Month: July 2019

An Unexpected Journey: To Masters and Back Again

Where I started

In September I will be starting my third-year teaching at U-Connect Secondary School in Langley. This school is unique, as we offer both fully online and blended learning programs.

U-Connect was my first full time teaching position and it was not what I was expecting. I thought online education was a form of alternative learning that allowed students flexibility and choice in their education. However, what I found in practice was an online textbook and online writing assignments, very similar to a traditional brick and mortar school. I have nothing against this type of learning, I myself did very well in this system. However, it led me to wonder if an online educator could do it differently. Fortunately, with my blended students, I see them once a week. The in-class time is a precious commodity that I use for hands on learning and collaborative work. However, I have always wondered if I could create a better learning experience for online students using a digital platform.

The first challenges I faced while trying different approaches were lack of time, resources, and knowledge. Although I had many lofty goals, I found them hard to implement in the digital classroom. I have been able to take small steps towards a hands-on, genuine learning experience for students in my blended classes. Some of the things I have implemented include games, group work, and debates. Because of my background in physical education, I am a big believer in active learning and movement in the classroom.

As I was trying out new ideas, two things were missing. First, I did not do the research to back up my pedagogical approaches. Because of this, I was unable to defend my choices and their relevance to the content. Second, I did not have the experience or background knowledge to integrate purposeful activities into my courses. Although student enjoyed the activities, I often found afterwards that they did not achieve what I had intended.

This led me to explore various professional development opportunities to access knowledge and ideas to improve my personal pedagogy. Although there were many opportunities out there, very few were applicable to my specific job requirements. This is where I started to investigate different master programs that would be beneficial for an online learning environment. Admittedly, my choice to begin a master program was heavily influenced by the increase in pay. However, it soon became an opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues and improve my personal pedagogical practices. My desire to incorporate digital tools to create effective learning experiences has been a driving force in the beginning stages of my academic journey.

Where I am

Which brings us to the present, I am done the first term of the master program and looking forward to the upcoming school year. I have learned a lot from the courses and have had many realizations and ideas about where to take my pedagogical practices. In general, I have discovered that there is no one size fits all fix for education, that my development as a teacher will never be done, and that it is okay to still be improving.

In e-research: harnessing and understanding technology in research (EDCI 515) I was reminded of the importance of research and how it can benefit my pedagogical practice. Moreover, research is the base for understanding and is necessary to ensure best practices. Up to this point, I have reflected on my lessons, what has worked and what has not, but reflection is not enough. I can use reflection as a tool to critically analyze my practice and inform my pedagogy. In addition, reflective diaries are an important part of research, learning, and having a growth mindset. Being a scholar is part of being an educator, understanding the literature allows teachers to develop best practices through research questions and research. Finally, I learned about indigenizing learning as well as different ways to honor indigenous knowledge systems. The most important thing I can do as an educator is to learn more about indigenous ways and always be aware of how dominant perspectives overshadow non-dominant views. My understanding of research has changed throughout the course. Before, research was just something that had to be done to get through my education. Now I realize that research is an opportunity to gain better understanding of the educational field and make informed decisions in my pedagogy.

While reflecting on my explorations and experiences of methodological perspectives and approaches to research I found that I want the whole picture. Quantitative or qualitative alone, do not provide a clear enough picture to act on. However, if you look at multiple pieces of research and mixed method approaches, it allows the reader different perspectives on the results. Moreover, I am hoping to demonstrate storytelling and métissage for my students, as one way to integrate indigenous ways of knowing into research. I hope to show students the benefits and practicality of research for lifelong learners.

In discourse on social media for connected and personalized learning (EDCI 568) I was inspired by the different ways of educating and structuring a classroom. Many guest speakers advocated for various approaches to education which would allow students to inquire, collaborate, problem solve, and take ownership of their own learning. More importantly, the class discussions and readings promoted conversation and collaboration among colleagues. Even though I have thought of using some of these ideas previously, it finally felt like I could apply them in my classroom. Some approaches that resonate with me are inquiry, problem-based learning and cross-curricular projects. I teach social studies, physical and health education and inquiry and am genuinely excited to start the new school year so I can try some of these ideas out in my classes.

