Online Teacher PD

Title II funding has resulted in the allocation of more than three billion dollars to professional development (Darling-Hammond et al, 2009). More than 40 states have adopted standards calling for effective professional development. Yet, as a nation, we have failed to leverage these examples to ensure that every educator and every student benefits from highly effective professional learning.

PD in Learning

Blank & Alas (2009) reported that standards-based educational improvement requires teachers to have deep knowledge of their subject and the pedagogy that is most effective for teaching the subject. 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.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed 400 articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher PD programs and found 40 that 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.


If you are in Las Vegas, Nevada, please join me at the 2015 SITE Conference at the Rio Hotel. I will be discussing the benefits of leveraging and scaling MOOCs as teacher professional development assets at a research panel on Professional Development and Teacher Preparation for K-12 Online and Blended Settings on Thursday, March 5th, from 4:15-5:15 pm, in room #11.

Also joining me will be:

• Keryn Pratt, University of Otago, New Zealand
• Susan Poyo, Franciscan University of Steubenville, United States
• Kathy McVey, Franciscan University of Steubenville, United States
• Mary Lucille Smith, Franciscan University of Steubenville, United States
• Margie Johnson, University of Phoenix, United States
See you in Vegas, baby…

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

New Roles For Teachers


Petrilli (no relation) has recommended several approaches for realigning the teaching workforce to create productivity gains: 1) redefining the roles of classroom teachers to create a more productive and better paid workforce; 2) prioritizing salary over benefits to attract more aggressive workers; 3) paying for increased productivity by asking fewer people to do more work in order to get better results; 4) integrating online and “blended” education models into public schools. I have not heard of any districts using this advice. As educational leaders look to MOOCs for additional cost savings in public education, perhaps two other proposed efficiencies should be reconsidered.

Per pupil weighted formulas

Hill (2012) suggested federal, state, and local governments combine funds spent on K–12 education, divide it by enrollment, assign it as weighted fractions on a per pupil basis that will ensure sufficient equity, and then distribute those dollars to schools directly. This would force a significant reduction in expensive administrative structures, because money would not be held by centralized bureaucracies to preserve particular schools or programs, but would flow wherever students are educated. This type of revenue stream would help schools eliminate district and state barriers to innovation that are inherent multiple layers of management.

Zero-based budgeting

Jefferson (1995) proposed decentralizing educational budgets to allow the disbursement of funds aimed at maximizing student development. A strategy for decentralizing budgets is zero-based budgeting, which requires a full analysis of operating programs. Jones (2012) clarified that zero-based budgeting called for an intensive examination of all aspects of government programs and their effectiveness. Governor Nathan Deal required zero-based budgeting for 37 of Georgia’s Department of Education programs in its 2014 state budget. Most schools simply review the revenues and expenditures from the previous year with the understanding that everything is working. Zero-based budgeting requires that school leaders assess the best use of taxpayer’s dollars and allocate the money as if they were personally writing the checks.

Reporting administrative and business expenses via per unit costs, replacing restricted categorical funding “buckets” with per pupil funding and using zero-based budgeting methodologies to scrutinize legacy programs may have a profound effect on how schools make financial decisions. By streamlining funding sources and reducing restrictions on how funds are used, school governance structures may be able to more explicitly report spending trends, because there will be fewer categories of funds.

Largely absent from the discussion on MOOCs is reasoned debate on how schools can increase efficiency and productivity. Public education has already identified methods for reorganizing school districts and reducing costs by analyzing district business and administrative costs on a per unit basis. Bydistributing school revenues equitably, transparently, and in ways that allow schools flexibility with funds, decentralized school governance models could implement zero-based or per pupil budgeting at their school sites. While additional gains in teacher effectiveness may be realized by using technology to enhance productivity, the promise of realizing substantial savings from MOOC implementation in K12 pale in comparison to the suggestions listed here.


Hill, P. (2012). The costs of online learning. In Education Reform for the Digital Era (pp. 77-98). Eds. Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Daniela R. Fairchild. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Washington, D.C.

Jefferson, A. (1995). Decentralized budgeting: Getting the most out of disbursements of funds. Education Canada, 35(4), 33-35.

Jones, W.C., (2012) State’s zero-based budgeting program to focus on education. Morris News Service. Monday, June 11, 2012. Athens, GA.

Petrilli, M. (2012). How school districts can stretch the school dollar. Policy Brief. Accessed at

Reducing Costs in K12

Computer Dimploma

MOOCs have recently inspired educational policymakers to think about cost savings and new efficiencies as technology enhances pedagogy. Yet all K12 education units can become more cost-effective by improving their delivery systems. Butler, Haldeman, and Laurans (2012) illustrated how the traditional school model spends over half of its budget on labor, with the remainder mostly allocated to school operations. A blended, partial on-line schooling model could offer yearly savings of approximately $1,100 per student; and a virtual school could save approximately $3,600 per student. Considering that most urban high schools have thousands of students, the savings from an effective blended learning program could be sizable. Also, as demand creates a larger supply of online course content, the online costs will decrease further.

