Five Points of the Star--a complete guide to online and blended learning.

     Both the online and the face-to-face classroom need to be places where students experience a wide range of learning. A process called the 5 Points of the Star was created to do just this. While I was helping to build the Clark County School District's Virtual High School and working extensively in the blended learning classroom, I believed that students needed a wide range of learning as a part of an online experience. Because of the new developments in educational technology it is an exciting time to develop and teach the 5 Points of the Star as a part of the online global project-based learning classroom. 41 years of teaching and being able to partner with the Clark County School District in Nevada, the Buck Institute of Education, and TechKnow and Associates has helped me develop this concept and create quality professional development on how to use the Points of the Star program in an online and blended learning classroom.

    There are several ways that online programs can focus on to help further a student’s education. Some programs are credit retrieval, others are expanded correspondence courses, and still others ask the student to do some sort of thematic activities. Another very exciting way to teach is to have teachers and students do highly interactive online/real-world learning experiences. This type of teaching allows an educator to do more than teach using just the minimal learning experiences for our students.  It gives a classroom the opportunity to challenge students to learn the material by touching all levels of learning. This type of learning environment is called the 5 Points of the Star and it expects more from our students.

      The star learning model is based on the idea of using each of the following concepts: inquiry-based, project-based, and/or problem-based learning to enhance the students experience. These types of learning are not isolated classroom experiences, but cross-curricular ones, whether they are online or face-to-face. 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. It’s designed to use real-world resources, activities and high-level online experiences that are giving valuable lessons for students. High-to-low level students can master these key interactive fundamentals if given the chance.  In fact, even for younger students, it is not a bad idea to have cross-curricular themes for them to work through on a project.

So how does the 5 Star process make this happen?

     The following are ideas on how to deliver this exciting type of learning and an overview of what some of the possibilities are in using the 5 STAR blended and online learning environment. In order for a student to become highly engaged in their own learning and take the time to become better students, it is necessary to shift into a different paradigm of learning that creates an educational setting which allows the student to explore and engage in multiple levels of learning. To create this type of student engagement, especially in the online world, a student should have five very highly interactive experiences: student-to-peer, student-to-teacher, student-to-material, student-to-community, and student-to-technology. If an online or blended program/class can build this type of learning experience, the student will have one of the most exciting and memorable educational encounters of their career.



Online Learning’s 5 Points of the Star Relationships



















  1. Student-to-Peer Interaction


One of the most important interactions is the chance for students to exchange ideas with their classmates.


How can the student-to-peer exchange be a critical part of the online experience and used to enhance a student’s online education and learning? There are three critical questions to answer about this important interaction: What is the value of student-to-peer relationships 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 online student experience?


Teaching a student to be a functioning member of a collaborative learning group at a distance is a key 21st Century skill. For students to go online and meet with others, post their ideas, defend and challenge others’ viewpoints, find outside experts to support their ideas, build on others’ ideas, and present/defend their own opinions in a logical and timely manner is a real-world skill that should not be overlooked by online educators. To create this very interactive learning environment the students should have a balance of asynchronous and synchronous lessons. The ability to accomplish these academic and technical skills are as important as learning to read.


Asynchronous tools have always served as a valuable part of a virtual learner’s educational experience. These tools give the pupil a chance to express ideas in a flexible learning situation. If done correctly, the student can think about what they want to say, how they want to say it, and who supports their ideas. They can do traditional online discussions, meet and discuss ideas with experts, do projects and activities together, and post an array of multimedia materials to support what they do. If 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.


Teachers can help students interact with each other by making available a collection of activities, lessons, and multimedia presentations, that lead them to work in discussion forums and use Web resources. 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 if the tool is used in an interactive manner. It is a place where the students’ ideas and opinions should be used in conjunction with the asynchronous lessons. This tool can and should be used to encourage collaborative inquiry activities that bring in experts from around the world.  It allows students to participate or do real-time activities that are interactive. It also gives students a chance to work in a real-time environment that includes the following:  a chance to share applications, to get immediate feedback to questions, to follow-up on that “teaching moment” opportunity, and either begin or end the inquiry process in conjunction with the lessons of the asynchronous tools. Other uses of the synchronous tool would be to allow students to be tutored, bringing in district, state or world resources to help/evaluate different types of students’ (such as English Language Learners, special needs students) needs, and can give parents a chance to meet with teachers/counselors/administrators without having to physically “come in to the school.”


