The Online Education Debate

Is an online education right for you?

Options for online education are taking the higher education realm by storm. The Sloan Consortium and Babson Survey Research Group found in a 2011 survey that the number of students taking online classes has passed six million. But debates over the validity of degrees from online programs continues. A 2009 study by the US Department of Education found that “online learning appears to offer a modest advantage over conventional classroom instruction” but it strongly supports a hybrid approach. Hybrid education is a combination of online videos and forums and the traditional classroom experience. Like any decision with higher education, there are drawbacks. The best you can do is be as informed as possible.

The Positives of Choosing an Online Education

  • *Adjustable times: With online courses, you watch the lectures and participate in discussion forums on your own time. If you have a full-time job and can’t get to it until the kids are asleep, that’s fine. There are no set times for class, but there are usually deadlines so be on top of that.
  • *Geographic flexibility: Your entire campus is on your computer screen. And therefore it can be wherever you and your laptop are. This gives you access to schools that are physically located all over the country.
  • *Tech benefits: Online courses take advantage of social media, online discussion boards, and the vast number of options the Internet has to offer. You can connect with your classmates through Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, many schools that offer online courses also offer transcripts for the lectures. This is a great option if you don’t take good notes or struggle with listening comprehension.
  • *More technological training. By spending so much time on your computer, you’re bound to become comfortable with various aspects of technology. This comfort can really be helpful in today’s job market and an excellent point to bring up in job interviews when potential employers ask about your educational experiences.
  • *Lower cost: Online degrees usually cost less than traditional degrees. With many private schools carrying the hefty price tag of $40,000 a year or more, this is a strong and very realistic benefit of online programs.

The Downsides to an Online Education

Despite the many benefits of an online education, there are some drawbacks.

  • *Increased level of self-discipline. Unlike a traditional program, online courses don’t have set times or strict penalties for lack of attendance. You are your own boss and have to stay on top of yourself. This requires an intense amount of self-discipline.
  • *Lack of personal connection. It can get a little lonely with just you and your computer day after day. Some people need a face to face connection with other students and professors, and connection solely over the Internet just isn’t enough.
  • *Technological requirements. In order to make the online degree thing work, you need, of course, the Internet. So if you’re still in the land of a dial up connection or don’t have a computer that runs Flash, you’re in trouble.
  • *Accreditation issues. This is probably the biggest drawback of online educations. Many schools offering online degrees do not have accreditations from appropriate associations. The U.S. Department of Education has a database of which accreditation associations are tied to which schools. According to their site, “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”

I, personally, am a traditional kind of girl. I like being in the classroom and being able to go to office hours and having a campus to enjoy. But I can appreciate the kind of flexibility and wide array of options an online education can provide. This post is by no means an exhaustive list of pros and cons. There are more and some will certainly be personal to you, but take care with this decision.

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes on Flickr Commons

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5 Ways Parents Can Get Involved in Elementary School

How are you involved with your elementary school kids?

Parental involvement is important. That much is clear. Currently, the media blames teachers for the current state of education. But before the media blamed teachers, they blamed parents, especially parents in the inner cities.

Research and dozens of studies show that what happens at home with regard to school can be more important that financial circumstances and zip code. Justice Sotomayor and President Obama are also examples that what happens at home can be more important than other circumstances.

It’s clear that parental involvement matters. What’s unclear a lot of the times is how parents can be involved. Here are 6 ways you can be more involved in your elementary school student’s education. Or if you’re a teacher, here are 6 things you can encourage your families to do.

1. Make sure kids get to school…on time. One of the big ways parents can help is by getting kids to school. This could mean anything from making sure they get to the bus stop on time to dropping them off in front of school. Parents who need to leave before their kids in the morning might consider arranging to have the school call them if a student is absent or late.

2. Help with homework. This is the standard way parents can be involved. When we think “parental involvement,” we think homework help. My mom continues to help my siblings with projects and book reports. Sometimes knowing the material isn’t necessary. Sometimes all parents need to do is create a safe, quiet space where the kid can work for a couple hours. But being realistic, sometimes helping with homework isn’t always possible. Good thing there are four more options in this article!

