The Global Online Academy and “The Promise of Online Learning”

About the Global Online Academy

Today I have spent some time thinking about a course I will teach next fall for the Global Online Academy. I have mentioned GOA before in a post entitled, “A Shout-Out to Partnerships: Their Relevance in A Progress Culture.” As opposed to the other courses at GOA that serve students drawn from the member schools, this course will be designed as professional development for school administrators, and it will seek to help us make sense of the exploding impact of online learning.  Titled, “The Promise of Online Learning,” we will strive to determine that promise and to use many of the tools available in an online learning environment in order to accomplish that goal.

I hope to use “Ross All Over the Map” as a means to share both some of my planning leading up to the actual course, as well as some of the artifacts of the course created as our work together unfolds. That said, my thinking is at such an early stage that I am uncertain the extent to which I will have valuable things to share, particularly at this early moment in the planning process

Currently I am thinking about a few questions that I am certain will garner the class’s attention to one degree or another:

  • For what purposes will schools need to grow toward online learning?
  • How will schools grow in healthy and sustainable ways toward making online learning a significant factor for most, if not all, students?
  • How will online learning serve to democratize educational opportunities?
  • What models for online learning will find the most traction in an increasingly crowded marketplace?
  • How can an online course create a dynamic learning environment that allows for purposeful interaction not only between students and the instructor but also between a student and other students?
  • How will school leadership build the requisite credibility regarding online learning in order to make allies out of our boards, our faculties, our families, and most importantly, our students.

In future posts I hope to share more about what I learn regarding several models for online learning. A different approach than GOA is Coursera—I have provided a screen shot below of their landing page.

Coursera landing page screenshot

This light will guide you… | Sewanee: The University of the South

Morgan Steep (Photograph by Stephen Alvarez, used with permission)

This light will guide you… | Sewanee: The University of the South.

This link above is to a film compiled from various timelapses, and it came today with an Annual Fund ask from Sewanee, my alma mater.  I love this sort of photography.  The care and precision required to create time lapse photography is remarkable, and to have this particular example is particularly meaningful given its subject.

The creator of the piece is Stephen Alvarez, a classmate of mine from Sewanee. I mentioned him before on this blog way back in August 2011 in a post entitled, “A Way of Seeing: Learning to Make Photographs.”

There is great power in this form of media to impact the way we see the world around us. Please take a look–you may also link it here .

<p><a href=”″>The Light</a> from <a href=””>Stephen Alvarez</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Pilots: Showing the Way Forward in Schools

In a recent post, “Creating a Progress Culture One Pilot at a Time,” I identified four reasons to support piloting ideas and programs in schools. In this post I will expand on the fourth of those ideas:

  • “Supporting pilots creates opportunities for the school community to see the efficacy of the school’s direction. We need chances to demonstrate success in the specific context of our school. Just having examples from other schools is not enough. Just speaking in the abstract has an even shorter lifespan.”

Particularly when the direction a school has chosen may seem abstract, piloting programs can help a community develop a definition of the components of the plan and a vocabulary to describe those components. It may not be overstatement to assert that, without such early artifacts of the strategy, getting people to commit to the bigger picture of progress may be impossible.

During the early stages of any significant initiative, communities vacillate between arguing that the progress the school seeks is not really progress at all (but rather only the latest sound and fury representing nothing) or that it is a dangerous veering from core aspects of the school’s mission, tradition, and identity. A school needs stories to counter these equally inaccurate ideas of the steps the school is taking and the purposefulness of them. Piloting courses and programs can be the basis for that effort by creating institutional campfire stories.

Pilot courses and programs allow for some students and teachers to benefit first hand, but importantly, if the story is told well, they also allow the larger school community to share vicariously in success. In this way the school begins to build what is new into the school identity, and at this point the legacy of the strategy begins to set-up on firmer and firmer ground.

Creating a Progress Culture: Foreshadowing and Not Foreshadowing

I have found myself reflecting on the small steps that lead together to a big step forward in a school. Generally, I have written about this under the idea of creating a Progress Culture. So far this year at my school we have been playing small ball…important moves though relatively small, as if we are simply developing the muscles we will need going forward. We have been starting to get in shape, widening our field of vision, announcing our intent, and foreshadowing our direction. The real work still lies ahead. Writing a new strategic plan is challenging enough in a school, but executing on its promise is something more demanding altogether.
As I have written before, foreshadowing is central in getting the wheels of progress to begin to turn.  At times cultures need the opposite of foreshadowing, however–instead of  foreshadowing, we need action that is  out in front of consensus.  There are moments when we need to get out first and ask for others to catch back up to us. I have written abut this before in a post called, “Stretching the Rubber Band in a Progress Culture,” and my thinking has returned to that metaphor often in the intervening months. Sometimes  we may need to get the community to catch back up to us, while proving each time that we get ahead that there is efficacy in the direction and reward for coming along.
If we wait for everyone to be ready for each individual move by generously  foreshadowing each small step, we will not go far enough fast enough to stay ahead of the entropy, which is bound to be clicking at our heels. I cannot think of any big moves culturally that waited for critical mass to be fully ready.  Sometimes we have to go ahead and make a move in order to prove to the culture that it is ready for it.
Interestingly, this approach is not as far from the foreshadowing model as it might first appear. (Perhaps the two can even be symbiotic.) Taking some steps forward before creating broad based support is from one angle it’s own kind of foreshadowing of a culture that will be lighter and more fleet of foot. It also announces through real action that there is the institutional resolve requisite for the occasion. Taking action first on some of these small scale decisions creates an expectation of it’s own borne of the fact that we have changed they way we go about moving forward in the school.
This approach is not built to be a lasting strategy–it is tailor made for the period of time when the scale of change requires speed and decisiveness focused on a nuanced and thorough understanding of the strategic direction of the school. I have often used metaphors from the beach to help me sort out my thinking, and there is one that may illustrate my point. Imagine that you are on a boat faced with trying to go from the beach to the spot beyond the breaking surf.  We would not ponder each individual step that propels us forward because the only option other than moving forward is moving backward–and we cannot move backward if we ever hope to get beyond the waves.
Once we get beyond the surf, we can engage in lengthy reflection on our path as we strive to refine our course toward our strategic vision. In fact staying with the initial strategy of preemptive moves at that point would be misguided, but until we get by that last set of big waves, we must do everything we can to preserve momentum forward, or we may find ourselves roughed up and thrown back on the beach.
[I have written this one as I wrote the last one… on a plane flight–this time from Atlanta to Chicago for the JRPO Academic Meeting. As I wrote I listened to Beth Orten, “Trailer Park” and Central Reservation,” and to Alison Krauss, “Paper Airplane.”]