By creating this type of interactive learning environment among classmates it will provide an amazing educational experience that allows students to express their ideas on academic subjects in a meaningful manner. The proper blending of synchronous and asynchronous tools will help create a very rich academic environment.

  1. Student-to-Material Interaction


Taking an inquiry-based approach is the key to a great online learning experience!


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


When you combine the material, the use of experts, the ability of the students to post/defend/expand on their ideas, to present these ideas in a real-world context, and then go back and reevaluate their efforts, that is one of the most powerful learning adventures in any classroom. The online world gives the students an opportunity they have never had before to do this. Think of taking the material students must learn and asking them to apply it by using technology to critically think and then apply that thinking to a real-world situation.


To develop inquiry-based online lessons, you may create a theme or allow the students to choose a topic. There are several wonderful tools that are great guides for online, inquiry or problem-based lessons. The dilemma in creating these activities/lessons is knowing how to design them so that you end up with a quality product you help facilitate a high-quality project, make sure the students know the essentials of critical thinking, techniques to research a topic, and what the grading rubric will be before undertaking the task.


Here is one example of a set of steps to use to integrate synchronous and asynchronous activities in an online lesson. The program I like to use is called the 10 Steps to Action: (

  1. Define the problem & identify the information needed.
  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. Find collaborative partners.
  10. 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 each step of the way.


In these type of projects, 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 in advance in your asynchronous content manager (i.e. WebCT, Blackboard.) I prefer to use the synchronous world to introduce the topic so that the students can ask questions. Each of the following steps are worth different points and have a due date:


Step 1

Define the problem & identify the information needed. (Choosing a topic and subtopic)

  • Student Question: What is the topic I have chosen? (Find a topic that interest you personally)     
  • Required action: Email Instructor, discussion in synchronous tool

Step 2

Information Seeking Strategies

  • Student Question(s):
    • 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 through 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.)        
  • Required Action: Post results in asynchronous Discussion Area, breakout evaluations from teacher in synchronous tool

Step 3

Locate and access information

  • Student Question (s):
    • 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, questions about your topic and its effects, and use that as a framework of what to research.)  
    • Required Action:
      • asynchronous Discussion Area, email and synchronous

Step 4

Extract Relevant information

  • Student Question(s):
  • Write a 3-4-paragraph summary off 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.


  • Required Action:
    • Email your instructor- to be posted on the website.
    • Prepare the general information for a web, podcast, or PowerPoint presentation
    • Web page or PowerPoint-Email to Instructor- synchronous Presentation


Step 5

Synthesis of information

  • Student Question(s):
  • 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
  • Required Action:
    • Asynchronous Discussion Area


Step 6

Evaluate the results of research

  • Student Question(s):
  • Finish the organization of your information/research so that you can finalize your presentation/activity
  • Required Action:
    • Asynchronous Discussion Area


Step 7

Communicate the information.

  • Student Question(s):
  • Present your program to your peers for initial review
  • Required Action:
    • Synchronous tool


Step 8

Take appropriate action

  • Student Question(s):
  • Create an action plan that includes a timeline for executing your action plan.
  • Required Action:
    • Asynchronous Discussion Area


Step 9

  • Student Question(s):
  • Finalize your information/presentation for the final presentation with your teacher
  • Required Action:
    • Email

Step 10

  • Student Question(s):
  • Present your final program/activity to the class.  
  • Required Action:
    • Face-to-face or synchronous presentation


Step 11

  • Student Question(s):
  • Assess your course of action, presentation, and the need for possible further action on your topic.
  • Required Action:
    • Online in asynchronous - Survey


This type of project can take from two to five weeks to do in the online world. However, they are well worth the time and energy that they require of the student and the 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?


