SITE Presentation Materials

SITE Logo I have been studying teacher innovation for the last five years. My research examines the confluence of teacher entrepreneurial orientation, blended learning, and online teacher professional development. What I have found is that these areas are converging in the so-called “MOOC-osphere.” This means there are great opportunities for leveraging and scaling MOOCs as assets in teacher professional development programs. We know from research (Barnett, 2002; Borko, 2004; Darling-Hammond et al, 2009; and Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002) that teachers often view professional development as ineffective. Most PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools. MOOCs offer a scalable way to train staff anytime, anywhere and in very large groups. This approach produces robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective and which are not. This data can be analyzed to fine-tune the variety of trainings essential for rolling out comprehensive curricula implementations, blended learning initiatives, and 1:1 programs. EO Dimensions The entrepreneurial orientation (EO) construct has been studied for 40 years and these studies have been published in 256 scholarly journals. Although primarily used in Management research, the construct has been successfully adapted and validated as a scale for measuring teachers and administrators along domains of innovativeness, proactiveness, and risk-taking. This work provides precise definitions for each domain as well as a baseline for comparing teachers who seek out PD opportunities online to those who do not. Dede et al (2005) reviewed 400 articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher PD programs and found 40 represented high-quality empirical research. They developed five areas for examining best practices (a) Design, (b) Effectiveness, (c) Technology, (d) Communication, and (e) Methods. These focus areas may provide a framework for evaluating MOOCs PD assets. As a final takeaway, I would like to clarify that I am NOT suggesting that we do away with all other forms of PD, however, Districts should be supplementing their professional development programs with MOOCs and using that data to drive their follow-up offerings. While for-profit corporations proliferate, marketing online education programs with dubious success rates, perhaps the smart play is to market MOOCs to people who want to be life-long learners, improve their technical skills, and increase their pedagogical moves.  These people are already in your buildings. They are your teachers.


Dede, C., Breit, L., Jass-Ketelhut, D., McCloskey, E., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA. November, 2005. Accessed at

Petri, S. M. (2013). Where are the risk takers? Using the entrepreneurial orientation construct to identify innovative and proactive teachers (Doctoral dissertation, California State University, Northridge).

Panel Examines MOOCs as Teacher PD


Light Bulb

Accepted for the Research on Professional Development for Online/Blended Teaching panel at the 2015 Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) conference in Las Vegas, NV, March 2-6, 2015.


Killeen, Monk, and Plecki (2002) reported that school districts spend the equivalent of $200 per pupil on professional development (PD). Unfortunately, teachers often view professional development as ineffectual. Worse, most PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools (Barnett, 2002). MOOCs offer a scalable way to train staff anytime, anywhere and in very large groups. This cost-effective approach produces robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective. This data can be analyzed to fine-tune the myriad of trainings essential for rolling out costly 1:1 implementations and blended learning initiatives.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed 400 articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher PD programs and found 40 represented high quality empirical research. They developed five areas for examining best practices (a) Design, (b) Effectiveness, (c) Technology, (d) Communication, and (e) Methods. These focus areas may provide a framework for evaluating MOOCs as Blended/Online Teacher Professional Development assets.

This panel discussion will present data and lessons learned from two Teacher Professional Development MOOCs (Improving Teacher-Student Relationships and Helping History Teachers Become Writing Teachers) conducted on the Canvas Network. The purpose will be to develop a subsequent study, modeled on Dede’s framework, which will measure the satisfaction and efficacy of teachers participating in MOOCs as professional development.

Hello Fellow MOOCers

Hello Fellow MOOCers,

Welcome to Improving Teacher-Student Relationships. We are excited that over 800 of you have decided to join us for this course. We have spent the summer curating resources for this MOOC. It has been a wonderful intellectual journey for us. We hope it becomes a rewarding endeavor for you and helps you improve the relationships in your classroom.