Furthermore, I was reminded how important social media and other digital tools are in the classroom. There are many ways to incorporate digital technology in the classroom, some of which I plan to explore this upcoming school year. For example, introducing video recording in physical education as a way for students to self-assess sport specific skills. Also, I plan to use flipgrid as a method to check students understanding of content in social studies. Social media is not only an excellent digital tool to incorporate into classes but is also a great professional development tool. There are so many opportunities for professional development with the use of social media. Twitter and other sites connect educators to like-minded people and provide a platform to collaborate, support and inspire one another. I am currently working on my social media presence and developing my professional learning network.

As an educator it is important to understand the relationship between the needs of the learner and the responsibilities associated with digital technologies. With all the benefits of integrating digital technology in the classroom, it is important to be aware of the best interests of the learner. In addition, it is important that educators use technology appropriately as well as demonstrate digital citizenship for students. Integrating technology and digital tools can enhance learning experiences, however, technology alone does not make a lesson better if pedagogy does not change. It was brought to my attention that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ fix for integrating technology. Each class has a variety of learners and abilities therefore, it is important to remember to use a range of methods and approaches in each class. Despite everything I have learned, I would still like to explore how educators can better their practice to engage a variety of learners.

I am first and foremost an educator. My specialties are physical education and social studies, but I have come to realize teaching is less about the content and more about the relationships you build with students. I strongly believe in hands-on learning experiences that allow students to interact with content and develop skills. I believe that school should be a safe space for students and teachers alike to learn, try, fail and succeed. I think that educators should do everything in their ability to create genuine learning experiences for students and always act within the students’ best interest.

What I know now

  1. Things are easier said then done, but that does not mean we should not try.
  2. Change is a slow process but is possible with the help and support of colleagues in the educational field.
  3. Research is the base of all pedagogy, you need to research in order to develop best practices.

Where I want to go

The adventure has just begun, but where do I go from here? I am very excited to continue my pedagogical journey and put what I have learned to use. As of now I am trying to implement as many ideas as possible to see what works, what does not, and what needs to be adjusted for my students. It is here I take my next step,

Retrieved from

I will leave you with the wise words of J.R.R. Tolkien

“It’s a dangerous business … going out the door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

“The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow, if I can.”


Images retrieved from the public domain Pixabay.

Assignment #2: EDCI 568

Overview of Barriers and facilitators to using digital technologies in the Cooperative Learning model in physical education by Bodsworth and Goodyear.

              Bodsworth and Goodyear (2017) use the cooperative learning model to introduce technology in the physical education classroom in their article: Barriers and facilitators to using digital technologies in the Cooperative Learning model in physical education. 

              This study examines the use of iPads in physical and health education, to record videos of students performing sport specific skills in track and field. In groups, students were responsible to record data, analyze performance, and give feedback to their peers. At first students resisted the introduction of iPads because they were either: unfamiliar with the technology, there was poor group cooperation, or they believed technology took time away from practicing physical skills.

              Bodsworth and Goodyear (2017) further discuss how there are “numerous barriers to teachers’ uses of technology, including time, teacher-burden, teacher competence, practicality and mobility of devices, and a level of teacher resistance to change and use technology.” (pp. 564-565) Teachers ability to overcome these common barriers determined whether they would integrate technology in their classroom. Based on the benefits of digital tools, these barriers should not prevent the integration of technology in physical education. Moreover, when teachers become familiar with technology, they are more comfortable integrating it into the classroom. Therefore, professional development in the area of digital tools and technology integration should be available to educators. This study demonstrated the benefits of integrating technology in a physical education classroom. For example, students were able to compare their performance of track and field sports skills with other students as well as professional athletes. Results indicated that video was an effective technology to support learning through self and peer assessment.

              As physical education is traditionally a participatory course that tends not to include technology, there are many potential barriers. Teacher and student access to resources being the first. If the technology is available, the next barrier is familiarity with the digital tools. Bodsworth and Goodyear (2017) found that “pupils did not know how to use the iPads to engage with learning tasks.” (p. 573) Some students in this study were off task while using the iPads, engaging in activities as they would in their personal time (i.e., taking selfies) rather than using technology as a tool for learning.

              It was a learning process for both students and teacher when implementing the use of technology in physical education. Students had to learn the skills necessary to use the technology, as well as how to use technology as an educational tool.  Teachers had to prepare meaningful learning experiences while using technology in the classroom, as well as show students the importance of using digital tools for learning.

              Despite the barriers faced by students and teachers, introducing technology into a physical education class was successful. It allowed students to track their progress while practicing sport specific skills. In addition to comparing their performance to others, technology helped to facilitate cooperative learning, as students worked together to gather data, analyze their abilities, and create a plan to improve.