  1. Student-to-Teacher Interaction

Teachers need to become “a guide on the side.”


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


In an environment that includes the availability of both synchronous and asynchronous tools, there are several things a teacher can do to guide the students to success. The key responsibility for an instructor is to set-up the online learning environment so that the students understand the project or theme, how to approach the activity, what resources they will need, the timelines, how to use the various technologies, and how they will be evaluated. Establishing these tasks takes a considerable amount of effort on the part of the instructor; they need to be communicated to the learner by blending the real-time and any-time tools. The lesson itself has to have a flow to it that intertwines the real-time activities with the any-time class collaborations (content/discussion/chat/project areas).


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 students to formulate their own well documented ideas of what is needed and appropriate regarding their goals. If they are “wrong” then the student(s) must go back and re-do the work and answer the questions that were asked based on an evaluation by their peers, the teacher, and/or experts from  the chosen field.


Another important role of the teacher during the lesson is to suggest information (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 minimally explored. The student should be required to go back and re-do the research or restructure the resources and find more appropriate responses to the questions.


Remember, it is not that every student should come up with the same “answer” to a question; the student should not only learn the material but learn about the process he/she will need to do to support and execute an answer. As a teacher in this environment it is necessary to help the students learn the proper process to support an accurate measure of their findings. Using the array of technology to do this, again, requires a tremendous amount of time and effort on an instructor’s part.


At the end of the lesson students 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. Using multimedia, online, traditional and other resources to publish, post, or expose their work is an essential part of the lesson. As groups work on a project it is possible that other students will come up with different answers by using other experts. No matter what their results are it forces the young scholar to do quality academic work.


An important part of the teacher’s role is to:  help students find the people and/or resources to explore their topics, evaluate the process of critical thinking, and determine the accuracy of their work. The teacher and students will evaluate the students’ work to assure a quality end project.


The fantastic resources found in the online environment aid students in accomplishing this awesome task. Whether the student is a minimalist or one who goes above and beyond basic requirements (maximalists) the individual student is responsible for the work and, in the end, his/her own education. The depth of learning will be greater no matter what level the student is currently operating on. 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.

  1. Student-to-Community Interaction


Breakdown 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 the students just want to get the information and get out of the class. The question that should be considered is how rich an educational experience can the online classrooms create for a student?


If students are going to be provided with an educational experience that enables them to become a part of the globalized world, then the ability to organize online experiences and lessons for students to communicate with experts or peers outside the digital classroom is an invaluable encounter in learning. International, national, and local educational events will enhance an online learning experience. All subject matters can be included in these projects and most of the lessons should be cross-curricular in nature. With the proper training It is not too difficult to coordinate these lessons, they are fun to do, and not too time consuming.


Think of your 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 to spark your students’ imagination, it will become a unique and an important part of a child’s educational experience.


There are several international, national, and local activities or groups that you can work with to do exciting academic work. International projects can require a great deal of effort but are well worth the time. There are many resources and three political organizations that have wonderful projects are the U.S. State Department ( ), the United Nations ( ), and the European Union ( ) We 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, although now with the desktop video conferencing available, the process much easier than it used to be. Some private associations or groups that have also been very useful, and exciting to use. These include the following: Project Harmony ( , I-earn ( ), Flat Connections ( ) and the Global Connections and Exchange program (,com_frontpage/It... ) that is sponsored by IREX ( ). These are all excellent resources for online cultural exchanges. South Australia’s online schools are also a rich resource. This program uses synchronous tools for mobile devices and they helped organized a worldwide Oceans Acidification online conference that included schools from the United States of America, Australia, Europe, and Asia. We were able to enlist some of the world's top ocean acidification experts to work with our students during this conference and project.


Next, there are many well-established national groups who are willing to help students with their projects

Here is a list of just a few of the organizations I was able to recruit to work with my students:

  • The “Where the Water Goes” project from JDL Technologies,
  • I-Earns resources,
  • Clark County School District’s “Forever Earth Project” (which has 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
  • NASA

These last two include outstanding resources that have interesting projects to enrich the classroom. Also, all the US Senators have access to desktop video conferencing.