While Mr. Thomas is an experienced online educator, I have been more of a traditional classroom teacher throughout my career. Last year, I became a 1:1 iPad educator, which not only helped me lower my class fail rate by 50%, but also helped me forge deeper relationships with my students.

I have used student surveys for years. We will talk more about them in Week Three. Classroom surveys have definitely helped me learn what is important to my students. Last year, working in a 1:1 environment also helped me personalize education and connect with more students. For the first five weeks of the semester, I had a student who I will call Valerie (not her real name). I knew she was very smart, but she wasn’t engaged in class, wasn’t completing her classwork, and wasn’t doing any of my homework. She was painfully shy and would not interact with me or the other students.

Life Preserver

After a survey revealed that approximately 90 percent of my students had internet access at home, I started offering extra-credit assignments online. To my surprise, Valerie became my early adopter. She started posting to the class discussion boards even though she would never contribute to discussions in class. She began participating in virtual field trips and engaged in every online assignment that I offered. Within five weeks, her grade had gone from an F to a C and it was rising each week.

I began talking to her about comments she had made online. It was evident that she understood the World History readings and could connect the materials to modern day problems. One day, I lobbed a softball her way by asking her a question she had answered on the discussion board. One of my particularly domineering student’s head swiveled in astonishment as Valerie completed her answer. “You know how to talk and you know what you are talking about,” he gasped. I saw a little flash of a smile slide across her face and she never looked back. Although, Valerie never blossomed into what I would call an extrovert, she began actively participating in most class activities and finished the year with the highest grade in the class.

As I reflected on the year, I realized that if it weren’t for the 1:1 environment, I probably would have written Valerie off and she most likely would have failed my course. I was only able to reach her via online methods. After we built a virtual relationship, she felt comfortable enough to establish a real relationship. This school year, I was pleased to see Valerie hanging out on the quad with another student from our class. She has turned her high school life around.

Happy Grad

Teaching can be such a rewarding profession, but it is not easy. Sometimes students make it near impossible to build positive relationships with them. I know I am frequently haunted by thoughts of the students that I have been unable to reach. We all know what life is like for high school dropouts. Educators save lives one at a time. I hope this course helps you find and connect with the Valeries in your classes. I look forward to spending the next six weeks with you.

Improving Teacher-Student Relationships

Many schools and districts are examining MOOCs as a method for “flipping” professional development for their teachers. Improving Teacher and Student Relationships is one of more than 30 Canvas Network courses that start this month. Canvas has hosted over 300 MOOCs from 125 organizations. The breadth of these offerings provide districts with methods to meet the intrinsic motivation needs of technology-dependent staff members, differentiate instruction for their non-tech using staff, and allow teachers a greater amount of choice in their professional learning overall.

Sylvain Labeste_2009

Reichert & Hawley (2014) found that the teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out. Research indicates that the factors described in successful teacher student relationships can be developed. Teachers who effectively establish positive relationships with their students are characterized by: reaching out, often beyond standard classroom protocols, to locate and meet particular student needs; locating and responding to students’ individual interests and talents; sharing common interests and talents; sharing common characteristics, such as ethnicity, faith, and learning approaches; being willing, when appropriate, to disclose personal experiences; being willing to accommodate a measure of opposition; and being willing to reveal some degree of personal vulnerability.

Canvas Badge

Researchers are still defining what barriers teachers perceive in improving relationships with their students and how online and traditional teachers differ in building teacher student relationships. The goal of this course is to help teachers develop growth mindsets about improving their relationships with students. Playlists of video lectures, readings, and discussion board activities will allow teachers to thinkaloud and practice with relationship-building tools within a caring instructional community. This course will review contemporary research and pedagogical programs that you can implement in your classroom to enhance teaching and learning. Enroll here.

Why Use Peer Review?

