Virtual Teaching and Learning

#Oltak Week 5


What tools will my group use as we create our online course? What is our rational for using these tools?

 The English group had a debate about the content we are considering for our credit recovery models. The point was brought up that perhaps some of the reading was “beyond” the scope, or understanding, of high school students due to their inexperience thus far in life. The argument was made that material or expectations shouldn’t be “dumbed down” in order to accommodate students with a reading level below our target student audience. Shouldn’t we hold true the standards set out for proficiency in literature by the powers that be? Shouldn’t the students be expected to be at that grade level of reading? Would we be doing them a favor or a disservice?

 This week, Dr. Grahams comments on #oltak Week 5 page had us consider the following, “We also know that we are serving a population that has been unsuccessful in the past. We can build supports into our online courses so that material is accessible in multiple formats, and so that choice is presented to allow students to engage in a manner that best suits their learning preferences.”  She has a good point but it’s not an easy one to follow through with, especially in an online teaching arena. In my physical classroom, I can easily see and hear when a student is struggling with material and I am able to be responsive to their learning needs and styles. When developing an online learning module, I don’t know my student on an intimate level, I have to consider and forecast potential obstacles, such as a reading deficit that they may face. As we design this course, it’s going to be imperative that we consider the diversity of the learning skillset of our audience and commit to trying to develop support tools with the worst case scenario in mind while upholding the proficiency standards set out by the State of Alaska.

I am going to have to come back and add to this’s late and I have had little time this week to read. I just wanted to get this first thought up today…more to come, I promise!!

L. Graham. (2014, February 10). About the week [web log comment]. Retrieved from


5 thoughts on “#Oltak Week 5

  1. Naomi,

    I agree that designing a class to meet multiple needs of students we don’t know, is challenging. What I find challenging are unknowns like how available will the onsite teacher be for assisting the student, will multiple students take this class together either locally together or together across the state (and further, will they be in the same module when there are multiple students signed up for this class)? It is difficult to plan for collaboration at all without knowing the answers to these questions.

    Also, there is usually either a literature anthology text to use as a starting point from which to align standards and create activities to suit student needs, and there are usually certain paperback trade books students use for that class. If they had paperback required trade books, it would be so much easier to design around this (matching to the standards). What I am able to locate online as links and uploads that are not copyright bound, in my view, need to be supportive of books students should have. If their school location does not have them, a set of books could be sent to the school at cost, sets already purchased ahead of time and ready to mail.


  2. As for the “dumbing down” question, I look at it this way: 11th and 12th grade reading and writing standards can easily be met by using roughly 8th grade level texts. Take a look at the standards and ask yourself if we can meet them with books like Tom Sawyer, Call of the Wild, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, the Hobbit, Harry Potter, and so on–all of these texts (and more) offer plenty of opportunities to discuss literature on a deep level, understand plot devices and development, analyze use of foreshadowing, compare the text to a film adaptation, and so on. The only standard we really won’t be addressing is the one that asks students to read at an 11th or 12th grade level–but we can easily meet literally every other standard. And even if the lexile of these books is not high enough, they’ll still be reading them and applying those 11th and 12th grade skills and getting the content on a much deeper level than any 8th grader.

  3. Naomi, I can relate to so much of what you’re thinking this week. I, too, worry about accessibility for our target population. Credit recovery courses are tricky: They need to address the standards, include rigorous text, and require higher-level thinking, but they must also be engaging enough to keep students who have been unsuccessful in the past interested enough to keep going…and accessible enough for them to be successful with the content and the class, as a whole. That’s a tall order. One of the most challenging aspects is what you mention in your post: figuring out how to monitor the level of engagement and learning without being able to “see” the student, as is possible in a traditional classroom setting. The importance of frequent communication between teacher and student in an online class is important. Everything we have read this semester supports that. I would argue that the focus on communication in a credit recovery class has to be even greater, as the students are not within our physical reach: we can’t sit down next to them when they look confused, look them in the eye to answer a question before they leave the classroom, etc. So…I’m wondering how we might ensure that we build in communication tools that really allow the teacher to connect with the teacher. Required Google Hangouts or Skype conferences? Phone calls? Video messages at the beginning of each module with a “personal” introduction to the topic?

    Some interesting research from online learning at the university level (Betts, 2009) speaks specifically about the importance of communication in e-learning classes. The research specifically notes that “training, setting the tone, and diversifying communication strategies” must be emphasized to ensure effective communication to support successful online experiences for students. The information about training has been noted in other pieces I’ve read, but the information about “setting the tone” was interesting — obvious, yet easily overlooked in terms of an online class where body language and non-verbal communication can’t be used to convey a message. This article seemed relevant to share, as it sounds like we have both been thinking about how best to support students who may struggle academically in an online environment.


    Betts, K. (Summer 2009). Lost in translation: Importance of effective communication in online education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XII, Number II. Retrieved from:

  4. I agree. I don’t want us to think we are “dumbing down” content – because we are not. The standards ask for certain things. I just want us to consider our audience, our target population, and focus on the standards, not on external criteria like what is “always” taught at this level, or on things NOT related to the standard when working specifically ON that standard.

  5. Naomi,

    I am not sure what to tell you about “dumbing down” a curriculum. There are optimistic people who think we need to prepare every student for an immediate college education, but there are pessimistic people who think that upon graduation, if a student can fill out a Taco Bell application, then we have done our job. I find myself falling somewhere between the two extremes. I know that I was not successful in college straight out of high school. It took a little living before I settled into a desire to get an education. Once I made the decision within myself, then I was able to take advantage of all the opportunities that had been there all along. The teachers, curriculum and school had not failed me the first time around…. I just was not ready yet.

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