Writing the Book on Online and Blended Learning – Tom Clark and Michael Barbour, USA

When Tom Clark and Michael Barbour set out to write a guide to online and blended learning, they brought a wealth of experience to the project. Clark wrote the first American textbook on distance education 25 years ago, and Barbour experienced the benefits of online learning first-hand as a teacher in a small, rural school district.

Both authors would agree on one thing: technology has given today’s students the ability to learn in ways that would have been impossible just a generation ago. In fact, when Clark conducted the first national virtual school survey in 2001, just 40,000 to 50,000 K-12 students were enrolled in online courses. Today, millions are enrolled.

As a new teacher, Barbour developed AP course content to fill gaps in his rural district. To his surprise, the courses attracted students from far beyond the district. It was interesting,” he says, “having students in Texas enrolled in an AP US History course taught by a teacher in a small, rural community of 3,500 people on the island of Newfoundland in Canada.”

And as access to technology continues to advance, this phenomenon is only accelerating – making this a great time to write a new book on the subject. Online, Blended and Distance Learning in Schools provides students enrolled in Education Technology, Educational Administration and related Masters and PhD programs with expert opinions and insights on the practice and policy in K -12 online, blended and distance education.

Clark and Barbour have also developed a helpful Wiki resource to accompany the book. This resource describes trends in the field, provides illustrative program examples, and includes links to educator resources, along with chapter summaries, URLs for book references and additional resources. The authors have also incorporated thought-provoking discussion questions, some of which do not require familiarity with the book to answer.

According to Clark, “Grad students and professional development participants can earn learning badges by achieving different levels of inquiry through chapter-related activities. For example, you might become a Policy Novice or even a Policy Wonk by answering questions and completing activities in the issues chapters.”

In a field that’s virtually exploding with innovation, information is constantly evolving. So in addition to the book, both Barbour and Clark regularly publish insights on their blogs and in white papers. Be sure to check out their new book, along with their Wiki resource, and enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Michael Barbour and Tom Clark.                                              

What inspired you to become involved in education?

Clark: Seeing my work in progress on my dissertation, which focused on faculty attitudes toward distance education, my master’s program chair, Dr. Dick Verduin, asked me to write a book with him. His mentorship launched my educational research career and made possible my firm’s later work in online and blended learning.  

Barbour: I actually came to education because I wanted to be a politician. In my province, the vast majority of those elected to provincial and federal office were teachers. I had been a political organizer, and had made the decision to run for elected office. So I became a teacher to build a local network in a rural area with the goal of winning an election. But I got into the classroom and enjoyed the students that I was working with and helping to guide them to their chosen futures…and just have stayed in education ever since! 

What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be involved in education?

Clark: Being selected in 2000 as lead evaluator for a five-year US Department of Education grant to a multi-state consortium. This gave me the opportunity to witness the transition from video-based to online learning in multiple partner projects, while helping the consortium demonstrate to federal funders the value of the online professional development it provided for over 10,500 educators. It was also quite gratifying to be asked by Microsoft to write the paper on quality assurance via monitoring and evaluation for its Microsoft in Education Transformation Framework series.

Barbour: In my first year of teaching, I entered a school and a district that had an established online AP mathematics and science program, and I created an online AP social studies program. During my four years at Discovery Collegiate, the program grew to cover all six AP social studies courses and we had students from all around the district, other districts in my province, as well as students from several US states.

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?

Clark: I’ve made hundreds of technology integration classroom observations as an evaluator. In one statewide program, we found that schools that focused their grants on 1:1 technologies rather than instructional technologies were more successful in fostering changes in teaching styles and student-centered use.

At most schools we visited, teachers were well-trained in using technology, but only a few had students making creative use of technology to achieve learning objectives. One positive example was an Illinois high school that hadn’t made math AYP (adequate yearly progress) in three years. Its math department fundamentally changed the delivery of Algebra I, moving from direct instruction to a 1:1 netbook program with an online text in Moodle, OneNote, and web-based productivity, management and assessment tools. Test scores went up.

Barbour: I was largely educated in an urban area, so I had access to any of the courses that were part of the provincial curriculum. My first teaching position was in a small rural area, where students were quite limited in the options that they had. Having some background in technology from my political career, I saw technology and innovative ways of course delivery as a potential to even out the playing field in terms of what my students had the ability to take.

Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?

Clark: Ensuring world-class, personalized teaching and learning that yields improving student learning outcomes, within a decentralized, state-based education system. The US is a pluralistic society which is increasingly divided about desired educational futures. I hope we can keep on track with Common Core. It’s too bad that NCLB accountability requirements meant that states had to introduce new high-stakes aligned assessments before teachers and schools could get fully on track with Common Core.

Barbour: The biggest problem we have in education today is the imposition of ideological solutions on the school system.  The current neo-liberal onslaught that we have on education is the biggest challenge that we currently have, as the research has clearly shown us that the vast majority of these “solutions” are not working or are only working in isolated conditions or in circumstances that are not scalable. 

In the nations where we have seen this onslaught, we have seen an increased standardization and corporatization of the education system, and we have also seen a continued fall or stall in their international ranking.

In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?

Clark: In our new book published by Stylus in partnership with Microsoft in Education, we see eight exciting trends in the future of online and blended learning in K-12 schools. Global and evidence-based digital learning underlie the other trends. Open and mobile are trends that apply to teaching and learning in many contexts. Decisions about new ways of teaching –facilitated and blended—and new ways of learning—personalized and adaptive—are made based upon a program’s unique educational context. My hope is that we as a society can raise student outcomes while also helping students build creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration skills needed to participate successfully in a global society.

Barbour: I’m very hopeful about the potential of K-12 online and blended learning.  When implemented to address the needs of specific groups of students, it has the potential to provide a quality education for students that are not being served or are being underserved in the traditional brick-and-mortar school system.

About Tom Clark, President, Clark Consulting

Illinois, USA


        Birthplace: Terre Haute, Indiana, USA (French for “high ground”)

        Education: PhD in Ed Admin, Masters in Adult Ed., Bachelors in Radio and TV

  •    Blog: https://tomclarkconsulting.wordpress.com/

        Website I check every day: Multiple sites for educational news and research.

        Favorite childhood memory: First bicycle ride.

        Favorite book: All-time favorite: The Lord of the Rings; Last read: our new book, Online, Blended & Distance Education in Schools (Stylus, 2015; co-published with Microsoft).

        Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Office 365; Skype.

        What is the best advice you have ever received? Quit your day job.

About Michael Barbour, Director of Doctoral Studies, Sacred Heart University

Connecticut, USA


        Birthplace: Buchans, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

        Educational background: PhD in Instructional Tech, Master’s in Computers and Education and Literacy, BEd in Intermediate and Secondary Social Studies, BA in Political Science

  •    Blog: https://virtualschooling.wordpress.com/

        Website I check every day: E-mail/Twitter/Facebook/Google+

        Favorite childhood memory: Being on the ice in a hockey rink.

        Favorite book: All-time favorite: Will Anyone Search for Danny? by Earl Pilgrim; Last read: Jesus Wars by Phillip Jenkins

        Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Skype

        What is the best advice you have ever received? Always undertake the responsibilities of the person whose job you want.


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