Peer Review

There is considerable debate over the use of peer-review in MOOCs. I would argue that since MOOCs attract intrinsically motivated learners, the feedback given can be especially valuable.  As a case in point, I offer a snippet from a final assignment I completed from a Match Education class on teacher coaching.  The questions are in italics, my response is in plain text. The four peer reviewers comments are below. I received an average of the four scores, so my “grade” on this particular assignment was a 24 out of 25 points.

We would hypothesize that this coaching session suggests that Ms. McRookie is in the middle circle (i.e. “Skill B”) of skill acquisition represented in The Snowman Effect. Explain how the teacher’s behaviors suggest that she is in the middle “Skill B” acquisition loop.

Ms. McR has completed the mastery of her first effective teacher move and can now identify and correct student misbehavior. This completes the Skill A acquisition and mastery loop. Next, Mr. EC expresses concern that a larger instructional problem (Skill B) has manifested itself in the student practice domain of the Kraken. Mr. EC knows that once Ms. McR sees how she has mastered the first skill of time on task, she will master a second skill even faster. After paying a small amount of the fixed mindset tax, Ms. McR commits to beginning Skill B.

Mr. EC outlines the action steps needed on the next big takeaway and describes how Ms. McR should implement those action steps. Ms. McR immediately begins brainstorming with Mr. EC on how to improve her cold calling and turn her group discussion questions into stop and chats. This suggests that Ms. McR is engaged in Skill B acquisition and will work hard until she masters it before beginning the Skill C acquisition loop. Each subsequent skill acquisition and mastery loop should take less time because Ms. McR has seen the evidence of her growth mindset from her previous successes.

Mr. EC refines how Ms. McR cold calls. Instead of “Johnny, what was the first step?” He advises she use “What is the first step, Johnny?” Then Ms. McR goes from “I want everyone to write an explanation” to the more specific “Take 60 seconds to write in the box on the worksheet explain the steps in integrating polynomials.” Because of the success Ms. McR had in acquiring Skill A with Mr. EC, she is more optimistic and proactive in changing her teacher behavior. This suggests she will be able to master the moves of an effective teacher and change her name from Ms. McRookie to Ms. Effective Coach in a short amount of time.

peer 1 → The Author got all the technical details of the best practice of a coach teacher, his understanding is optimum and can link the variables perfectly

peer 2 → Absolutely brilliant! I don’t think this could have been done any better.

peer 3 → I was very impressed with your response to the last question about the Snowman Effect. I think it was the best response that I have read out of the five assessments that I have done so far. Overall, your answers were well written and it was easy to comprehend them. Thank you for all your hard work, and good luck!

peer 4 → Excellent!

My final point is that teacher coaching is considered by many as the gold standard for improving teaching. If peer review is an essential component of the coaching model, should it be expanded from MOOCs and into the classroom?  One of the goals of 21st Century pedagogy is to transform education into authentic work-based tasks. Many corporations use 360 degree evaluations. Should those be expanded into education and used as tools in teacher evaluations?

Two Surveys on MOOCs

MOOC Coffee

Two recent surveys offer some insight on the status of MOOCs in higher education. The first, conducted by Smart Brief, a content distributer for ASCD, asked the following question: Which statement best represents your views about online learning through massive online open courses in higher education?

  • Online learning through MOOCs may be a viable option for all students (53.91%)
  • Online learning through MOOCs is a good option for non-degree-seeking students only (21.74%)
  • Online learning through MOOCs is poised to disrupt the higher education model as a whole (16.52%)
  • Online learning through MOOCs is a passing fad (7.83%)

The answers suggest that the majority of educators are open to using MOOCs with their students. In a previous post, I have suggested another play; educational leaders should use MOOCs to engage teachers.

The second survey was one that was made by Coursera students called: MOOCs are not enough – How to use the full power of online education? Alert readers will notice that I repurposed their lead image. This survey has had more than 200 responses and has generated some ideas for improving online education. Three observations resonated with me.