Personal and Professional Connection

             I value physical education, as I believe it is an important vehicle to teach many life skills such as: teamwork, collaboration, communication, problem solving, and goal setting. I can honestly say that I learned more from physical education and sport participation then a did sitting in a classroom in high school. That is what led me to become an educator, the desire to teach students how to learn and inspire them to pursue their personal goals.

               I am a physical education specialist however my current teaching position is at a blended/online school. This means it is my responsibility to teach physical and health education through a digital platform.  Physical education is a participatory subject and I have found it challenging to give a physical education experience through a computer screen. My professional position and my personal values towards physical and health education inspired the research area of how to integrate technology into non-academic courses, such as physical and health education. 

              Barriers and facilitators to using digital technologies in the Cooperative Learning model in physical education by Bodsworth and Goodyear (2017) discuss one example of integrating technology into a physical and health education course. Their study introduced iPads to record and analyze student performance of sport specific movements. Students then compared videos with others and discovered how they could improve the execution of the skill.

              This would be a great addition to my online physical and health education courses. Students would be able to track their progress, and improve their abilities, while the teacher could assess their physical literacy and give feedback for improvement. It would also allow students to peer evaluate their skills through video sharing. However, for my blended physical and health education course, where I see students once a week, I am unsure of how introducing video would be an efficient use of time. The study indicates that a lot of class time was spent learning the technology, rather than practicing the skill. While 21st century skills are a great addition to students’ tool belts, class time is a precious commodity.  

              Integrating technology in a non-academic course is challenging. There are issues of resource availability, teacher knowledge of how to use the technology, and the students’ attitude toward using technology in the classroom.  Many teachers (including myself) struggle to scaffold student learning so they can be successful when using digital tools. Another challenge I face with technology is assessing learning. In order to fairly evaluate students’ work in the class, I feel I should assess their technological skills as well as physical abilities. This add to teachers’ resistance to technology integration.


Emerging Research Interest, Problem and Purpose

              Based on the research, the initial area of interest was around integrating technology into electives/non-academic courses. Specifically looking at integrating technology in physical and health education. This evolved into a discussion of how technology integration promotes the learning of 21st century skills. It is important that students develop the ability to problem solve, critically analyze information and utilize various tools at their disposal. Technology integration allows non-academic subjects to develop some of these skills. Leading teachers to asks, how can we best prepare students to live in the 21st century?

              The purpose of this post was to discuss technology integration, find digital tools that can be used in the classroom to help prepare students, seek ways to integrate technology to enhance learning in elective courses, and to equip students with 21st century skills through integrating technology in non-academic courses.


Future Questions

Technology integration in non-academic subjects opens discussion to many more questions. Further research is needed to examine the following questions.

  • How can technology be integrated effectively? 
  •  How can teachers overcome barriers to technology integration?
  •  How can inquiry projects integrate technology into the classroom? 
  •  How do you implement cross-curricular inquiry projects? 
  •  How do you shift your school structure to be technology and inquiry friendly? 
  • How can educators teach curriculum in a cyclical model that does not exclude subjects but includes cross-curricular concepts?  
  •  If all educators started to take the perspective that physical and health education is an important aspect of student learning. Could the increase in importance of physical and health education throughout a population be affected? 
  •  How can we use big ideas to provide a platform for cross-curricular study and technology integration? (Health lessons in PHE, Sci, SS, Foods, etc.) 



Bodsworth, H., & Goodyear, V. A. (2017). Barriers and facilitators to using digital technologies in the Cooperative Learning model in physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 22 (6), 563 –579.

Images where found in the public domain Pixabay. 


Further Reading and ResourcesArticles



Twitter # and Handles

 @physicallylit          @LifeIsAthletic         

@PHECanada            @hopkinsjeff             

@bonstewart             @trev_mackenzie 

 @futureism              @MyClassNeeds       

@tomwhitby            @PBLworks              

@dalufenberg           @holden  

 @slamteacher          @Jessifer 


#blendedlearning        #meaningfulPE        #physEd          #PHE             #PhysicalLiteracy



–  A different way to think about technology in education Greg Toppo at TEDxAshburn 

–  Blending technology and classroom learning Jessie Woolley-Wilson at TEDxRainier  

–  Education as if people mattered Jeff Hopkins TEDxVictoria                                                            Technology in Education – From Novelty to Norm Joel Handler TEDxHIllsboroughLibrary

–  The Role of Technology in Education Andrew Essex at TEDxSudeste

A Settler Trying to Honor Indigenous Knowledge Systems

              This week I read a few articles that discussed Indigenous Knowledge Systems and how to Indigenize Education. Including: Idle No More​, Meschachakanis, A Coyote Narrative: Decolonising Higher Education​, The Digital Revolution and the Unrecognized Linguistic Colonization​, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Science and Technology Education. 

