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Interview with Dr. Jen Vanek: Effective Practices in Distance and Blended Learning

Colleagues, 

Join the asynchronous discussion on Distance and Blended Learning with Dr. Jen VanekDirector of the IDEAL Consortium at World Education, Inc., starting on April 23rd held in the Program Management, Integrating Technology, and Evidence Based Professional Development Communities. During this interview, we will unpack the IDEAL Distance Education and Blended Learning Handbook. Building on this resource, we will explore evidence-based and best-practices in the delivery of distance education and blended learning. These practices include proper assessment and placement of students in an online environment and how orientation practices improve student retention. We will also explore goal setting, assessment, remediation, and integration of web-based resources. To participate, join LINCS and become a member of the Evidence Based Professional Development, Integrating Technology, or Program Management group in the community of practice.Then, follow the discussion, post questions or comments, and share your ideas and experiences.

We look forward to your questions, ideas, and comments

 

 

Comments

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Welcome to our asynchronous discussion on blended and distance learning. Often, we struggle with different components of integrating a successful blended learning or distance learning initiative in our programs. However, when we have well thought out plans that include effective strategies for recruiting, screening, orientation, and instruction; and when all staff members at a program are on the same page with these plans, student retention increases. 

Throughout today, we will be sharing tips and strategies related to integrating distance and blended learning from a leading expert in technology integration and distance learning. To get started, I’d like to ask Jen to share information about the IDEAL Consortium and the handbook she, and her colleagues developed. 

  1. What led Project IDEAL, now the IDEAL Consortium, to decide to produce the IDEAL Consortium Distance Education and Blended Learning Handbook?

  2. Who are the intended audiences for the handbook?  

  3. What did you hope to accomplish with the handbook?

  4. Please briefly describe the contents of the handbook?

We are looking forward to our collaboration and chime in with your questions! 

Kathy Tracey

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

 

Thanks for the opportunity to share our work! I've been relying on the IDEAL Distance Education & Blended Learning Handbook (in its different iterations) since I started providing professional development to ABE teachers in the state of Minnesota nearly 10 years ago. Now as the facilitator of the IDEAL Consortium through the Ed Tech Center at World Education, I've seen how useful it is in different ABE contexts across the country. In know that my co-author Destiny Simpson from Pennsylvania has had similar longevity with the work.  Together, we  are happy to answer questions about it! 

1. What led Project IDEAL, now the IDEAL Consortium, to decide to produce the IDEAL Consortium Distance Education and Blended Learning Handbook?

The IDEAL Consortium Distance Education and Blended Learning Handbook has been the core of the IDEAL foundational course called IDEAL 101 since the early days of what was first called Project IDEAL. The course supports state-level staff and program directors and key instructors with blended and distance learning program development. The first co-authors of the handbook were Drs Jere Johnston and Leslie Petty, who first published for only IDEAL members and distributed in paper form as states ran what Jere and Leslie called DL101.  

IDEAL’s home shifted from the Center for Social Research at the University of Michigan to the Ed Tech Center at World Education in 2016, after Dr. Johnston retired. Because their early work focused on building capacity of distance learning, it was clear that we needed to update the handbook to integrate a focus on blended learning through all of the programmatic topics included in the handbook.  We published the fifth edition in 2016, to align with our updated courses - now delivered through the EdTech Center's Moodle. Throughout the first year of use, we were able to gather member feedback on the contents of the new handbook and the course. It was clear that we needed to update it again before the launch of our 2018 program year. The current edition rest on knowledge gleaned from key research and also reflects the collective input of several distance or blended learning leaders in ABE programs across the country. In addition to adding blended learning, another change we made was to Creative Commons license the tool and make it a shareable PDF on the Ed Tech Center website so that any practitioner hoping to build distance or blended learning programs can benefit from it

2. Who are the intended audiences for the handbook? 

When the handbook was first written it was for people taking the course DL101 (now called IDEAL 101). Because we believed it would be useful for a larger audience, we restructured it when we rewrote it in 2016. In this way, we hope that all instructors, program developers, and other stakeholders (including professional development leaders, technology coordinators and even policymakers) across the US will find it helpful as they look for guidance on enhancing or building distance and blended learning.

3. What did you hope to accomplish with the handbook?

The goal of the handbook is to support the development of blended and distance learning programs in adult basic education programs across the US - regardless of whether or not they are member of IDEAL Consortium.  I also hope that the handbook offers a glimpse of the quality work done by IDEAL Consortium members. The handbook needs to stay a manageable length, so we are limited in what we can share. However, the discussions that happen at the annual IDEAL Consortium Summer Institute and continue throughout the year in our online community of practice offer rich opportunities for members of IDEAL Consortium to problem solve together and share effective practice. You can find more information on the Consortium on our website.