Locally, our students are engaged with the Southern Nevada Water and Air Quality Authorities, 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, and the Metropolitan police departments on street crime issues. The activities with these groups will include real-time as well as online work for students. It is a win-win situation, the community gets excited about these projects and it engages the student in becoming a better citizen.


No matter what the project, it is so important to create a solid lesson plans that enable the student to be accountable for all 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 finished with the unit, they are responsible to present their ideas to “experts” or publish their findings 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 need to be considered. The technical support from your IT technology staff is critical for success. Academic discussions with the teachers interested in doing the projects is a vital factor too. The ability to create flexible time slots for interaction can be a significant challenge and may require collaboration with other teachers and the school administration. 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 we will be engaged in several new and exciting academic adventures. If you break down the walls of the online classroom there will be a much richer academic environment for all students and teachers in your program.






  1. Student-to-Technology Interaction

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


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


The question for educators is,” How do you determine the right learning tool to use?” In general, the type of programs that you want to use are ones 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 them to post key ideas for others to see, do real world activities, productively use multimedia tools, work closely with world-wide experts, and effectively use original research materials. Properly created lessons use online programs that will increase the students’ understanding of the material and increase their commitment to learning.


In order to help students, achieve a higher level of technology use within their work, it is necessary to have short tutorials (printed and/or video) available for student access as needed. Initially, it is important to supply the students with a model of this type of work. Next, the students should be given the academic resources or information (such as pictures or audio) and allowed to learn the proper use of the various software programs available. And finally, the pupils should be given a significant assignment that uses these programs to explain or present their academic and intellectual viewpoints or findings to others. It is also imperative that they defend their ideas within a discussion group. Many times, it is best to do short 2–3 minute presentations for students to do as a final project.


There is a multitude of programs that are available for students to use and it is essential to determine which programs best fit the academic requirements of any given project. Multimedia programs such as Audacity, CamStudio, and PhotoStory can produce simple but effective lessons. The proper use of interactive programs such as; virtual reality, virtual worlds, augmented reality, wiki’s, blogs, TeacherTube, Teen Second Life, 3D printing, and podcasting are all current Internet technologies that might be used to teach the students how to use 21st Century learning tools.


Student evaluation should be based on how each student accomplishes his/her specifically assigned technological, academic, social, and presentation tasks, as well as group tasks used during a project. A portion of their final grade is how well they use the technology to present their materials. At the beginning of the assignment, all students should be given a grading rubric for each of their assigned tasks. Each area of the project, such as the research, the technological portion, the presentation, etc., should be addressed in the rubric. Each component is one part of their grade. A student’s final grade is based on both their own individually given responsibilities and their efforts as part of their group.


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


The changing face of online education and learning is already here, and it is important that education stay up with the current and future needs of learners. Learning to use the following tools can add to the excitement of a successful online educational experience: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms, and virtual worlds. A teacher’s and/or student’s first collaborative online class could be a pilot for how to develop online classes in the future using this multi-technology approach. These lessons should require a very interactive style of learning for students and teachers They should be based on both content and critical thinking activities. These classes should include student interaction with all of the following: other students, the technology, the teacher, the community, and the content.


Students should even have the opportunity to use gaming and highly interactive learning software for their learning. They would be able to create and demonstrate their ideas in a virtual world to interact with international, regional, and local students while doing these learning activities. The lessons would be presented in a virtual manner and assessed based on formative and summative assessment techniques using an AI (artificial intelligence) environment.



Final Thoughts


In order to create an enriched online educational environment, I’d like to propose the formation of an international development team that includes the following: teachers (subject matter experts), software engineers, curriculum specialists, and students. 

The whole system requires a definite plan or process that includes the following:

  1. Organization of a team to find grant funding
  2. Formation of development teams
  3. Research of available software and technological apps or programs. 
  4. Development of model class or classes
  5. Rollout of class or classes in selected international classrooms
  6. Evaluation and next step discussion among educators, business professionals and software engineers.


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

If a school is built on the sound educational principles of the Points of the star it 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.


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