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-teacherstudent-to-materialstudent-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.

Later posts will be detailed explanations of the following ---Subpages (5): Student-to-Community Student-to-Material Student-to-Student Student-to-Teacher Student-to-Technology


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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Thomas

This sounds like an interesting approach to learning. Do you see that it applies mainly to project based learning, ie a structured approach with sequenced stages and an established end product or problem based learning, ie. ill-formed question with fluid stages and a number of possible solutions? I would like to know more about your approach.




There are sequenced stages when approaching the building of pal or product based learning. When creating the 5 points of the star I think it starts with what you want to do as an end result and then you develop the "essential question." From there you begin to tie in the necessary resources such as the proper tools of online or blended learning, academic requirements (rubrics), technical skills needed, community groups, due dates and more. 

As far as organizing a curriculum it is my belief that small critical thinking projects should be the start of the process and then the students should have a teacher directed PBL project, and, finally, be able to do their own projects. During the early stages students can learn the technical, writing, and research techniques needed to complete their own projects. 

I hope this  helps..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.
This all sounds very interesting. Is it something you are actually using or more of a theoretical nature.

Yes it is. I designed the program and taught it in the online world. The final exam was where the students designed their own projects and carried them through. I do have 4 more posts on the process.:-) Tom


Thanks for that. Has there been much interest in the process in your part of the world?

Most online schools seem to want to do simple drill and kill or an old time "project" within the class. One that does not reach out to other countries. However, in saying that, some schools are beginning to add this type of approach to their programs but it is spotty to say the least. :-(

My own school had a change in leadership and decided to be more of a drill and kill and not sponsor these types of activities. Anyway, I know it works and creates an  incredible classroom. I can remember working with a blended learning school in Australia that did wonderful Centra level activities for students. We did a short collaborative activity and my kids were overwhelmed and excited about the experience. 

I know how you feel. Our school systems are drifting more and more towards teaching for the test etc. Very prescriptive. I find it very frustrating to say the least when I can see the opportunities that PBL and online learning offers and no one wants to know about it.

Student-to Technology is not as easy as it seems!

A common statement in the online world by adults is that students understand how to use technology better than adults; after all, they have been brought up with it. After 10 years of working with online students I have noticed that many of them know how to play games, to blog, and to download music but generally do not know how to use technology as a learning tool.


When working with students on using technology the teacher’s responsibility is to teach the students the difference between gaming, blogging, and doing high level academic work. One of an instructors first question to answer is, “How do you determine the right learning tool to use?” In general, the type of program(s) that you want to use is(are) one(s) that will help make the student be more interactive with the academic material? The lessons and programs that the student is asked to use should create a work group experience that allows him or her to post key ideas for others to see and for them to have to defend their ideas. Another important consideration is to select tools that allow students to do real world activities by: using productive multimedia tools, work closely with worldwide experts, and effectively use original research materials. This allows individual and groups to work closely together on high-level academic projects. It also creates lessons that properly use online programs and it will increase the student’s understanding of the material.  One important side effect to this is that it also escalates their commitment to learning.


In order to do the high level of technological work it is important to have short tutorials available for the student to use for just in time learning.  At first it is important to supply the student with a model of this type of work. Then the student should be given the academic resources or information (such as pictures or audio) and allowed to learn the proper use of the software. And finally, they pupil should be given a significant assignment that uses the technological programs to explain or present their academic and intellectual viewpoints or findings to others. It is best to do short 2 – 3 minute presentations for students to do as a first project and then to expand the process as the year goes along.


There are a multitude of programs that are available for student’s to use and it is essential to determine which series of technological programs that fit the academic requirements of a project. Multimedia programs such as Audacity, Camtasia, and PhotoStory can produce simple but effective lessons. The proper use of interactive activities such as wiki’s, blogs, social media, Teachertube, Teen Second Life, and podcasting are all current internet technologies that might be used to teach the student how to use 21st Century learning tools.


Evaluation of the student’s work should be based on how each pupil accomplishes their specifically assigned technological, academic, social, presentation, and group tasks during a project. A portion of their final grade is how well they use the technology to present their materials. All students should be given a grading rubric for each of their assigned task and each area such as the technological portion is one part of their grade. A student’s final grade is based on their own individual responsibilities and their group efforts. It requires a lot of work on the part of the teacher to stay up with this type of program.


