It's About Real AND Virtual Learning (emphasis on AND)

Virtual learning is not going away. It continues to grow in digital leaps. Of course, virtual learning has been around for a lot longer than digital and the Net.

This 2008 video is titled “virtual learning is no replacement for real learning.” It is from the National Institute on Media and Family (which closed in 2009).

Bernard Bull referenced the video in a post that starts by saying that "Real learning is no replacement for virtual learning, not as we begin to consider the affordances of virtual reality." If you watch the video (which uses learning about what an orange is as an example), Bull's comment on the video is: "How many face-to-face classes teach science using pictures from a textbook? Look at some of the best virtual schools. They send out amazing packages of kitchen science projects. It is a myth that brick and mortar school is full of real world activities. That isn't reality in most classes. It is also a myth that virtual learning is 100% screen. Virtual schooling can be packed with real world activities that are far away from the computer screen.?"

Good learning experiences use both real and virtual learning. I recently made a repair to our clothes dryer by first watching a video on YouTube showing someone doing it. If I had only watched the video and never actually done the repair itself, I doubt that I could explain what I had learned very well to another person who needed the knowledge. But I could never have done the repair without that video. A "real teacher" helping me do the repair in-person would have been great and probably even better as I could have asked questions along the way and have been corrected if I erred. But that experience just wasn't available to me. We have done that as teachers and learners for a long time. Virtual experiences have always allowed us to travel back in time and experience distant places. The opportunity to use greatly enhanced digital learning experiences makes the combination of that with "real" learning much more powerful.


Digital Cheating (and prevention)

Cheating is not new. It is older than formal education. But the digital age has made plagiarism and stealing answers easier. This is a topic that you can bring up with teachers at any grade level and get engagement.

There is no solution. But there are techniques and some digital tools that can help.

I never received any applause doing an academic integrity workshop or presentation when I would say that I believed that the biggest cause for plagiarism and cheating is poorly designed assignments. I also believe the greatest prevention comes by teacher interventions.

But here are eight ideas from (follow link for details)

1. Create defined pathways

2. Use your digital resources (, etc.) tempered with your best judgment.

3. Encourage collaboration and choose groups wisely. - allowing and even encouraging working together.

4. Don’t ask “cheatable” questions. On this one, I like one suggestion (which I have been suggesting for years based on a professor I had myself who did it many years ago): give all your students the same assignment, but make one aspect unique to each person, or add one unique element that is not going to be found online in connection to the general topic..

5. Communicate your expectations clearly.

6. Show them you’re paying attention. Let them know you use plagiarism-detection software. Have them do a test run and see the results. Wander the classroom during testing. Ask students to explain or reflect on a specific piece of an assignment to demonstrate their learning. Do it as a spot check, not necessarily every student for every student.

7. Do your research.

8. Give up. This last piece of advice sounds defeatist, but means pick your battles and don’t get bogged down with small issues.


Connecting With The Disconnected


I did a Q&A for my keynote at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference (January 11 and 12, 2016, New Brunswick, New Jersey - On Twitter: #RUOnlineCon  - Conference website: )

My talk - "The Disconnected" grew out of the many references I have been seeing to the re-emergence of autodidacts — people “who learn on their own”— and other societal trends that point to a new group of learners that I feel will be reshaping higher education. Trends like the sharing economy, the maker movement, the do-it-yourself movement, open source coding, “cord cutting” and a “rent rather than buy” mindset could all affect higher education significantly in the future.

The “disconnected” comprise about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research, which estimates that number will double in the next 10 years.

Q: Who are “the disconnected”?

Me: Some of the disconnected are people who want to learn things, but do not necessarily want schools to provide that education in traditional ways.

They are a widening group that is not as age-bound as we might imagine. They are not just Millennials. These are people who are connecting differently to the world, society and education. My talk at Rutgers will identify this group by their behavior and will consider how higher education may deal with this disconnected or differently-connected student.

Q: What’s one takeaway for higher educators?

Me: If you accept the fact that there is such a group, as an educator you have to ask: 'Would "the disconnected" still want to come to a school to receive a traditional degree - or will they want another path and another product?'