4. Please briefly describe the contents of the handbook.

The handbook is not just a how-to resource supporting teaching at a distance or in a blended environment. It is a program development guide that helps practitioners, program directors, and other stakeholders systematically consider implementation strategies in several key areas: recruitment, screening, orientation, instruction and assessment.  Within each of these areas my co-author, Destiny Simpson, and I included descriptions of effective practice as described in reports and academic publications. We also relied heavily on first-hand accounts of successful implementation from our IDEAL Consortium members. Each chapter contains descriptions of this literature and the narratives of member states’ leaders. Each chapter then closes with reflective questions intended to nudge readers into consideration of program development program revision other workplace.

 
S Jones's picture
One hundred

I'm thnking of so many possibilities :)   

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

The course is intended to help teachers and program admins either reboot or set up new distance and blended learning programs for ABE students. I really like the idea of leading program development through professional development opportunities because the approach helps staff feel supported as their jobs change. Teaching in blended and distance models is very different from teaching in a traditional classroom model.  Without PD and support, it's hard to succeed.

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Hi Jen. Thank you for being available today to talk about the IDEAL Distance Education and Blended Learning Handbook.

Thanks too, Susan Jones, for jumping in with your question. I would like to encourage other LINCS members to look through the handbook and to post their questions and comments now and throughout the day. 

Jen, here are some of  my questions for you:

1. What are some of the administrative and instructional issues covered in the handbook?

2. What can you tell us about who is using the handbook and how it is being used?

3.  I notice that on page four of the 6th edition the handbook suggests, “Consider how to develop teacher-created curricula that is standards-aligned and makes use of Open Educational Resources (OER)”  How did including OERs come about?

4.  I see that this edition of the handbook describes how WIOA’s language describes the digital divide in new ways. You have written about that, “No longer limited to describing access to digital technology, it is now conceptualized as a gap between those who can use available technologies to access information and solve problems.” Could you elaborate on that for us?

5. How does the handbook address adult learners' dramatically increased use of smartphones?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

 

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

1. What are some of the administrative and instructional issues covered in the handbook?

A priority in this most recent edition was to frame implementation of distance and blended learning within the WIOA context. It was written with the understanding that adult basic skills programs are now collaborating with WIOA partners, working toward crafting and aligning state standards with resources they use for teaching online, and possibly considering how distance in blended learning might fit into integrated education and training models.

As we were talking to IDEAL Consortium membership actively engaged in considering these issues, we have been able to capture some preliminary observations about what is working. For example in Northwest Michigan, Christy Nelson, an ABE coordinator with Northwest Michigan Works was able to overcome low attendance issues in her ABE programs by partnering with her workforce development partners to offer blended and distance courses based in area American Job Centers and supported by a braided funding model. The handbook includes other creative examples of programming that aligns with WIOA requirements.

2. What can you tell us about who is using the handbook and how it is being used?

We know that the handbook is being used by professional development leaders who offer IDEAL 101 themselves or contracts with the EdTech Center to facilitate it for them. I also know that in a few states, PD leaders are using the document as the foundation for developing their own professional development opportunities. For example, both Massachusetts and Minnesota have broken it topical modules and re-created it as a series of self-paced professional learning activities offered online. In New Hampshire, the handbook has served as the organizing resource for a six-hour in person workshop. In the District of Columbia the handbook and IDEAL 101 course are the basis of a nearly year-long action research project on IET opportunities in  DC's ABE programs I have also spoken with PD and ABE leaders from non-member states who have shared it as a recommended resource for ABE programs that are rebooting the distance and blended learning programming.

What do others know about how the handbook is being used? I'd also like know what examples stood out for those of you who may have read the handbook already. Please write back here so others can see your questions.

 
Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

The LINCS Resource: New Models for Distance Classes in Adult Education, https://lincs.ed.gov/professional-development/resource-collections/profile-806, provides examples of effective distance learning strategies. Originally, Project IDEAL focused on distance education, not blended learning. What led to this shift? And how do you define blended and distance learning?

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

I got to know the handbook when I facilitated what was then called DL 101, now IDEAL 101, in Minnesota. At that time we were offering opportunities for learners to participate in both classroom and online learning. We weren't very sophisticated in the way we defined what I would now call hybrid learning, but we did notice that learners who engaged in both modes of learning tended to reach level gain more quickly than those who did not. The same thing was noticed in several other IDEAL member states. These observations and a focus on blended learning in our field led by David Rosen, convinced me that we needed a more expansive view of online learning in ABE. At the time many states were offering online learning, the Handbook seemed a legitimate place to write about blended learning because many of the same programmatic considerations needed to support distance are also needed to support blended.