By incorporating technology as a part of the online learning environment a student will develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be successful academically. These types of assignments or activities also help prepare the student for the workplace of the 21st Century. 


In order to extend a students education and learning the student-to-student exchange is a critical part of the online experience. There are a series of important questions that need to be answered: What is the value of a student-to- student relationship in the online world? What expectations should a school or program have about the depth and breadth of student interaction? How do synchronous and asynchronous tools add to the interactive student online experience?


What is the value of intensive student-to student exchanges? Teaching a student to be a functioning member of a collaborative learning group at a distance is a key 21st Century skill. For the student to go online and meet with others, post their ideas, defend and challenge others viewpoints, find or use outside experts to support their ideas, to build on others ideas, and present/defend their own opinions in a thoughtful, logical and timely manner is a real world skill that should not be over looked by online educators. The ability to create this very interactive learning exchange the students should include a balance of asynchronous and synchronous lessons or activities. (It  also includes the importance of a student to do the academic and technical skills that are as an important as learning to read.) Student’s can blog or post of Facebook or Twitter but can they carry out an extended academic discussion?


What expectations should a school or program have about the depth and breadth of student interaction?  How do synchronous and asynchronous tools add to the interactive student online experience? Asynchronous tools have always served as the most valuable part of a virtual learner’s educational experience. This tool gives the student a chance to express their ideas in a flexible learning situation. If done correctly, the student develops important critical thinking skills because they have to think about  what they want to say, how they want to say it, and who supports their ideas. As students begin to do these traditional online discussions, they also can meet and discuss ideas with real world experts, do high level projects and activities together, and post an array of multimedia materials to support what they do. As long as these projects are done in a timely manner, with the depth and quality that it takes to learn, it is worth everyone’s time to participate in these forums. The mission of the teacher is to help the student by making available an array of activities and multimedia, within the lessons. The teachers’ ability to know when and how to work with the discussion forums and web resources is an essential part of  the quality of these discussions.  In the asynchronous world students can be challenged to do an array of academic tasks that includes so much more than “just a discussion.”


Synchronous instruction is also a valuable part of the online experience as long as the tool is used in an interactive manner. It is a place where the student’s ideas and opinions should be used in conjunction with the asynchronous lessons. This tool can and should be used to do collaborative inquiry activities that bring experts from around the world for the student to work with, it allows a student to do real-time mobile events that are interactive, it permits student’s to work in a “face-to-face” environment that; can share applications, get immediate feedback to questions, follow-up on that “teaching moment” opportunity, and either begin or end the inquiry process in conjunction with the lessons of the asynchronous tools. There are many other uses of the synchronous tool that would allow students to be tutored, bring district, state or world resources to help or evaluate different types of students (such as English Language Learners, special needs students), and it gives parents a chance to meet with teachers/counselors/administrators without having to physically “come in to the school.”


When a student-to-student interactive learning environment is created it is an amazing educational experience where students begin to express their ideas on academic subjects in a meaningful way. By blending two most powerful online tools it will help create a very rich academic environment.



One of the five key relationships



“Teachers need to become the guide on the side”


What role should the teacher assume in the blended and online world that will engage the student effectively using the tools of technology? How direct should instruction be or should the teacher just be a “guide on the sided?” In an inquiry-based environment there is no doubt that the teacher should become a “guide on the side.” In saying that it does not mean that the teacher abdicates his/her responsibility, in fact, it means that the teacher has even more responsibility to work with each student throughout the lesson.


In the face-to-face, synchronous and asynchronous environment there are a number of things a teacher can do to guide the student to success. The first key responsibility is for the instructor to organize the blended/online learning environment so that the students understand the project or theme, how to do the theme, what the resources they will need, the timelines, how to use the various technologies, and how they will be evaluated. These responsibilities take a considerable amount of effort on the part of the teacher; these responsibilities need to be communicated to the learner by blending the real-time and any time tools. They will have to be posted in the forums or folder and it is not a bad idea for the teacher to create a video of the assignments.