District Business and Administrative Costs

Cochran et al. (2011) acknowledged district reorganizations do not always result in significant savings, however, there are numerous savings opportunities in purchasing costs, and also in personnel costs associated with multiple layers of management and decision making. The Council of the Great City Schools has performed industrial benchmarking on 340 performance indicators for the nations largest urban schools and finds it is possible for districts to save between $50-$100 million annually by bringing their business services, finance, and technology operations in line with best practices (Casserly and Carlson, 2011). Further, for-profit colleges spend less than a third of what public universities spend on educating students, yet they charge nearly twice as much (Aud et al., 2012, p. 104). Public schools may extract additional cost efficiencies from best practices used in the for profit sector.

Per Unit Costs

Examining spending in per unit terms requires uncovering key cost drivers, deconstructing spending patterns, and creative thinking about tradeoffs (Hill & Roza, 2010). Historical practices in school finance become legacies when each department, program, or school summarizes its expenditures in terms of personnel, counted as full-time equivalents, or FTEs. These are bulky allocations that make incremental cuts difficult. Districts rarely merge or scale back programs so for district leaders trying to make spending cuts the only options are to eliminate an entire program, which is politically very unpopular, or to make smaller decreases in each unit’s budget (Hill & Roza, 2010). Budgeting in per unit terms can stabilize the budgeting process. Managing budgets in per unit terms might even be a way of containing costs and avoiding built-in cost escalators, which typically run 4.5 percent annually (Hill & Roza, 2010, p 25). What inefficiencies have you noticed in the school budgeting process? What productivity gains do you envision as teachers flip their classrooms and professional development moves into the MOOC-space?


Aud, S., Hussar, W., Johnson, F., Kena, G., Roth, E., Manning, E., Wang, X., and Zhang, J. (2012). The Condition of Education 2012 (NCES 2012-045). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Retrieved July 1, 2012 from

Butler, T.B., Haldeman, M., and Laurans, E. (2012). The costs of online learning. In Education Reform for the Digital Era (pp. 55-76). Eds. Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Daniela R. Fairchild. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Washington, D.C.

Casserly, M., and Carlson, R. (2011). Managing for results in America’s great city schools: A report of the performance measurement and benchmarking project. Council of the Great City Schools. Washington, DC.

Corcoran, J., Gilyard, R., MacBride, L., and Powell, J. (2011). Large-scale cost cutting and reorganizing. Conference paper prepared for the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas B. Fordham Institute conference: A Penny Saved: How Schools and Districts Can Tighten Their Belts While Serving Students Better. January 11, 2010. Washington, DC.

Hill, P., and Roza, M. (2010). Curing Baumol’s disease: In search of productivity gains in K–12 schooling. Center on Reinventing Public Education. University of Washington Bothell. Seattle, WA.

MOOCs in the Classroom

MOOCs in Class Rebecca Griffths

In the Ithaka S+R publication MOOCs In The Classroom?, Rebecca Griffiths asks many important questions. While the collegiate market is an interesting Petridish (pun intended) for economies of scale experiments, this post will argue that K12 would be an even better place. The K12 education market is made up of over 3,000,000 students in the US, who must typically endure 6 hours of instruction per day for 180 school days to move up to the next grade level. In most cases, these students are mandated by compulsory attendance laws and are required to be in school until they are 18 years old.

A typical first generation MOOC was a mix of multi-media, self-graded assessments, discussion board postings, and peer review. Faculty members developing 2.0 MOOCs have come up with innovative ways to improve them. Some will test whether they can “flip” their courses without having to create lecture videos themselves. Other instructors will weave the critical thinking focus of their courses in via seemingly unrelated subject matter. For instance, a program for incoming college freshman uses social networking activities to improve students’ personal health habits while “teaching” a class called Health in America.

All of education could benefit from discovering the cure for Baumol’s disease, when institutional costs rise annually without commensurate increases in output, or productivity. This phenomenon was named after economist William Baumol, who observed productivity in labor-intensive services lagged manufacturing, because labor-intensive services cannot cut staffing without reducing output, and compensation costs constantly rise (Hill and Roza, 2010).

The K12 arena provides a more robust experimental setting, because unlike the collegiate market, K12 students are not directly paying for their own education. Hence, it stands to reason that these students may be even less motivated than college students. Therefore, if MOOCs can be used to engage K12 students and factors can be discovered that help them persist until course completion, this could substantially benefit all of education.