  1. MOOCs offer a scalable method to learn anytime, anywhere and in very large and diverse groups.
  1. MOOCs need to invest in the trend toward personalizing education.
  1. Practical projects created during MOOCs are collaborative, peer reviewed, and often demonstrate deep and relevant learning.

New MOOC Model

The author sums up his recommendations with an informative graphic that illustrates how MOOCs should be more focused on student goals, move toward fully personalized learning, and remain free and flexible. The emphasis on free and flexible is not lost on me as a MOOC advocate for teacher professional development. Teachers are starving for high quality professional development. As a History-Social Studies teacher, I know that under the Common Core, all subject teachers need to be writing teachers. Unfortunately many History/Social Studies teachers have not had significant instruction and/or practice in historical writing. Worse, very few teacher professional development seminars focus on this topic. Further, the educational publishing market has compounded this problem by concentrating most Common Core curriculum development solely in the subjects of English and Math. Perhaps MOOCs could be used to train teachers interested in making their students college ready writers?

Sadly, I suspect most districts will wait until the new subject-matter assessments are created and then train teachers on how to help their students master the new standards. Kind of reminds me of this old New Yorker cartoon. I believe MOOCs could showcase inspirational teaching and make teacher PD uplifting. Anyone with me?




Can MOOCs Improve Teacher PD?

School districts spend the equivalent of $200/pupil on professional development (Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002). Unfortunately, teachers often view professional development as ineffectual or a waste of their time. Many programs offer “fragmented, intellectually superficial” seminars (Borko, 2004, p 3). Worse, these PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools (Barnett, 2002). This makes it difficult for teachers to implement new practices in environments resistant to change.

Anant Agarwal argues that massively open online courses matter and they should be viewed as next-generation textbooks. Educational leaders should take what we already know about MOOCs and use that information to drive change. For instance, research shows the people who benefit most from MOOCs are people who are already employed and who have multiple degrees. In my industry, we call these folks unionized teachers. There are approximately three million of them in the United States. Educational leaders should pilot test using MOOCs as PD modules and pair them with screening tools that identify teachers who are innovative, and proactive risk takers. Then, when districts want to implement new technology or pedagogical initiatives, they have a ready pool of talent are willing to try new things.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed nearly four hundred articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher professional development programs (the full list is available at The researchers examined forty research studies that represented high quality empirical research. The focus and purpose of these studies addressed five areas of concern: (a) Design of professional development; (b) Effectiveness of professional development; (c) Technology to support professional development; (d) Online communication and professional development; and (e) Research methods. These best practices deserve greater examination and experimentation.

MOOCs offer educational leaders an opportunity to cost-effectively pilot test staff training programs. Further, they produce robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective. This information can be analyzed to fine-tune the rollout of costly programs like 1:1 implementations. While for-profit entities shop their online education wares to low-income students in need of credit recovery, perhaps the smart play is to market MOOCs to people who want to be life-long learners, improve their technical skills, and increase their pedagogical moves.  These people are already in your buildings. They are your teachers.


Dede, C., Breit, L., Jass-Ketelhut, D., McCloskey, E., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA. November, 2005. Accessed at

Low Income Student College Readiness

Low Income Student

Credit recovery is the fastest growing area of online learning (McCabe & St. Andrie, 2012). These programs are highly unregulated and there is minimal information on their enrollments or effectiveness. It would be fair to say that most credit recovery programs have not been examined empirically. For virtual learning providers, this segment has proven to be a gold mine. Apex Learning, estimates that 50% of its enrollments are for credit recovery. Aventa Learning reported a 500% increase in its credit recovery business. The Sloan Consortium stated that credit recovery is the most popular type of its fully online courses. Molnar (2013) predicted that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry would grow by 43% between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion. As an educational researcher, this begs a question: Are virtual school/credit recovery operators preying on low-income students?