It is important to remember that the lesson will have a “flow” to it that intertwines the real time activities with the anytime class work (content/discussion/chat/project areas). Judging that flow is one of the hardest tasks an instructor has during the project. But one thing that must be done is to set-up a final project due date and stick to it. 


While the lesson is in progress the teacher will have to work individually with each student or student group to guide them toward their goals. Guide does not mean tell them, guide means to evaluate their work by suggesting resources and setting standards that allow the student to formulate their own well documented ideas of what is right or wrong. If the students determine that their original hypothesis is “wrong” then the student(s) must go back and re-do their work and answer the questions that are now appropriate. The bases of whether their work is “wrong” or not is based on an evaluation by their peers, the teacher, and experts from that field.  


Another important role of the teacher during the lesson is to suggest data (sites, experts, etc.) that a student can use when analyzing and presenting his/her findings to the class. This is particularly important if the work is inaccurate or sloppy, the student should have to go back and re-do the research or restructure the resources and find more appropriate responses to the questions.


The teachers’ role is to encourage each student group to come up with their own answers to the essential question or problem. Remember not every student or group will come up with the same “answer” to a question; the students will not only learn the material but they will learn about the process they must do to support and execute an answer. As a teacher in this environment it is necessary to help the student learn the proper process to support an accurate, measure of their findings. By using an array of technology to do this requires a tremendous amount of time and effort on an instructor’s part.


Helping the students set up the end of the lesson where they will have to do a quality presentation to real world experts, defend their ideas, and then re-analyze what they have learned about the subject is a major part of the teachers responsibility. In saying that, teachers should have the students decide at the beginning of the project who they should target then help them get these experts or groups organized to come into the classroom.  It is also a teachers job to work with the students to determine what the finished product should look like. For example, how much multimedia should be used, what online resources should be used, what traditional and other resources should be a part of the project as the students begin to publish, post, or expose their work. It is an essential part of the lesson that an instructor must work closely with the students to help them determine the most effective tools or what training the students need in order to accomplish their work.


When students do the same project and come up with different answers and present their work to experts from other subject matters or real world areas, it forces the young scholar to do quality academic work.


As stated before the teacher’s role is essential in guiding a student(s) in finding the people or resources to help him/her do the work, to evaluate the thinking process, to determine the accuracy of the work, fill in missed ideas or needed skills, and to make sure the student does a quality job on their work.


Because there are so many fantastic resources found in the online environment to accomplish this awesome task the teacher is a constantly teaching to the moment or evaluating students work. And whether the student is a minimalists or maximalists the individual student is responsible for the work and, in the end, their own education. The depth of learning will be greater no matter what level the student seeks for their education. By using the variety of instructional tools that are available (real-time and any time) the online world can be a rich experience for all students.


Points of the Star

What is the most effective way to get the student to grapple with the subject matter? How can the student be held accountable for their work? How can the synchronous and asynchronous technologies best be used to help a student understand the different levels of learning? What does it take to make the student accountable for their ideas and the information they are required to learn too? One of the best methods of teaching using online learning is for a student to do inquiry or project based learning that empowers them to come up with their own conclusions facts and ideas. By making the classroom a cross-curricular event the student learns many of the practical skills they will need to have in education or business.

The projects should be designed to meet state and local standards. When you combine the material, the use of experts, the ability of the student to post/defend/expand on his/her ideas, to present these ideas in a real world context and then go back and revaluate his/her effort it is one of the most powerful learning adventures in any classroom. The online world gives the student an access they have never had before to do this. As teachers we need to think of taking the material a student must learn and asking him/her to apply it by using technology to critically think and then apply that thinking to a real world situation.

To develop PBL online lessons a teacher may have to create a theme or allow the students to choose a topic. There are number of wonderful tools that are great guides for online inquiry or problem-based lessons, The key to doing these activities is how do you them so that you end up with a quality product. If the student knows the essentials of critical thinking, how to research, what the grading rubric will be before undertaking the project it helps facilitate a quality project.