3. Attend parent/teacher conferences. Parents can be involved simply by meeting with teachers. Teachers can help with this by making themselves available outside of standard work hours. As a teacher, I had parents who just dropped by class (they asked ahead of time, of course) and sat in the back for an hour or two. I also made my phone number available to parents so that they could reach me if they need to. That parent-teacher relationship is crucial to student achievement.

4. Emphasize Education. If parents think school is stupid and say it aloud around their kids, chances are the kids will think school is stupid too. If parents say school is good and important, it definitely helps with the kid’s perspective on education. They are not yet at an age where rebellion and finding their identity is key. When they are young, let them know that school is important and college is attainable. That’s what my grandmother did for me, and I think I turned out pretty good.

5. Do your own teaching. Teaching is one of the many hats that good parents wear. My grandmother taught me a ton of things. From virtues like perseverance and patience to the difference between Monet and Manet, she taught me a lot. She taught me about life, love, literature, history, science, and more. I learned as much from her as I did in my 16 years of education. Parents can be that for their kids regardless of how much education they have. Parents still have things they can teach their kids. Most of my learning happened at my grandparent’s dining room table.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of ways parents can be involved with their kids.

What are some ways you as a parent are involved or you as a teacher encourage parents to be involved? 

(Photo Credit: Dell’s Official Flickr on Flickr Commons)

How to Incorporate Writing into Math and Science Classrooms

writing with pen and paperAs a writer, I may be a bit biased when I say that writing is important. (Just a little biased! ) But regardless of how biased I may be, the fact of the matter is writing is everywhere. We’re constantly being inundated with written messages. From billboards to ads on Facebook, from newspapers to blogs, the written word is everywhere. We can’t afford to let the upcoming generation’s writing skills fall by the wayside. Writing allows us to express ourselves in almost unlimited ways. It’s an essential job skill now. Heck, even putting together a resume and cover letter requires writing skills!
One of the ways we can make sure our youth have strong writing skills is to incorporate writing into math and science classrooms. Writing in English? Of course! History? No duh. But math and science? It’s kind of counterintuitive, especially at the K-12 level, but here are 4 simple ways to do it.

  • Stories. Have students write science fiction stories that relate to whatever kind of science unit you are working on. Students can write stories about the solar system, Newton’s laws of physics, chemical reactions, anatomy, and more. Let their minds get creative (within the confines of a few guidelines) and they may come up with some surprising things. Plus, I still remember stories I wrote in the 8th grade. I might be a bit weird, but I’m willing to bet that students will remember their story about Newton’s laws for years to come if they put the effort into it.
  • Journals! I’m a big fan of journals for any subject. A popular teaching technique now is to start class with a “Do Now.” It’s a 5-10 minute assignment students do to get their minds ready to focus on Math or Science or whatever class they are in. Students could use their journals to answer writing prompts during the first 5-10 minutes of class. It doesn’t need to be long, complicated, or daily. Something as simple as “Write everything you know about probability” can inform the teacher and give students some writing practice.
  • Poetry. Poetry is one great, non-traditional way for students to express themselves. One fun assignment could be a haiku on the Pythagorean theorem (or whatever math principle floats your boat). Poems can also easily turn into raps, which can be a fun way for students to share their work with each other.
  • Advice Columns. Students can pretend to be their own advice column specialist. “Dear Dr. Pi” kind of thing. This could be great for studying for tests because students will ask questions they have about the lesson and then try to answer those questions in their own words. Or students could work in pairs and ask each other questions in order to build collaboration.

There are tons more ways to incorporate writing into math and science classrooms. The four listed here are just a start. Teachers get creative. Parents encourage your children to keep a journal or have an advice column. We can all participate in this and improve education for all our children.