              These readings left me frustrated and encouraged at the same time. It was encouraging to read about how indigenous knowledge can and should be included into core subjects. But I was frustrated because I don’t know where to start. As a social studies teacher, I teach students many components of First Nations history in Canada. However, I feel inadequate in my content knowledge and the methods I use to teach First Nations studies. Why do we teach First Nations History in a traditional a.k.a. colonized way? This is no excuse I am just a little lost as to what I can do better.

              What I learned from all this: 1) the system is not going to change overnight 2) it is everyone’s responsibility to incorporate indigenous knowledge 3) independent professional development in the area is a good place to start.

              Moving forward my goal is to teach students to be aware of their own biases. While reading these articles, it became very clear that I am privileged. I am a Canadian with settler ancestry, who has had every opportunity for quality education, and would be categorized in the dominant culture.

              As the reader, I need to be aware of the lenses I have when examining research and literature from non-dominant perspectives. I am responsible to understand my personal perspectives and how the influence my perceptions. As an educator, I must teach my students to do the same.

              Sure, we cover the content of First Nations people, and Canadian history throughout the course. But I have not once asked my students to think of their biases and views. Nor have I asked them to reflect on how their views changes their understanding. If I ask students to look at an event from all perspectives (dominant and non-dominant) but I do not teach them to understand their biases, what is the point? It is far more valuable for them to understand how they interpret information than it is for them to memorize facts.

              After all this I still found myself wondering, what’s next? So, I looked at Courage: Going Forward in Aboriginal Education, to better understand how to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge Systems. I found that giving space to honor different ways of knowing, is more important than information, and that small steps over time make a difference. I hope that I can begin to honor indigenous knowledge systems by helping my students build skills to critically analyze historical information and look for non-dominant perspectives. It is imperative that educators help students understand their biases so they can become conscientious readers or literature.  

Can School Start Already?

              The end of July, most people would be disappointed that there is a little over a month left of summer vacation. However, I am unusually excited for the upcoming school year. In this past week, I have looked at how inquiry and technology can revolutionize the classroom and better prepare students with 21st century skills. My colleagues and I have brainstormed and discussed many new ideas for our school this year. Part of me is disappointed that the summer is halfway done, but only because that means I have less time to prepare my classes.

              This week I viewed “Education as if People Mattered” and it inspired me to personalize learning for each student. Furthermore, it encouraged so many ideas to integrate inquiry into our school. The bulk of our discussion centered around creating cross curricular inquiry projects that would add meaning and purpose to our subjects. The enlightenment continued when we looked at ways, not only to cross subjects but to cross grades as well.

              It has been a struggle in the past to show students the importance of social studies and physical and health education. Especially when students don’t enjoy the subject matter. I myself, find it challenging to make these subjects relevant to their day to day lives. Now, my head is spinning from all the ways I could take me lessons, with the goal of making them meaningful to students.

              I think I have found my next direction and am now working on a way to implement. This year, I am going to try to use the subject content to teach skills, rather than use skills to teach content. I feel that with the development of technology and the instantaneous information, content has become irrelevant. Let me explain, with a touch of a button, students can look up any information they want. It is incredible how quickly they can find the answer. So why waste time, memorizing facts and regurgitating them on the test or assignment.

              What I would love to see in my classroom are big questions. Questions that cannot be answered through a google search. I want students to think critically, be creative and communicate their ideas. These core competencies are the focus of B.C.’s new curriculum, and I am hoping to use my subject areas as a vehicle to teach these skills.

              My classroom will have to look different, in order to make these changes. How I deliver content will have to be different. I hope that by incorporating technology and inquiry-based learning I will be able to create a meaningful learning experience for all students. Looking at “Technology in Education – from Novelty to Norm” reminded me that just because school is traditionally structured, doesn’t mean I can’t change my classroom. The education system won’t change overnight, but I can take small steps towards technology integration and inquiry in my courses.

