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The Five Points of the Star
Virtual Learning is an InterActive Experience

Ideas for creating an interactive online learning experience.

Creating an Interactive 5 Points of the Star Learning Experience in the Online World
There are a number of ways to teach in the online world. Some programs are credit retrieval, others are expanded correspondence courses, and still others ask the student to do some thematic activities. Another exciting way to teach is to have teachers and students do highly interactive online/real-world learning experiences. This type of teaching allows us to do more than just teach using minimal learning experiences for our students. It gives us the opportunity to challenge students to learn the material by touching all levels of learning. In this type of learning environment it allows us to expect more of our students.

Here are some ideas on how to deliver this exciting type of learning and an overview of what some of the possibilities are in our learning in the 5 POINTS of the STAR blended and online learning environment, later posts will define each of these ideas in detail. In order to have the students become highly engaged in their own learning and take the time to be better students it is necessary to shift into a different paradigm of learning. It is important to create an educational setting that allows the student to explore and engage in multiple levels of learning. To create this type of student engagement in the online world a student should have five very highly interactive experiences: student-to-student, student-to-teacher, student-to-material, student-to-community, and student-to-technology. If an online program/class is able to build this type of learning experience the student will have one of the most exciting and memorable educational encounters of their career.

The best type of learning to develop each of these ideas is to have the student do some type of inquiry-based, project-based, or problem-based learning. These types of learning are not isolated classroom experiences but cross-curricular ones. For example, the work might be developed using a thematic structure that is organized and developed by the teaching staff and allows students to work toward their own projects or activities too. Combining the real-world resources, activities and the online experiences are some of the most valuable lessons a student can do. High to low-level students can master key interactive fundamentals if given the chance. Many times it is not bad to have cross-curricular themes for the younger students to work through in order to learn how to do the variety of learning projects.

It is an important part of interactive distance learning to ask students to actually master the content and do real-world activities. When a student must mentally, emotionally, and physically touch the material they learn the real skills that they will be able to use as a member of their academic and real-world future. If a student must use all of the academic disciplines to do their work and produce a product that has to be viewed, reviewed and restructured it forces them to learn all of the major academic skills they will use later in their lives.

If a school is built on these sound educational principles is will have one of the most robust learning communities in the online world. It is a type of learning that many students, teachers and administrators are not accustomed to and it does challenge our drill-and-kill mentality of education. In the next series of posts I will give some suggestions as to how to accomplish this task. I hope that the discussion that follows will begin to take all of us to the next level of online learning.
To be posted explanations of - Student-to-Community Student-to-Material Student-to-Student Student-to-Teacher Student-to-Technology


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Replies to This Discussion

Dear Thomas,

     I just finished reading Nonfiction Matters by Stephanie Harvey.  This book is singular in that it teaches teachers how to develop authentic inquiry based learning around topics of interest.  She demonstrates how informative texts, the internet, experts in the field, can lend themselves to authentic learning.  She also demonstrates how students can synthesize the information they learn from a variety of sources to write compelling, informative text with a voice.  What you describe is what Stephanie Harvey has written for teachers, grades 3-8, so that teachers can start making plans to engage students.

Thanks for the tip. I have 5 more posts on the subject. I will read the book and try to contact Stephanie...tom

One of the five key relationships - Student-to-community activities

Breaking down the digital walls of the online classroom!

Why take the time to create student-to-community relationships as an important part of an online classroom experience? After all, most of students' just want to get the information and get out of the class. The question that teachers should consider is how rich an educational experience can the online classrooms create for a student?
What students should be provided with is an educational experience that enables the them to become a part of the globalized world. As a part of this community experience an ability to organize their online experiences and lessons to such a degree that they are in touch with experts or peers outside the digital classroom. This is an invaluable encounter for real world learning.
International, national, and local educational events will enhance an online/blended learning experience. All subject matters can be included in these projects and most of the lessons are cross-curricular in nature. It is not too difficult to coordinate these lessons, they are fun to do, and not too time consuming.
Teachers should think of their lessons as an extension of what people do in their communities; these lessons can be used by Social Studies, English, Science, Math or any departmentalized class or as a cross-curricular program. By using outside resources it will spark your student’s imagination and become a unique, important part of a child’s educational experience.

There are a number of the international, national, and local activities and groups that you can work with to do exciting academic work. International projects require a great deal of patience but are well worth the time. There are many resources and three of the best political organizations that have wonderful projects are the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, and the European Union. In my classes I have done projects with each of these groups and the students have always been impressed by the excellent work of the people who are a part of these organizations. These institutions like to use video conferencing, which presents some special issues, Polycom or desktop video conferencing and it makes the process so much richer. Some private associations or groups that have also been very useful, and productive include: Project Harmony ( , I-earn ( ), and the Global Connections and Exchange program (,com_frontpage/It... ) that is sponsored by IREX ( ) are all excellent resources for online cultural exchanges. South Australia’s online schools are also a rich resource, this program uses “mobile Centra Activities” and they helped organized a world wide Oceans Acidification online conference that included schools from the US, Australia, Europe and Asia. There were some of the worlds top ocean acidification experts who worked with our students during this conference and project.

Next, there are a number of national projects to engage in, such as, the Where the Water Goes project from JDL Technologies, I-Earn’s resources, and Clark County School districts (Nevada) own Forever Earth Project (which had live synchronous broadcasts from Lake Mead as a part of the program and was used by students from Virginia, Canada, and Nevada. The Center for Disease control and NASA are two outstanding resources that have interesting projects that enrich the classroom. All the US Senators have access to desktop video conferencing, too.

Locally, my students were engaged with the Nevada Southern Water and Air Quality Authorities, we worked with the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the National Park Service, Las Vegas Wash committee, and the Bureau of Land Management. We have also worked with the Nevada Bar Association, the Nevada Highway Patrol, the Metropolitan police departments on street crime issues, and domestic violence groups. The activities with these groups included real-time as well as online work for students. It is a win-win situation, the community gets excited about these projects and it definitely engages the student in becoming a better citizen. .

No matter what the project it is important that teachers create a solid lesson plans that enable the student to be accountable for all of the work they do. These projects either drive the unit or are integrated as a major resource within the lesson of study. When the student is done with the unit they are responsible to present their ideas to “experts” or publish what they find on the web and then reflect on what the response to their ideas has been by community “experts.”

When doing these projects there are technical, academic and time issues that come into play. The technical support from your IT staff is critical for success; academic discussions with the teachers interested in doing the projects is a vital factor too, and the ability to create flexible time slots for interaction is also a challenge. It is all worth it, the student feedback from these projects makes it well worth the effort it takes to overcome these challenges and problems.

Next year why not engage your class in a number of new and exciting academic adventures. If you break down the digital walls of the online/blended learning classroom there will be a much richer academic environment for all students and teachers in your program.



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