Photo Credit: mrsdkrebs on Flickr Commons

Top 10 Technology Tools for Job Seekers

keyboardI know what you must be thinking (or at least I’m going to pretend like I know): this blog is supposed to be about education! Why is she writing about technology and job hunting?

There are many different kinds of education, just like there’s many different ways to learn. Finding, applying for, and obtaining a job can be a significant learning experience. And in this job market, there’s a steep curve.

This process is one that interests me, and I am actually pretty good at getting hired in traditional jobs. Self-employment is a different, and in some ways more challenging, learning experience.

Anyhow, as someone looking for a job, you want to make sure you do things in a cost-effective and overall efficient way. Today, job seekers have lots of shiny tools to help in the process of finding that perfect job. Many of these tools exist on the Internet. But there are so many websites out there, it’s hard to determine the best tool at the right time. I’ve narrowed those resources down to the top 10 you might want to pay attention to.

  1. Monster.com –Monster is a huge database of jobs that allows you to look by keyword, location, or job type. It can be kind of overwhelming at times with all the job options, but there’s also an iPad app for it. The iPad Monster app is actually a bit more organized and easier to deal with (in my humble opinion). Monster also comes with a whole host of articles about resumes, cover letters, and job hunting in general. The articles may, for people in certain professions, be more useful than the job database.
  2. Idealist.org –Idealist is an “ideal” job database for people looking to work in the non-profit sector or have a job helping people. I personally have used Idealist a lot looking for jobs in the education field. I would find job ads for non-profits all over the country and all over the world. Idealist also has a great list of fellowships that can be useful for college seniors or recent college grads looking for a gig to last one or two years before graduate school.
  3. Snag a Job.com –Snag a job is a website that I usually recommend for high school students looking for a job because they offer a search option for teens. It’s a site filled with mostly retail and part-time jobs. It’s well organized and easy to sort through.
  4. Linked In –LinkedIn is a social media platform similar to what Facebook is, except it’s for professional people looking for professional connections. LinkedIn is based off of the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The connections you build with colleagues, friends, former supervisors, and other professional connections can lead to new connections and new job opportunities. Linked In also has a job board where people can post job opportunities within their companies.
  5. Craigslist –I’ll be honest. I went back and forth and back and forth about putting Craigslist on this list. But I think for certain types of jobs, Craigslist does work. For instance, organizations like Sylvan Learning Center and other education related jobs only post their job openings on Craigslist. Craigslist can also be a good site for people looking for administrative assistant positions. It’s not right for every type of job, but it can be useful for some. Be wary of posts without company names and posts that request something from you other than a resume, cover letter, or writing sample. Anything that asks you to pay a fee or give some money is probably a scam. Internet safety, people!
  6. Google (Google Maps, Google Docs, and Gmail) –Google is now more than just a search engine. Heard that a company in your area is hiring? Check out Google Maps to see where it is and what is around it. Google Docs offers a way to keep track of the jobs to which you apply. It’s crucial while job hunting to keep track of the jobs you have applied to so that you don’t re-apply to the same job. Google Docs is an easy way to do that and it can be accessed on any computer and most tablets.
  7. Twitter–Believe it or not, Twitter can be useful for job hunting if you know how to use it. I use Twitter to post about various projects I am doing so that potential clients know what I am up to. I also “follow” various organizations that post job opportunities. Follow companies that you might like to work for, so you will be among the first to hear any job opportunities. This site offers a video on how to find jobs on Twitter.
  8. Microsoft Office or iWorks— I once helped a friend who was looking for a job and did not have a word processing program on his computer. He put together his resume in a text only document with no formatting or anything. It’s no wonder he wasn’t getting any call backs! His resume did not have a professional look. Now, you do not need fancy paper or perfume (see Legally Blonde) or fancy colors. But formatting is usually necessary to set you apart as a serious, competitive applicant.
  9. Search Engines — Sometimes job databases like Career Builder and Monster are not enough. If you know of a company or a kind of company that you would like to work for, Google (or Bing or Yahoo) them. Check their website directly to see if they are hiring. This kind of search is oftentimes more effective than using a site like Monster or Career Builder.
  10. Blogs — In today’s economy, people all over the country are switching professions and stepping outside of their comfort zone in order to find a job. Blogs can help in a number of ways. It can help expose job seekers to different professions and different perspectives. I read all kinds of blogs about writing because it gives me new ideas for what I can do. Search WordPress.com and Blogger.com to find blogs that may interest you. Hopefully this one is one of them!