But it's not like you can say: ‘Here's the evidence that students are not going to come to the university.’ And I'm not convinced that they won’t. For purposes of discussion, though, if these students, or potential students, are not going to be interested in going for the degrees that we offer, do we just lose them to other things—or do we try to pursue them in other ways?

Q: Are universities preparing for this?

Me: I can already see indications that universities are doing some things to attract those people, including alternative, competency-based, and three-year degrees, and even more certificate programs.

Back in 2012, I taught a fairly early MOOC (massive open online course). The big outcry then was: 'That's it. That's the end. Who's going to go to a university if they can get all these courses online for free?'  I was never convinced that that was going to happen. I didn't think MOOCs were going to destroy the university. There will always be some students who want to go to a Rutgers or Princeton for four years and live on campus and have those experience. But I think there are going to be fewer of those people.

I think that colleges are going to have to offer the traditional and they're going to have to offer nontraditional alternatives. And I'm not sure that's something they want to do. From the business point of view, that's going to hurt the core business.

It is really hard for universities to implement alternatives. Online education has often been seen as that alternative, and that may continue to be a part of the solution, but they may even need to do new things with their online programs.


The conference will have four other keynote speakers, and 35 presentations and roundtable speakers, and is designed for any higher education faculty and staff interested in gaining perspectives and honing skills with best practices and innovative technologies in education.


RUOnlineCon is presented by the Rutgers University Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and New Jersey Research & Education Network (NJEDge).


What Most Schools Don't Teach

What is it that most schools don't teach? Coding.

Coding - transforming actions into a symbolic language - is offered in colleges and in many high schools, but computer science is not part of the core curriculum alongside other courses such as biology, chemistry or algebra that all students take.

Launched in 2013, is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. Their vision is that every student in every school should have at least the opportunity to learn computer science. is organizing its “Hour of Code” event for the third consecutive year as part of Computer Science Education Week. They give students the opportunity to learn about programming with free online tutorials and instructional videos. There are more than 191,000 events in more than 180 countries and one-third of all U.S. schools are participating, They expect to reach 50 million students this week.

Coding is becoming an increasingly crucial skill. If you hear asked (or you ask) "Why do I need to learn to code? I'll never use it to be a ________ (fill in the blank)," I can identify. Teaching English for many years, I always heard that question with poetry or some other item being substituted for "coding." I knew students would need language skills, including learning to interpret language, understand symbolism etc., but it was hard to make the point to someone who had no idea what they would do or need in life.

Do I believe everyone in the future will be doing coding? No, but I believe understanding how code works to run much of the world we live in is essential, at least on a basic level.

This month, the "Hour of Code" campaign from nonprofit makes that very visible. If you look at its website, you can see that it is aimed at students and teachers in K-12, although it is is clear that people older have as many (or more) gaps in their coding knowledge.

The site uses popular movie characters from films like Frozen and Star Wars as avatars for coding activities.

not unlike when I was teaching students in the late 1970s to make a turtle on a screen move by writing Logo programs. That was Apple Logo which was an early implementation of Logo that was popular then due to marketing for Apple's Apple II computer.

This week (but really all year), educators, extracurricular leaders, and parents are being encouraged to introduce kids to coding. There are many free, online coding tutorials designed for all ages. Some tutorials are designed to be suitable for kids as young as 4 and even for implementation without computers. But many of these tutorials are designed as games that are accessible for computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

This year 3 for the "Hour of Code" and partnerships for licensing with Microsoft and Disney to create tutorials using settings and characters from Minecraft or Star Wars makes coding more appealing to children. "The goal of the Hour of Code is not to teach anybody to become an expert computer scientist in one hour," reads the description on Hour of Code's homepage. "One hour is only enough to learn that computer science is fun and creative, that it is accessible for all ages, for all students, regardless of background."

A sample is an activity (there are also sequenced courses at different age and ability levels) to program characters from the Star Wars universe to make a game of your own creation. In the video below, Star Wars film producer Kathleen Kennedy introduces some broad uses of computer programming, and then Rachel Rose, Senior Engineer for the Star Wars Animation and Creature Team, walks you through the basics of programming using Blockly.

Blockly is a client-side JavaScript library for creating visual block programming editors. It is a project of Google and is open-source It runs in a web browser, and resembles another simple programming language called Scratch. Blockly seems almost too easy as it uses blocks that link together to make writing code easier. But it can generate JavaScript, Python, PHP or Dart code and can be customized to generate code in any computer language.