             I am looking forward to the new school year. I am excitedly planning out my courses in hopes that I can stimulate interest through various activities. My goal is to incorporate new learning experiences that put students at the center of the lesson. I realize that this is no small task, and I will probably face a lot of challenges and barriers. None the less, I am excited for the opportunity to incorporate everything I have learned in my pedagogical practice.

6 weeks to go, LETS GET TO WORK!


The Thorn in My Side aka. Research

Humans are curious by nature; we love to learn. What impacts this desire to understand is the subject matter. However, one truth stays the same, research matters.  It is an important aspect of education, careers and day-to-day life.

Garlic Crop 2019

For example, a few years ago I decided I wanted to grow my own garlic. Having never done this before, and being a serial plant killer, I did some research. Turns out garlic is really easy to grow. First you buy garlic and separate the cloves. Then you plant each clove (not bulb) in the ground with the point up, about 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart. You plant in early October and then you leave it until late July. Sometime in the Spring, you will start to see what is called a garlic scape, it is the center stalk of the leaves and it is recognized by the curl. Cut the scape off, if you don’t the plants energy will go towards making a flower rather than growing the garlic bulb. In the summer you harvest, that’s it. I knew nothing about growing garlic, but now because of my research I have a small supply of home grown garlic each year.

Research starts with a question, a quest for an answer that you don’t already know. Good research questions start with an area of interest or an idea. Something that you are personally invested in finding out. As valuable as research is, it can be a struggle, especially for students.

As an educator I find it challenging to get my students to dive deeper in content through research. There is always a resistance to anything beyond surface level. And I get it, from their perspective what is the point? As a student, I frequently take this position. Why would I spend extra time to understand a topic (that I may or may not care about) at a deeper level, when I can know the basics and move on.

My biggest barrier is background knowledge. I find that I frequently get lost in the data and language used in most academic papers. This leads me to skim those sections and look for the main points in abstract and discussion sections. This works if you want surface level understanding but is ineffective when you are trying to develop a position in the field of research. It is also important to have a basic understanding of how research is conducted in structured. I know this because I am currently working on building my understanding. (it’s a slow process). Trying to overcome these barriers as I research is discouraging as I feel as if I am playing ‘catch up’ to my peers.  

THIS IS THE WRONG MINDSET TO HAVE!!!  Research is an opportunity to broaden understanding of content area and research methodologies. But the key is to start with a question you are interested in. There’s the secret, if you like the subject, or you find it relevant it will be far easier to research.

I would define research as the thorn in my side. A necessary part of being an educator and a student, but an unfortunate discomfort at times. Research is a part of life, at every level, so why not embrace it!

Twitter: Help Wanted

              I am not good at social media. I have it in my personal life but rarely post. I created a twitter account as part of an assignment in PDP but only used it when it was absolutely required. I admittedly do not use social media as a professional development tool, ever. Then, I hear other educators who are passionate about using technological tools to develop professionally. My reaction is split, on the one side I am inspired and intrigued at how people include such a rich technological presence in their professional practice. Specifically, how they manage their time and prioritize professional engagement with social media.  On the other side, I am unbelievably overwhelmed by the task at hand. Trying to learn new technologies, incorporate them into my practice, and finally contribute to the education community. The task seems too daunting to even begin.  

              With all this battling inside my brain, I can’t help but think of my students. How do they feel when I give them an assignment where they are unfamiliar with both the media and the content? Most importantly WHY DO I EXPECT THEM TO USE NEW MEDIA WHEN I RESIST USING TWITTER? Twitter is an amazing tool that allows educators to gain resources and connect with other educators globally. It is an amazing way to develop professionally and improve your practice. But I get stuck when I try to include it in my own professional skill set.  

              Degroot, Young and Vanslette further discuss the use of twitter in the classroom in “Twitter Use and its Effects on Student Perception of Instructor Credibility.” They found that student perception of professors were influenced by their participation on social media, specifically twitter. Degroot et al. found that students believed “self-disclosure increased [educators} personhood.” (pg. 421, 2015) Working in a high school setting, I will not be engaging with any of my students on social media. But what does twitter use mean for professional development? Do administrators and other educators evaluate their colleagues based on their engagement with twitter? And the one question I just can’t seem to get over, is it worth it?

              Many educational professionals would say ABSOLUTELY. Twitter allows them to connect with like-minded individuals, gather/share resources, and find support within a community. So here I am, willing to try, in hopes that I will no longer be a hypocrite when I ask my students to engage with the unknown. Maybe I will even start to enjoy it and won’t need to use the ‘it will be good for me’ reasoning.  