Here is one example of how to integrate synchronous, asynchronous, and real-time activities in an online lesson. The program I like to use is called the 11 Steps to Action that I modified from: (
1. Define the problem & identify the information needed and Find collaborative partners
2. Information Seeking Strategies find the most appropriate source(s).
3. Locate and access information
4. Extract the relevant information.
5. Synthesis of all information.
6. Evaluate the results of research.
7. Communicate the information.
8. Take appropriate action.
9. Present program to teacher and classmates
10. Present Program to Find collaborative partners
11. Assessment of action taken.

To use each of these steps in the online world students must be evaluated by the instructor, other students, and subject area experts all along the way.

Start by introducing the information in the synchronous world and/or recording something for students to listen to (i.e. podcast) before they start the project. Post the information ahead of time in your asynchronous content manager (i.e. WebCT, Blackboard.) and include your rubrics/expectations. I prefer to use the synchronous world to introduce the topic so that the students can ask questions. Each of the following steps is worth different points and have definitive due dates:

Step 1
Define the problem & identify the information needed. (Choosing a topic and subtopic)
• What is the topic I have chosen? (Find a topic that interest you personally)Suggested Technological tools
Email Instructor, discussion using synchronous tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc.

Step 2
Information Seeking Strategies
• What is my hypothesis? (Set up a hypothesis, chose a topic, and develop some resources.)
• What steps do I see as a part of my investigation? (Personally gain background information on your topic trough independent research.)
• Keep a careful log of your research? (Dates, observations, results)
• What outside resources do I need to use? Which ones have I added during the investigation? (Choose at least 3 legitimate outside sources.) WebCT Discussion Area,
Suggested Technological tools
Breakout evaluations from teacher using
Synchronous tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc.

Step 3
Locate and access information
• Identify and meet with experts on your topic.
• Write your analysis of the topic What effects and impact do I see as a result of this investigation or activity? (Choose a few subtopics, create questions about your topic and its effects, and use that as a framework of what to research.)
Suggested Technological tools
LMS Discussion Area/wiki, email, and synchronous tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc.

Step 4
Extract Relevant information
• Write a 3-4-paragraph summary of your work for the Project-Based learning newsletter.
• Prepare the general information for a web-based newsletter – techno-summary, video, audio, web-file, or PowerPoint.
• Prepare the general information for the blog that includes: web pages, podcast, and/or PowerPoint presentations.
• Plan your social media campaign synchronous presentation using tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc.
Suggested Technological tools
Email your instructor- to be posted on the wiki.
Web page or PowerPoint-Email to Instructor

Step 5
Synthesis of information
• Determine what course of action you need to take based on your research. (Seek out {through this class} and contact a professional in your field of study.)
For example:
• What laws/legislation impact your work?
• What laws/legislation is needed to support my findings?
• What is the appropriate public information/awareness campaign I need to take on my topic?
• Are there any agencies, organizations or businesses that you need to contact for information or action on your topic? Contact and meet with these organizations
Suggested Technological tools
LMS Discussion Area, email the documents of all contact information

Step 6
Evaluate the results of research
• Finish the organization of your information/research so that you can finalize your presentation/activity
Suggested Technological tools
LMS Discussion Area, Post final information approved information on Wiki

Step 7
Communicate the information.
• Present your program to your peers for initial review
Suggested Technological tools
Synchronous tools and blog

Step 8
Take appropriate action
• Create an action plan that includes a timeline for executing your action plan.
Suggested Technological tools
LMS Discussion Area and post on wiki

Step 9
Finalize your information/presentation for the final presentation with your teacher
Suggested Technological tools
Email final presentation to teacher/use wiki system to store and gather final information.

Step 10
Present your final program/activity to the appropriate groups Face-to-face or Synchronous online presentation and post all of your material on the blog and social media sites.

Step 11
Assess your course of action, presentation, and the need for possible further action on your topic.
Suggested Technological tools
Online survey and in class synchronous evaluation

This type of project can take from two to five weeks to do in the online world. However, it is well worth the time and energy that is required of the student and teacher.

A friend of mine once said to me that online education should be down and dirty, give the students the essentials, make sure they understand it, and then move on to the next bit of information. It is not a bad way to teach and learn, and most students in high-level classes appreciate you not “wasting their time.” But is this “down and dirty” academic atmosphere the best way to train students for the skills that they will need in the 21st Century.




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