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

Kathy - in response to your second question, "How do you define blended learning and distance learning?":  

I really like the definitions that came out of the SRI study led by Bob Murphy in 2017.  Murphy, R., Bienkowski, M., Bhanot, R., Wang, S., Wetzel, T., House, A., … Van Brunt, J. (2017). Evaluating digital learning for adult basic literacy and numeracy. Menlow Park. Retrieved from https://www.sri.com/sites/default/files/publications/evaluating-digital-learning_1.pdf

These are the definitions:

“Blended use models require tight integration of the product into a broader curriculum and instructional program. When we characterized product use as “blended,” instructors had planfully integrated product use with face-to-face instruction, so the whole program of study was partly online and partly face to face. Instructors attempted to link the content in their lectures to the content that students were assigned in the product, or they closely monitored student progress in the product and modified instruction in the classroom accordingly and/or used students’ performance in the product to identify those in need of individual attention.” p ES-5

“Hybrid models also combine the use of the product as a core instructional activity in combination with instructor-led instruction during regular class time. However, in this use model, the students’ work in the product, although required, is not necessarily connected to instructor-led lessons and does not directly influence what instructors do in the classroom. To a casual observer, blended and hybrid models may appear alike. However, in hybrid use models, online activities are not coordinated with the face-to-face instruction. Instructors do not regularly review product dashboards, nor do they use their direct instruction time to cover topics that were revealed as potentially problematic for students based on their performance in the product.”

I think the NRS definition of distance learning is useful: “Formal learning activity where students and instructors are separated by geography, time, or both for the majority of the instructional period. Distance learning materials are delivered through a variety of media, including but not limited to, print, audio recording, videotape, broadcasts, computer software, Web-based programs, and other online technology. Teachers support distance learners through communication by mail, telephone, e-mail, or online technologies and software.”

It's important to note that states define blended and hybrid in ways that best describe the instructional strategies used in their states. For example, in Texas, hybrid is used for a situation where weeks of in class instruction is followed by week of online learning.  The NRS doesn't offer guidance on what constitutes blended or hybrid learning. 

How do you use these definitions in your state?

 
JenVanek's picture
One hundred

3.  I notice that on page four of the 6th edition the handbook suggests, “Consider how to develop teacher-created curricula that is standards-aligned and makes use of Open Educational Resources (OER)”  How did including OERs come about?

When I worked with Jere and Sheryl Hart and Destiny Simpson on the instructional models paper, New Models for Distance Classes in Adult Education, we noticed that programs were using supplemental resources in support of their primary online curriculum.  It was really clear to me through writing that paper, and through my own past work with students, that there were gaps between what any given curriculum could offer and the discrete learning needs students. It seemed important to consider OER are as a way to fill that gap.

OER might be lesson plans, fully developed curricula, images, activities, videos, any   teacher-created resources that supports teaching and learning. Many of these are not digital learning resources with a student intended as the end-user, but many are and I thought it was a good idea to draw teacher attention to the fact that there are some databases that serve as repositories for finding them and offer guidance about how to organize and make them available to students.

Is anyone out there using OER in their distance learning programs? Let us know where you find them.

 
JenVanek's picture
One hundred

4.  I see that this edition of the handbook describes how WIOA’s language describes the digital divide in new ways. You have written about that, “No longer limited to describing access to digital technology, it is now conceptualized as a gap between those who can use available technologies to access information and solve problems.” Could you elaborate on that for us?

I often start presentations by asking the question, how many times have you gotten on your smartphone today or logged into your computer and what were the tasks that led you to do so? The point of the question is to make it clear that so much of our daily routines now involve digital technologies, particularly online technologies. If one lacks the access, the skills, and the understanding about how to use technologies to complete these routine tasks, they will need to have someone do things for them. Essentially lack of digital literacy skills equals lack of agency in this society.  Many of those who cannot participate fully are also our adult basic education learners. Adult basic education programs should be making sure that their earners have digital skills needed to succeed with digital modes of learning, and, consequently, help learners develop the digital literacy skills they need to engage fully in our technological ubiquitous society

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Jen, you wrote, "I often start presentations by asking the question, how many times have you gotten on your smartphone today or logged into your computer and what were the tasks that led you to do so? The point of the question is to make it clear that so much of our daily routines now involve digital technologies, particularly online technologies. If one lacks the access, the skills, and the understanding about how to use technologies to complete these routine tasks, they will need to have someone do things for them."

I love the question, What were the tasks that led you to get on your computer or smartphone today? My own answers are below, and I would love to hear others' answers to this question, including yours, Jen.