              Now to all my readers (if you made it this far in the post) I am desperately asking for some sort of guidance on how to effectively include twitter (and other social media sites like it) in my professional development. I will gladly accept any tips, tricks, comments or suggestions that may help me invest in twitter.

Thanks in Advance


              You can also ‘tweet’ me, @smith_rochellej with any suggestions to further my engagement in professional social media use.

Here is the  first resource I found, a quick video on the basics of How to Use Twitter.


Quantitative vs Mixed Method Research: A Comparison of Two Studies (Assignment #2)

For the power point discussion comparing quantitative and mixed methods research, click here: RSmith – july 10th presentation

              This is a comparison of the articles “Assessing the quality of mixed methods research: toward a comprehensive framework” written by Alicia O’Cathain (2015) and “Online self-paced high-school class size and student achievement” written by Chin-His Lin, Jemma Bae Kwon and Yining Zhang (2018).


O’Cathain, A. (2015). Assessing the Quality of Mixed Methods Research: Toward a Comprehensive Framework. SAGE Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research, 531-556. doi:10.4135/9781506335193.n21

              Research is an important part of education, as it allows educators and policymakers to make informed decisions about their practices. However, there is much debate as to which methodology yields the most relevant results. Researchers have sets of criteria to evaluate the quality of their research. These criteria are specific to the methodology that they have chosen, for example, quantitative research’s criteria are “validity, reliability, replicability, and generalizability.” (O’Cathain, pg. 4, 2015) Whereas the criteria for qualitative research are “credibility, confirmability, transferability and dependability.” (O’Cathain, pg. 5, 2015) Unfortunately, there has been little around how to assess the quality of mixed methods research.

              Through a literary review, Alicia O’Cathain compares previous studies in order to develop a comprehensive framework for assessing the quality of mixed methods research. O’Cathain further discusses how “it is important to assess the quality of mixed method research” in order to “offer guidance to researcher, to establish a common language and provide direction for future development.” (pg. 2, 2015) O’Cathain discusses 8 domains of criteria to help assess the quality of mixed methods research in the “first attempt at a comprehensive framework.” (pg. 24, 2015)

Domains of Assessing Quality of Mixed Method Researcher (found pages 14-22)

1)      Planning Quality​

2)      Design Quality​

3)      Data Quality​

4)      Interpretive Rigor​

5)      Inference Transferability​

6)      Reporting Quality​

7)      Synthesizability​

8)      Utility​

              This comprehensive framework can be used to “address the needs of the variety of stakeholders who want to assess the quality of mixed methods research.” (O’Cathain, pg. 3, 2015) Furthermore, each stakeholder, including teachers, researchers, participants and policymakers, have “different needs and [are] likely to be interested in different aspects of the quality of mixed methods research.” (O’Cathain, pg. 3, 2015)

              It is a valuable skill for teachers and students to be able to evaluate the qualities of different methodological research. Whether it be qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods, it is important that readers assess research to ensure it effectively answers the research question.  


Lin, C., Kwon, J. B., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Online self-paced high-school class size and student achievement. Educational Technology Research and Development,67(2), 317-336. doi:10.1007/s11423-018-9614-x ​

This article is a little more personal for me, as I am currently employed at a distributed learning school, where we teach both fully online courses and blended courses where we see students face-to-face and deliver content online. I found it very interesting that with all the virtual high schools available to students there has been very little research done at the K-12 level.  

              Dr. Chin-Hsi Lin examines student success rate in relation to class sized in self-paced online courses. Before this article most academic research for online class sizes were conducted at a post-secondary level.  Dr. Chin-Hsi Lin discusses the “relationship between class size and student learning outcomes” (Lin, Kwon, and Zhang, pg. 317, 2018) understanding that “small classes are generally perceived as desirable” (Lin et al., pg. 317, 2018) for both teachers and students.

