Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Online School for Girls Launches This Fall

This will be the first ever online school in secondary education for girls. The online school was developed by a consortium of independent all-girls’ schools.

The four private schools that will offer the pilot courses next school year are: Harpeth Hall School located in Nashville, Tennessee, a 5th – 12th grade college preparatory school; Holton-Arms School located in Bethesda, Maryland, a 3rd – 12th grade college preparatory school; Laurel School located in Cleveland, Ohio, a K – 12th grade college preparatory school; and Westover School located in Middlebury, Connecticut, a selective boarding school for 9th – 12 grade girls.

Currently 44 states have some type of virtual secondary schools but none of these virtual schools specifically address the educational needs of girls. Ann Pollins, President of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools stated, “We believe that girls inhabit online spaces differently than boys and that this initiative can combine a powerful, transformative online learning environment for girls with a high-quality, twenty-first century academic experience.”

The Online School will offer two pilot courses this fall with four additional courses being offered spring semester of 2009-2010 school year. The Online School will focus on several key principles based on current research on how girls learn best: emphasizing connections among participants; incorporating collaboration into the learning experience; inspiring and rewarding creativity; and engaging in real-world problems and applications.

In the future the Online School will provide an online education that is flexible, affordable and accessible to a diverse, worldwide student base including students who need a flexible school schedule, students who are home schooled, or students who need opportunities for challenging and/or unique coursework.

To read the complete article from Harpeth Hall School:
To read the complete article from Nashville Business Journal
Image from Microsoft Clip Art

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Online Games for Learning

Online games have been described as casual games, serious games and advergames but to teachers and parents what do these labels mean?

Casual Games
Casual Games are designed for entertainment. Some casual games are preloaded on computers such as Solitaire while other casual games are downloaded. Learning can occur but mostly casual games are for fun.

Serious Games
Serious games are designed for learning. Simulations, military training, corporate education, health care are just a few ways games are designed for learning. It’s easy to find educational games on the internet from pre-school to university level. Serious games are categorized by genre, complexity, and platforms building maturity and learning.

Serious games focus on specific learning outcomes that can be measured. But do these serious games really promote learning? When the game design is focused on learning outcomes, then learning is possible. According to Mary Jo Dondlinger a game that motivates players to spend time on tasks mastering the skills of the game, is time spent stimulating learning outcomes. Even some casual games like EVE Online can produce real learning outcomes. One player from EVE Online stated that once he had managed a virtual corporation that spanned a universe he could easily manage a real corporation.

Computer games with 3D graphics are being used in the workplace, for recruitment, to improve communication and train employees at all levels. The military trains soldiers using “virtually real” environments where soldiers build teams and prepare personnel for specific missions. One of the most popular games online today is America’s Army.

Advergames are a combination of casual and serious games and have been used as a form of marketing for movies and television shows. Advergames are sometimes the most visited section of brand websites promoting repeated traffic and reinforcing the brand.

But what does this mean for education in public schools?
A virtual learning environment needs to encourage content exploration, be learner-centered and individualized. Our digital native students prefer to:
  • Receive information quickly
  • Multitask
  • View pictures and videos
  • Interact and network with others
  • Receive instant gratification and rewards
  • Learn information that is relevant, useful and fun

Digital learners today need online learning that is stimulating and develops critical skills. Once successful program is DiDA Delivered, a diploma program in IT skills for secondary students in the UK. To check out the site please click here:
The curriculum for this program includes 4,000 learning objects and 300 serious games and teachers can develop their own content to add to the learning environment. DiDA looks similar to Second Life and Active Worlds.

Considering that children ages 8-18 spend at least 50 minutes per day playing video games education needs to provide stimulating, learning environments where students acquire 21st century skills necessary for today’s workforce. To do this learning designers and game designers need to work together to provide a more engaging and effective learning environment for all students incorporating social networking, and other Web 2.0 technologies.

To learn more about online games for learning please read the entire article Serious Games: Online Games for Learning at:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Who are the Virtual Students in Your Class?

Here is an interesting article to think about. As face-2-face teachers we all have ways to encourage class participation, behavior and time on task but how does this work in an online class? Who are the other students in an online class when students are enrolled from across the state or around the world?

Meet Jane Malan, a thirty-something part-time school teacher interested in languages. Jane was given the duty of being the second facilitator in an online class contributing to theoretical and technical assignments, and at times giving advice to students in the course. Jane seemed to know how to model collaborative behaviors the students could follow and she regularly participated in the “social” posts. I guess some would say she was the model student, or was she?

Jane Malan was placed in the online course to start discussions among the students, encourage others to stay with the course, and to participate in all discussions including the social posts. I imagine the other students liked her but Jane wasn’t real. Jane was a “ghost student” created by the instructor of the course and Jane was controlled by the instructor.

At the end of the course the instructor revealed Jane’s identity. The instructor wanted to answer two questions by “infusing” Jane into the course:
  1. How does a virtual student enhance online community?
  2. How do students feel about the ethical issues of instructor’s hiding and then disclosing the identity of a virtual student?