What other technology tools do you use in job hunts? This question is for everyone–employed and unemployed. 

(Photo Credit: espensorvik on Flickr Commons)

State of the Union, State of Education: The Ups and Downs of Obama’s Speech

Obama at the State of the Union Address

On January 24th, our President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union address. Now, we can argue back and forth about what was said and if the proposed policies are sound. And we will… in a moment. First, I want to give a shout out to our President for once again speaking well. It’s refreshing, to say the least, to have a leader who delivers speeches in such an engaging manner.

Now, on to the nitty gritty. Obama said a lot about a lot that night. Here’s the blow by blow of what he said about education.
  • The good news: every state in the country has agreed to raise their standards in education (i.e. the Common Core Standards)
  • A declaration: “Teachers matter.”
  • Proposal #1: Give schools the proper resources and reward the best of our army of teachers.
  • Proposal #2: Every student stays in high school until they graduate or turn 18.
  • Proposal #3: Colleges work to keep costs down. In the words of the President himself, “Higher education can’t be a luxury -– it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Sounds pretty good, right? The Common Core Standards (for those who may not know) are new standards for education. The way it used to be is that 3rd graders and Mississippi and 3rd graders in California might be held to different standards of learning and might be learning the different things. The Obama administration wants to be able to say: “3rd grades in the United States need to know this and that by the end of 3rd grade.” And teachers, principals, schools all over the country are held to the same quality standard. It’s a fabulous idea and I’m glad to hear that all states have agreed to it. (Remember, handling education is a state’s right.)

     “Teachers matter.” What simple yet wonderful statement. I cannot say enough how much we need to value our teachers. They shape the future of this country every day with what they do in their classrooms. I’m not saying we can’t criticize our teachers but it should be constructive criticism. Why not propose solutions in addition to pointing out problems? Let’s also not forget the good–most Americans have at least one teacher that encouraged or inspired them in some way.
     Give schools the proper resources and reward the best of our army of teachers. One of the phrases I loved most throughout Obama’s campaign was “army of teachers.” That’s really what they are. Right now, teachers in the Chester-Upland School District (PA) are basically teaching for free. They are soldiers in a war against educational inequity. I am all for giving schools and teachers the proper gear and ammunition to fight that war properly.
     Every student stays in high school until they graduate or turn 18. This actually makes perfect sense to me. Who came up with 16 as the magic number anyway? If you’re old enough to vote, get married, join the army, and have a non-provisional driver’s license (in most states), you’re probably old enough to make the decision to drop out of school. On the flip side of this, however, we cannot expect young people to stay in failing schools for a longer period of time just because. In order to make this proposal effective, it has to be coupled with a plan to bring up failing schools and to make education engaging every day.
     Last proposal: Colleges work to keep costs down. Obama’s right…higher education can’t be a luxury anymore. It’s a requirement for most jobs right now. Fifty years ago, the standard was the high school diploma. Now it’s the college degree. Most people can’t justify going to college if they really cannot afford it and all they see is thousands of dollars in debt as a result. This one is much easier said than done though.
     Colleges are now pretty confused about the actual plan to lower costs and scared about the seeming threat to pull federal funding. This proposal sounds good, but definitely needs to be fleshed out some more. And college administrators need to be included in the conversation or it probably won’t work. One question I would ask is: how does this plan keep private schools accountable? Most of the articles I’ve read focus on public schools, which depend on federal funding. What about the private schools?
     Overall, it was a well-prepared, well-delivered speech. There are just (as usual) some issues with implementation. What do you think? Leave comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.