Is anyone researching whether MOOCs can be used to improve outcomes, or reduce the costs of teaching students in middle and high schools? We know from research that hybrid course formats have the potential to improve student outcomes and reduce costs. Yet MOOCs only seem to benefit students with healthy amounts of intrinsic motivation (Bok). How much scaffolding and encouragement from face-to- face instructional coaches would online courses need to yield better outcomes? Maybe 2.0 MOOCs will be better able to improve the college readiness of students struggling in mediocre high schools? Conversely, perhaps the costs of adding high touch personalization elements will destroy the cost efficiencies inherent in the MOOC model?

These are questions I would like to learn the answers to, however, the major MOOC players are preoccupied with finding profitability and answering to investors. Perhaps when the dust settles and the principal players (, CourseBuilder, Coursera, CourseSites, EdX,, P2PU,, Udemy, and Udacity) have all conceded to a merger, we will be ready for some experimentation in the K12 market.


Bok, D. (2013). Higher Education in America, Princeton University Press. New Jersey.

Griffiths, R. (2013). MOOCS in the classroom? Ithaka S+R. October 28, 2013.

Kelly, A. (2014). Disrupter, distractor, or what? A policymaker’s guide to Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCS). Bellwether Education Partners. Accessed on May 29, 2014 at

Hill, P., and Roza, M. (2010). Curing Baumol’s disease: In search of productivity gains in K–12 schooling. Center on Reinventing Public Education. University of Washington Bothell. Seattle, WA.’s-disease-search-productivity-gains-k–12-schooling

#MOOC Who are my students?


To date over 200 students have signed up for our MOOC. The numbers are increasing at a rate of 10-20 students per day. This would give us an audience of 1,500 students by the time the course launches, however, additional promotion from the course instructors and the Canvas Network may increase course enrollment by thousands more. Who are these students? How should we prepare to teach them?

According to Swope (2013) MOOC student enrollment has risen from 1 million in 2012 to over 10 million in 2013, however, reports in the media have largely concentrated on MOOC completion rates, which have been as low as 5-10%. Do low completion rates signal a death knell for the MOOC as an educational innovation? Regardless, we intend to proceed and offer our class to thousands of teachers who want to improve teacher and student relationships. Toward that end, we will offer a review of modern learning and education psychology theories, then give teachers an opportunity to practice with three relationship-building curricula within a caring, online community.

Chernova (2013) reported on a Canvas Network study of MOOC students who were characterized as older students, with advanced degrees, participating because they are curious about the subject matter, and motivated by the courses’ being free of charge. This survey of 1,800 students defined highly-engaged students, as “those who completed several MOOCs”. Of these MOOCers, 55% had a master’s degree or higher. Age-wise, 74% of the highly engaged students were 24-53 years old. Also, 63% were female.

In the fall of 2013, UW‐Madison offered four MOOCs on Coursera. Huhn (2013) reported the average age of participants was 34 with twenty‐eight percent (28%) under age 26. Almost three-quarters (74%) of the participants had a bachelors degree or higher. Only 9% had a high school education or less. Approximately half were employed full time and sixteen percent were part-time workers. Thirteen percent (13%) were unemployed (not working but looking for work), 16% were not working by choice (retired, staying home with young children, on leave from work, or unemployed and not looking for work). Only one quarter (23%) were from the United States. An additional quarter were from Brazil, India, United Kingdom, Spain, or Canada. Overall, 19 different countries had 100 or more participants. There was at least one participant from each state. In the US, three states (California, New York, and Texas) each had 100 or more participants.

Jeffrey Pomerantz has blogged extensively about his Medadata students. In total, 27,623 students were active after week one. Of that number, 1,418 earned Certificates of Accomplishment. Incidentally, this is roughly the same number of students that he has taught over his entire career. Using those figures, Dr. Pomerantz would have the same 95% non-completion rates as most MOOCs, however, he proposes defining of the total number of students who completed the Unit 1 homework assignment (2,938) as “active students”, because they have demonstrated an intent to complete the course. Since
1,418 of these students completed the course; his MOOC completion rate should be calculated as 48%. Clearly new thinking is needed when it comes to evaluating the educational outcomes of MOOCs. I’m just excited to teach one.


Chernova, Y. (2013). Accessed on June 25, 2014 at

Huhn, C. (2013). UW‐Madison massive open online courses (MOOCs): Preliminary participant demographics. Academic Planning and Institutional Research, Office of the Provost, August 15, 2013. Accessed on June 27, 2014 at

Pomerantz, J. (2013). Data about the Medadata MOOC. Accessed on June 27, 2014 at

Swope, J. (2013). Accessed on June 26, 2014 at