              “Online self-paced high-school class size and student achievement” uses quantitative research methodology to assess the relationship between online class size and student success rate. Data was collected from “an accredited state-wide virtual school in the Midwestern U.S.” (Lin et al., pg. 321, 2018), the courses were self-paced, communication with teachers and peers was asynchronous and teachers were provided with “fully designed online courses.” (Lin et al., pg. 321, 2018) Comparing class size with student achievement included the following data:

  • Sample size
    • 20,540 records
    • 12,032 students
    • 233 courses
    • 6 subjects
  • Enrollment Data for students
    • Name of the course
    • Semester enrolled in
    • Grades
    • Instructor identifying numbers

It is important to note that class size “was calculated as the sum of the students who had completed [the course], regardless of whether they had passed or failed.” (Lin et al., pg. 323, 2018)

              Lin et al. found that class size did have an impact on student achievement, but not in the way that he had expected. Optimal class size was related to subject area and was much higher than previous assumptions indicated. Class size had no significant impact on English, or foreign languages, but did effect math, social studies, science and the arts up to a specific number of students. Lin et al. found that students’ “final grades increased as class size increased up to a maximum [number] of students but decreased if class size rose beyond that point.” (pg. 329, 2018) The average maximum number of students in a class before seeing a decrease in achievement was 35-40.

              “Online self-paced high-school class size and student achievement” included some optional survey questions. Students were asked what grade level they were in, and why they had chosen to take an online course, however, only 30% of participants responded. If this study would have been conducted as a qualitative or mixed methods study, it would have allowed researchers insight into the online school. Including students’ perception of online courses, their experience, and how effective they believed the online course was at teaching the content. It also would have allowed researchers to examine how teachers felt about online courses, how they managed the marking and most importantly how frequently they were able to connect with individual students.

              Qualitative research may have also addressed how both students and teachers defined success in an online self-pace course. In this study, “learning outcomes were the course grades reported by the virtual school,” and class size was “calculated as the sum of the students who had completed [the course], regardless of whether they had passed or failed.” (Lin et al., pg. 323, 2018) Some would argue that ‘success’ is not accurately represented by a final grade, but rather should include evidence of students’ understanding of content and their ability to communicate their knowledge using various media. One challenge of using the quantitative research methodology for this study was that researchers were not able to accurately assess student characteristics “such as motivation and previously identified abilities … interventions on the part of instructors … and parents.” (Lin et al., pg. 332, 2018) If this study would have included components of qualitative research, they may have been able to address these blind spots.

              A shortfall of this study is that the quality of pre-designed courses is unknown to the reader. As all online teachers were provided with a “fully designed online course” (Lin et al., pg. 321, 2018), it is difficult to assess the quality of education student participants were offered. The “lack of responsibility for curriculum development on the part of its teacher … could have reduced their preparation time … enabled them to effectively teach larger classes than might be normally possible.” (Lin et al., pg. 331, 2018) The success of students may have been influence by the quality of course, more so than the class size.  Another limitation of this research is the sample size, all data was collected from a single self-paced online school. It would be interesting to complete a cross-examination of various virtual schools to see if the results were consistent. Previous research indicates that “small classes are generally perceived as desirable” (Lin et al., pg. 317, 2018) so it is interesting that this study would have very different results. Lin et al. recommend that “policymakers should be more cognizant of the balance … between maximizing educational access and having small classes.” (pg. 331, 2018)

              Online schools and online course availability are becoming more prominent in the education system. “Schools are continuing to expand their online course offerings, both to overcome school-level challenges and to meet student needs.” (Lin et al., pg. 317, 2018) Online courses afford the learners flexibility in and most importantly access to education. Lin et al. recommend that future studies “should aim to disentangle the effects of class size by considering additional factors” including “student satisfaction, and the amount of student-teacher interaction.” (Lin et al., pg. 333, 2018)



Lin, C., Kwon, J. B., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Online self-paced high-school class size and student achievement. Educational Technology Research and Development,67(2), 317-336. doi:10.1007/s11423-018-9614-x ​

O’Cathain, A. (2015). Assessing the Quality of Mixed Methods Research: Toward a Comprehensive Framework. SAGE Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research, 531-556. doi:10.4135/9781506335193.n21

Diaries and where I’ve gone wrong.

Diaries are great in theory, or so I thought. At different points in my life I have been encouraged to record my days, thoughts and inquiries in a diary format. This includes the reflective diary entries that I had to complete during my practicum. Of course, I completed these diaries with a less than enthusiastic vigor. If I am being honest, I could have invested more into these diaries, but I didn’t see the point. From my student perspective, diaries were a waste of time where I wrote whatever I thought the professor wanted to read.

