part of the learning process.  That is in contrast to merely attending lectures.  Here you can learn more:

Which would be nothing new for Benjamin Franklin at his time, who said: “Tell me, and I forget.  Teach me, and I remember.  Involve me, and I learn”

Yet we are here 250+ years later, with technology on our hands which can greatly facilitate whatever learning process we are following.  For example, we can learn online instead of in classrooms, from anywhere, any time, at our convenience.  In other words, more of those learning-impeding habits and circumstances can be overcome easily, and learning can be more fun instead.  The way of getting there is what makes the difference: ONLINE.