If you try the activity, it is obvious that critical thinking and thoughtful placement of the blocks is required to make the program run correctly.code 1

Using Blockly as a visual programming language is a great start and, although in the working world most code is typed, each block conatins and corresponds to a line of "real" code which students can view.

Students doing any of the most basic activities are learning that an algorithm is a series of instructions  on how to accomplish a task. they experience debugging -

finding and fixing issues in code.

If they advance through the activities , they will learn what a function is (a piece of code that can be called over and over), and how to customize their code parameters with extra bits of information that you can pass into a function to customize it.

code 2Students are reminded that some of the tools, like autofill, seem like "cheats" but are used by full time programmers too in order to speed up the coding and maintain consistency.

One activity is designed for very young coders and kids without access to computers. Using a predefined “Robot Vocabulary,” students will figure out how to guide

one another to accomplish specific tasks without discussing them first. This teaches students the connection between symbols and actions, as well as the valuable skill of debugging.

Types of MOOC Learners

rolesWe are well past the point of thinking that all MOOC participants are "students" in our traditional definition of that role. It was seen from the earliest MOOC offerings that there was a mix of learners who enrolled.  

There was too much emphasis on "completers" who finished the coursework and "passed" versus "lurkers" who did some parts but not all and "failed."

I was early to say that lurkers should more accurately be though of as auditors. That is an old term in the university dictionary. These learners watched videos, read documents, may have posted in discussions but were not interested in quizzes or exams. I was an auditor in several MOOCs that I enrolled in at the start. In a course on art history, I was only interested in the section on the Impressionists. 

Stanford Online and and the Stanford University Learning Analytics group have been doing this longer than other schools and described four types of students. I was pleased that the auditors made the list, along with completers (viewed most lectures and took part in most assessments), disengaged learners (who quickly dropped the course) and sampling learners (who might only occasionally watch lectures).

But those four types are still over-simplified because it is a rubric with completer on one end and disengaged at the other. I am more interested in the types of learners participants are before they even enter a course. One blogger identified ten types of MOOC takers. As an instructor, it would be very helpful to me to know the background and intentions of a participant. For example, knowing that someone is completely new to MOOCs or even online courses.

We know that many participants are new to the course topic. Taking a 101-style intro course, such as a beginning programming course, might be a way to explore something new, or to add new knowledge/skill that will help them advance in the workplace.

I would say that "upgraders" are their own group. These learners are employed people who look to upgrade their skills or people who are unemployed and looking to add to their resume.

Job seekers can be its own category because (as Coursera and other providers have discovered) there are people who want to add a certificate or some validation to their resume and are willing to pay a fee to do so.

And a MOOC will have some traditional students. They may be the students enrolled at the host institution and paying full tuition to be in the course and receiving all the traditional interactions with the instructor that others do not get. They may be students who want to learn more about a topic that they are taking a course on, or want to learn more about a topic they are unable to take at their school. In the latter case, these would likely be student-auditors in the same way that I was as an undergrad when I audited a paleontology course that would not have been accepted in my English major, but I was interested in learning about.

That can be seen as my early foray into being a lifelong learner and there are certainly many MOOC takers who are in that role. Older learners, perhaps retired and with more time, are a population that enrolls in courses. Maybe they are curious about updates in the field they have left. Maybe they want to explore things they never had the opportunity or time to explore before. I had a professor tell me after a presentation on MOOCs that it sounded like "they are just taking these courses to learn something they are interested in." He meant this comment to be a negative, meaning they were not interested in credits and degrees, but others in the room quickly jumped on his comment as missing the positive point. Who doesn't want students who are there because they are interested in learning about your topic?

I will also admit to being an academic spy in a few MOOCs. Actually, a lot of research has shown that a large proportion of MOOC takers are teachers, lecturers, professors and other academicians who enroll to get different perspectives and find new resources on a subject that they teach. If I am scheduled to teach a course I have never taught before, I will look at MOOCs on that topic in the same way that I would hope to view courses by my colleagues who have taught it. Unfortunately, not all colleagues are as "open" with their courses as a MOOC. I should note here that not all Massive Open Online Courses these days are truly Open in that the course materials are not free to use in your own courses.