My answers:

  • On my computer I checked the daily news from the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and three alternative press sites (I have my e-mail set up to get summaries of these.)
  • I couldn't remember the name of the author of a great book that I had read last year, and that I wanted to recommend to someone: The Woman Behind the New Deal. The author is Kristin Downey.) I used the Google Search engine on my smartphone.
  • I needed directions to a location in Cambridge, Massachusetts a nearby town. I used Google Maps on my smartphone.
  • I did my 15 min Babbel Spanish lesson on my smartphone.
  • I used my computer to participate in this discussion.

Everyone: what tasks were you able to accomplish with your computer or smartphone today?  Have you asked your students this question? How did they answer it? Let us know!

Jen, are you aware of how adult learners using smartphones answer this question in ways that are different from how adult education teachers answer it?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

Great questions David.

I'll start by taking stock of my tech use today.  

  • Early morning reading from Facebook news feed (on phone)
  • More Facebook in my "family group"  (on phone)
  • Checked the weather using an app on my phone
  • Email - on my laptop
  • Google drive for work projects
  • Google Hangout for a work meeting
  • Go to Meeting for a video conference call
  • LINCS forum for onilne discussion and learning
  • Amazon Prime - check an order out over lunch
  • Google calendar -- checked several times today and used it to schedule meetings

I'm sure the list will grow longer!

Do I know if adult learners are using their phones in this way?  I'm not sure! I do know from some recent field work that adult leaners are on their phones a lot when they need to learn something. Interviews of students in a workplace ESL class revealed that most had been trying to learn online and independently. Most were using YouTube videos to help them learn English. A few were able to do a search for situation-specific language to prepare for things like job interview, apartment search, visits to a doctor, etc. I also know from the Technology Testing for Adult Learning and Employment study just completed at the Ed Tech Center, that working adults found mobile learning a relevant way to access educational opportunities.  Here's a link to the full TTALE report, where you can read more about what we found out about mobile learning. 

 

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

5. How does the handbook address adult learners' dramatically increased use of smartphones?

Not enough! On page 63 of the handbook we share some research illustrating the fact that so many people have access to mobile devices. Recent Pew Center Research puts mobile ownership at 95% of adults in the US! In the handbook, we also provide some examples of different types of mobile technologies that might be used to support instruction in adult basic education programs.  When we eventually rewrite the handbook, this section will undoubtedly be much longer, especially in light of the adult literacy XPRIZE communities competition. World Education has an XPRIZE communities competition team that includes several IDEAL Consortium member states. These programs are the free, field tested apps available during the competition to grow opportunities for mobile learning in their programs. Look for the next edition of the handbook to include some of what they learned as they shifted to integrate more mobile learning because of the XPRIZE. 

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Jen and David,
I want to thank you for your excellent responses and guiding questions. I would like to add one final question to our day long conversation. So far, we have discussed a variety of issues as they relate to program design, resources, and expectations for technology integration, and even the inclusion of OERs. What are the digital literacy skills an educator needs to develop in order to be effective in the classroom? Do these skills differ between programs who implement distance learning or blended learning?

JenVanek's picture
One hundred

I think instructors first and foremost need a curiosity about the way educational technologies work. I'm sure most people recognize that the pace of technology change in our daily lives moves so quickly it can be hard to keep up. Without a curiosity about new technologies, one could get disheartened very quickly. The curiosity that helps teachers figure out how to use technologies in their daily lives over time supports the resilience when faced with new technology and helps teachers understand how to make use of educational technologies in classroom settings, distance and blended learning. The same resilience and curiosity needs to be fostered in our learners.

Are the skills different for classroom, distance, and blended teachers?  Possibly not. Each mode of teaching and learning requires careful selection and integration of relevant technologies - tech that align with what you want to teach and how you want to do so.  I think the TPACK model is useful here.  It stands for Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge. You need all three to choose the right technologies to suit your instructional goals at any given time.  Here's a short video showing how the model works.

I know there are programs across the US that have teachers take the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessments. These assessments are great at testing basic computer skills and even offer opportunities for testing of higher level skills, like information literacy. I want to suggest that just having the skill of using email or knowing how Microsoft Word works is insufficient. Teachers need to be able to take all of this knowledge and integrate it into their knowledge of the content they’re teaching and the instructional strategies required to teach it. In this way, teachers can flexibly and creatively use educational technologies. And, hopefully, use them in a way that demonstrates effective use for their learners.You might consider checking out the ISTE digital literacy standards for educators. The model is an interesting way to think about creative use of technology to support teaching and learning.  

What am I missing? What other skills do you consider as vital to being a distance or blended learning instructor?

 

 
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