I’ve taken online courses and I began to wonder if any of the other students in those past courses were “ghost students” and how would I know? My next thought was why did the instructor feel she had to create a ghost student for the course? The instructor called her Methical Jane, the combination of mythical and ethical created to improve students’ online learning success. The instructor rationalized that if an online course had ineffective facilitation or lack of communication the students’ success and performance would be lower. Also a controlling instructor could weaken online communication and lower students’ success.

I do not see the rationale behind the instructor choosing to create Jane Malan and there is definitely an ethical issue of trust between the instructor and the students. Considering that students should follow proper netiquette when posting to an online class the instructor should already have the ability to monitor forums, blogs, assignments and other postings. So why be a ghost student?

If the instructor is worried about the quality and quantity of collaboration and communication between the students then the instructor needs to be better trained and prepared to teach online without resorting to “ghost students” selectively placed in a class. Another ethical issue would be the idea that an instructor could become a “ghost student” in a colleague’s course. For what reason? To spy? To take information from a colleague’s course to use in their course? To find a way to defame the colleague and/or their teaching practices?

This study raised a lot of ethical questions for me. More than I can ask in one short blog posting. So I invite you to read the entire study and the short summary article to see what ethical questions you have and to ask that you share your thoughts on the issue of “ghost students” in an online course?

To read the entire student please go to:
Methical Jane: Perspectives on an Undisclosed Virtual Student

To read a summary article outlining the study please go to:
Chronicle of Higher Education

Monday, June 1, 2009

10 Most Dangerous Things Users Do Online

I recently listened to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson. One of the characters was Lisbeth Salalander who was a computer hacker and quite good. She was able to completely take over a person’s computer, follow a trail of money, find bank codes and was able to transfer money from the bad guys’ accounts to new personal accounts she set up. I began to wonder if I was doing all I could to protect my computer from being hacked or becoming a victim of identity theft?

We’ve all heard that you shouldn’t give out too much information on the Internet so I thought with summer vacation fast approaching it would be a good time to remind people how to stay safe on the Internet.

When you think about all the people who will be on vacation this summer with lots of free time you know some of those people will be looking at ways to hack into computers or take part in identity thief. Just type in “computer hacking” or “how to steal someone’s identity” and see how many results you get.

Here is a list of the ten most dangerous things users do online from School CIO dated May 29, 2009:
  1. Clicking on email attachments from unknown senders
    a. Email attachments are still the easiest way to contract viruses on your computer.
  2. Installing unauthorized applications.
    a. If you can buy and download a software application for $19.95 that sells for much more you’re probably not getting a bargain and the application may have hidden malware or Trojan viruses.
  3. Turning off or disabling automated security tools
    a. Even though some security tools may slow down the performance of your computer it’s not a good idea to ignore security updates or just turn off the firewall. This opens up your computer for attacks from malware or viruses.
  4. Opening HTML or plain-text messages from unknown senders
    a. HTML text and images may be infected with spyware. Other HTML files may contain Java Scripts or macros that allow an unknown person to gain control of your computer turning the computer into a botnet zombie.
    b. A botnet zombie also known as a zombie army is a group of Internet computers that have been set up to forward transmissions, spams and/or viruses to other computers on the Internet without the owners knowledge. Basically your computer becomes a computer robot or “bot” for the originator who gains control of your computer.
  5. Surfing gambling, porn or other legally-risky sites
    a. Most workplaces restrict Internet access to risky sites through content filters. Your home computer doesn’t have the same level of filters and restricted access and many of these legally-risky sites put your computer at risk. When you visit these risky sites a cookie is placed in your computer. That cookie can trigger pop-ups to start appearing when you’re on the Internet – pop-ups of inappropriate advertisements. Systematically deleting the cookies on your computer will help.
  6. Giving out passwords, tokens or smart cards
    a. You may have to use a smart card or security token at work but how do you keep your password from family and friends? Simple – don’t give it out. A family member or friend may decide to “look around” and you could become a victim of identity theft.
  7. Random surfing of unknown, untrusted sites
    a. Surfing unknown sites can make your computer vulnerable to adware and spams because hackers like to crack into browser securities, One way to protect your computer would be to surf with active content disabled.
  8. Attaching to an unknown, untrustworthy WiFi network
    a. Sitting at a quiet restaurant using a free WiFi connection may be a nice respite this summer but what about the guy in the next booth who may be hacking into your laptop using that same free WiFi network?
    b. Be aware that wireless cards that use Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) are easy for hackers to get your username and password.
  9. Filling out Web scripts, forms or registration pages
    a. A lot of sites today use some type of security such as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to provide security when making purchases or giving out sensitive information so if you’re not sure a website is secure call the company and speak to a representative before giving out personal information. Also look for websites that begin with https which are more secure.
  10. Participating in chat rooms or social networking sites
    a. One of the biggest problems with social networks is the amount of information someone can learn about you by simply searching. Hackers can find out where you work, your business partners, names of family members, where you live and even when you plan to take a vacation. Even using a “closed circle” won’t keep out people who are looking for information so be careful how much information you share in a chat room or social network.