I assume that a disproportionate number of credit recovery students may be low-income. This may be due to my personal experience of working in a district where 80% of students are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch. Miron & Urschel (2012) found 39.9% of K12, Inc’s online students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with 47.2% for the same-state comparison group. In my district’s virtual academy, only 61% of students are classified as low-income, which is 19% lower than the district as a whole. Therefore, you might expect stronger academic performance from the virtual program, however, with a 630 API, the virtual program ranks 116 points below the District’s API of 746.

Decades of educational research have made it clear that low-income students are at the greatest risk for school failure. The ACT corroborates this in a recently released report: The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students From Low-Income Families. The authors used data from 1.8 million ACT-tested high school graduates from the US class of 2013. Of those, 428,549 (24%) were identified as being from low-income families. Nearly all (95%) of low-income students indicated they want to go to college, but only 69% took the recommended college prep curriculum in high school. Worse, only 20% of students met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Nearly half (49%) of students from low-income families did not meet any benchmarks.

CR Benchmarks

It is difficult to understand why educational leaders keep pushing low-income students who are the least likely to be successful into virtual/online programs where ten years of data from California Community Colleges (the very places where most of the low-income students wind up) has demonstrated that 4 out of every 10 of them will fail. Perhaps it is time to end the credit recovery experiment in low-income schools. Reichert & Hawley (2014) argued that the teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out.

If policymakers were data-driven like teachers, they would understand that it is time to intervene and push virtual/online programs into affluent schools and ration our high-cost, high-touch, empathetic teaching talent for the struggle in low-income public schools. Instead, I suspect we will allow the free market to propagate the current policies that result in half of low-income students going 0 for 4 on ACT college benchmarks.

2012 ACT Results by Income



ACT (July 2014). The condition of college & career readiness 2013: Students from low-income families. Iowa City, IA. Accessed at

City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014). School profile:

City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014).

API reports:

Johnson, H. & Mejia, M. (2014). Online learning and student outcomes in California’s community colleges. The Public Policy Institute of California. San Francisco, CA. Accessed at


McCabe, J. and St. Andrie, R. (2012) Credit recovery programs. The Center for Public Education. Alexandria, VA. Posted January 26, 2012 at

Miron, G & Urschel, J. (2012). Understanding and improving full-time virtual schools. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at

Molnar, A. (2013). Virtual schools in the US: Politics, performance, and research evidence. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at

Poor Results from Online Courses

There are substantial differences in MOOCs and in online courses taken for credit from California Community Colleges (CACCs). MOOCs are most often free and seldom for credit. Whereas, CACC online courses charge a fee and can be used for credit toward a certificate or Associate’s Degree, and/or be transferred to four-year universities. Despite these differences, it is reasonable to infer that CACC results from for credit online classes could set a benchmark for MOOCs to achieve, if they are to realize their promise in expanding free online education.


The Public Policy Institute of California published Online Learning and Student Outcomes in California’s Community Colleges. Johnson & Mejia (2014) examined longitudinal data from 750,000 enrollments from all 112 CACCs and found that online course success rates are lower than traditional courses. Further online learning increased racial achievement gaps.

Online Ach Gap

In 2011–12, 79.4 percent of enrolled students completed online courses, compared to 85.9 percent of those enrolled in traditional courses. While 70.6 percent of traditional students passed their courses, only 60.4 percent of online students passed. This 10-point gap has remained unchanged over the past ten years. In every college and in every subject area, students are less likely to succeed in online courses than in traditional courses.


Online CC Success Rates



Despite these negative short-term findings, the authors point out a positive long-term trend that bolsters hope for the expansion and viability of the online learning model. About 38 percent of community college students in the sample completed at least 60 units. For these students, taking online courses was strongly associated with improved long-term success rates. This was not true for students who completed between 30 and 60 units, approximately 22 percent of the sample. In this group, those who took some units online had only slightly higher completion rates than those who took no online courses. Thus, Johnson & Mejia found that students who have taken an online course were more likely than those who have not to earn an associate’s degree or to transfer to a four-year university.