Well, I have been writing diaries wrong, for multiple reasons. As Engin (2011) discussed in Research Diary: A Tool for Scaffolding, writing a diary can be instrumental in the research process. Diaries are not just for writing down personal experience, but they are also for: reflecting on your practice, scaffolding personal learning and development and an excellent way to explore thought process. Here was my first mistake, I wrote diary entries as a way to cross something off my to do list. They contained little information on my practices or my future goals and intentions.  Furthermore, diaries offer the author a platform to ask themselves questions and increase their ability to notice details in their practice. And there was my second mistake, I did not take reflective writing in my practicum seriously.  My third and final mistake was something I did not expect. I have never once revisited my diary entries to see how far I have come. This is vital to growing as an educator. How can I expect to improve my practice, if I don’t consistently reflect on what I have done, what I would like to do and most importantly the progress I have made as an educator?

I would like to propose an addition to the diary writing process. I think that it is important to tell others about your plans, as well as write them in a research diary. For me this would add a layer of accountability. Not only would I have the support and collaboration of colleagues, but I would also have someone checking in on my progress.  How I see this playing out, is a group of teachers asking each other about their day. Simple as that, what worked, what didn’t, what would you change. There are many times that I do not have a solution, but a quick conversation with another staff member produce many new ideas.

With this in mind, my blog has now officially become my platform to reflect on my practice, make new goals, examine my personal biases and question everything to develop a better understanding.

What do you want from your students: Information Retention vs. Skills Acquisition?

As an educator, it is important that I ask myself what I want students to ‘take away’ from any lesson or assignment. Once I decide what I want them to accomplish it is far easier to design a lesson, activity, or project for them to complete. In addition, how to mark becomes clearer, as I know what I want to assess.

I will be the first to admit that my lessons don’t always go as planned. Neither do my marking rubrics for created assignments. It is an unfortunate consequence of teaching, that I consistently 1) TRY 2) FAIL 3) ADJUST 4) FAIL AGAIN. This cycle seems to repeat itself, over and over until finally all the kinks have been worked out.

Looking back on one of the first assignments I created as a student teacher, I now see it was completely useless. First, the rubric I created did not award marks for what I wanted students to learn. Instead this rubric took away marks for unimportant technicalities and did not effectively evaluate the work students had done. Second, I did NOT give students enough information, guidance, or instructions to be successful. I ended up reducing the amount of marks the assignment was worth to the point of completion marks. It was a complete waste of time for both me and the students.

However, I did learn an important lesson. ALWAYS work backwards when creating content. Figure out what you want students to understand or be able to do, then work on how you can ACCURATELY assess them.  I now ask myself if every lesson, assignment, project, and test I give my students is a good representation of the knowledge or skills they have gained and/or a way to show me their understanding.

Earlier this week I read two articles that took an opposing view of what works in a classroom. In the first article by Dr. Barron and Dr. Darling-Hammond,they discuss the importance of inquiry and problem-based learning in their article Teaching for Meaningful Learning. They argue that students ‘LEARN’ when they are involved in the process and are given the tools to discover the answer. Rather than a teacher telling students the correct answer and students regurgitating the information on the next assignment or test. Whereas, Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2010) argue that minimally guided instruction (such as problem-based learning) negatively impacts a student’s ability to retain information. They further discuss that teachers often assume students have enough background knowledge and resources to help them solve the problem. Students then use working memory to participate in the minimally guided activity, but do not convert the information learned into long term memory. Therefore, students are unable to recall what they had learned from the lesson.

Here’s the thing. I don’t disagree with either article, but I also don’t agree with them. And here’s why. My classroom has 25 (ish) students, who are completely unique in their interests, abilities, and desire to learn. I, as a teacher, will never be able to teach the exact same as any other teacher. My job has too much variability to say one method fits all.

This is my proposed solution: Base your method of instruction on what you want students to get out of your lesson. If you want students to learn the “soft skills” such as communication, teamwork, and critical thinking then inquiry or problem-based learning could be the best method. This style of teaching allows students to collaborate with their peers and address a problem with the resources they are given. If you want students to learn new information or facts than a lesson with more guidance and teacher instruction could be the best method.

Students need both methods to become well-rounded learners. They need the information and resources to feel successful in the class, but also need the autonomy to explore, and problem solve. No matter which method you choose for your classroom, I highly (and humbly) recommend that you ensure you have an accurate representation of your students learning. Be able to accurately assess each student for the learning and progress they have made in your class.

For myself, I love when my students have the opportunity to ‘figure it out.’ In my opinion, there is no better expression on a student’s face than the moment they understand what you are teaching them. That being said, I have been caught more than once, using an activity that didn’t help them learn what I had planned to teach them.

So now go, inspired and ready to fail. Enter your classrooms with new ideas and an enthusiasm to try out something new.