Long-term Outcomes

With approximately one million students, online enrollment represents nearly 11 percent of all community college course enrollments. Educators and policymakers are optimistic about online learning’s potential to either reduce costs, or offer greater access. Johnson & Mejia optimistically conclude that online performance gaps can be minimized with strategic planning, improved technology, and increased funding. These results from a large sample of online learners should inspire MOOC providers and online learning enthusiasts, for they offer important data points to consider when comparing success rates between MOOCs and formal online education programs. What are the factors that enable fee-based community college online courses to have 60 percent course passage rates, while MOOCs, which are free and offer no credit, struggle to get 5 percent of their enrollments to complete the class? What would the course passage rate be if MOOCs were introduced in the K12 education market where compulsory attendance requires students to remain enrolled until they are 18 years old?

Online learning has the potential to increase access to higher education and to improve student achievement. CACCs could receive $56.9 million over the next 4-5 years from Governor Brown’s Online Education Initiative (OEI). What educational outcomes should we expect for that level of investment? For online courses to disrupt the status quo in public education they need to be less expensive than traditional, face-to-face courses and they need to yield comparable, if not superior, student outcomes.


Johnson, H. & Mejia, M. (2014). Online learning and student outcomes in California’s community colleges. The Public Policy Institute of California. San Francisco, CA. Accessed at

Will Online Learning Help Students?

My recent posts about UC Scout helping low-income students increase access to A-G and AP courses caused me to reflect about an experience while I was principal of a small high school (350 students). A vocal and generally supportive group of parents wanted a math teacher to oversee a small class (11 students) of AP Calculus. Unfortunately, 143 students (approximately 40% of the school) had failed Algebra 1. Thus, I had the choice of do I devote a teacher to instructing a small group of gifted students, or do I devote a teacher to help the students who still need to pass Algebra? Several parents threatened to move their child from the school if the teacher was not provided to the AP Calculus class.


As a compromise, we agreed to have the students take AP Calculus online. The math teacher agreed to work with the students during her conference period. Another teacher who was working toward Calculus certification agreed to host the students in his classroom and go through the Apex curriculum with them. Unfortunately, this solution did not work for the students, who found the independent work to be above their abilities. None of the students were able to score a 3 on the AP test, and receive credit.

I now realize that these results were consistent with this report on UC Scout, which indicated no matter how advanced the computer explanations are of A-G or AP course work, the vast majority of students will not succeed unless they have a caring teacher, who is an expert in the subject to troubleshoot, advise, intervene, offer multiple explanations, coach, cajole, and coax them through the course.

Another teacher recently contacted me via Twitter. She will be co-teaching a virtual course for the first time this fall. Since her grasp of the subject matter is not at the expert level, she was concerned that she might not be able to help students succeed in a hybrid online/in-person class.

My answer was to build a relationship with the students first, then focus on student needs to define what you want to accomplish as a teacher. Should your students read more, write more, collaborate more, or create more? Technology is merely a learning tool to help achieve that goal. Develop metrics that help monitor student progress. For students who need to read more, supplement the online readings with in class Socratic circles. For students who need to write more, set up goal-setting strategies like word production, or the number of claims and counter claims in a piece of writing. For students who need to collaborate more, set up a series of team-building, problem-solving tasks centered on the course subject matter. Lastly, for students who need to create more, arrange showings of their work and invite a real audience to judge it via an online polling tool. Students engage more when they know an audience will view their work. The audience can be peers, teachers, administrators, parents, or members of the community.

As districts experiment with blended learning staffing models in traditional brick and mortar schools, I suspect we will see the educational version of supply side economics revealed again and again. Students who have the support at home and the drive to persist will not experience difficulty in online classes; however, the students without this support and without this grit will not be helped by online courses. Teachers who are capable of building positive and productive relationships with students will become crucial in a blended learning environment.