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Practice Analysis of a New Learning ‘Ecology’

Project Overview

Project Description

Parse a student learning experience in a computer-mediated learning environment. What are the elements and patterns of this practice in terms of teacher-student interactions, student-resource interactions, student-student interactions, and the nature of student assessment? How are these different from, and perhaps also similar to, traditional classroom interactions? This work could consist of a reflection on practice you have already used, or analyze a new or unfamiliar practice the dimensions of which you would like to explore. Consider and cite the theoretical models of learning ecologies developed by you and your colleagues in Work 1.

Icon for Istations


The Educational Challenge

"No other computer-based learning system offers the depth and breadth of curriculum, the quality production, the wealth of resources, or the measurable results that Istation delivers!"

With claims such as this, Istation deserves some investigation. The Istation platform was designed to be integrated into the Pre-K through high school classroom. Istation's components include online lessons for math, reading, and interdisciplinary studies in both english and spanish. Evaluating this particular computer mediated environment including all components would be comprehensive but lengthy. For the purpose of this evaluation, the reading component will be the area of focus.

Istation's intent is to address the issues of teaching students to read in an interactive, computer-based environment, believing that students will be engaged through animation and technology. There is a need for individualized instruction in every classroom. Istation helps the teacher spend less time grading papers and planning lessons allowing more time for the teacher to spend with actual students.The four components of Istation are assessment, instruction, progress monitoring and reporting, and teacher resources. Click the link below the video image to watch an introduction to iStation.

Istations in Practice

Students are assessed to find their current level of understanding using the built in assessment tool Istation's Indicators of Progress (ISIP.) A thirty minutes formative assessment conducted automatically and monthly, or on demand, provides information to the teacher and the computer program about the level of understanding of each student. The questions increase and decrease in level of difficulty based on the students' answers. The early reading assessment and program is intended for students Pre-K through 3rd grade. The Early ISIP assesses phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency providing comprehensive information. The assessment for 4th-12th graders addresses different skills. Istation Advanced Reading assessment provides results in spelling, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Both assessments provide results in a three tier format that aligns with RTI (Response to Intervention) categories. Along with the reports from the assessments, teachers are provided with instructional materials and resources to meet the needs of their students.

Each computer-based lesson is designed around a "game" atmosphere. The students are engaged through animation and characters of which they may be familiar. The lessons are designed to increase or decrease level of difficulty. Teachers are also provided with materials that support the students' current levels. Click the link below the video image to see what the lessons may look like and how the program instruction works.

At any point during the use of Istation, teachers can view and print reports. Several types of customizable reports are used to evaluate students' progress and determine further instruction. They can provide overall views of the whole class or individual results, narrowing down to specific targeted skills. Shown below is a list showing the different types reports taken directly from the Istation website. These library reports are designed to show progress of the whole class.

Istation's Library of Reports includes (but is not limited to):

  • Priority Reports – identify students that demonstrate weaknesses or lack of progress by risk level and skill need
  • Summary Reports – graphically show the number of students in each tier, with overall scores in each critical subject domain, with the ability to change what is shown on the report by demographics and reporting period
  • Skill Growth Reports – show progress made in all skills tested, across all assessment periods, with variable views by student, classroom, tier group, grade level, campus, district, or state
  • Tier Movement Reports – show a monthly comparison of the number of students within each tier [1]

Each report provides links to teacher resources that can be used to further instruction at the child's skill level. Specifically provided are scripted teacher lessons along with complete bibliographies. The lessons are designed around whole class, small group, and one-to-one instruction. Also, online interactive books are provided with a download. Teachers are able to log into a Teacher Station account which provides lessons that can be used on an interactive whiteboard. Each lesson is broken down into the components of the assessments and can be adjusted accordingly. Intervention material is available as well.

Istation helps teachers meet the needs of the RtI (Response to Intervention) process. Below is a table that shows how it can be used at each level. It is important to understand that Istation claims to only be a part of the RtI process and agrees that nothing can replace classroom instruction.

Tier 1
Tier 2 Tier 3

Use it to assess all students

    Increase time to 90 minutes a week

      Increase time to 120 minutes a week

        Schedule at risk students to  use Istation at least 45 minutes a week

          Use Istation prepared lessons to instruct small group

            Use Istation created lessons for one-to-one instruction

              Use Istation reports during evaluation meetings

                The Underlying Theory

                While Istation is a computer-based program, the teacher is a valued component in the success of the student's success. This computer mediated learning environment combined with the presence and instruction of the teacher creates a Blended Learning Environment. The figure below shows a visual definition of blended learning.

                Visual Definition of Blended Learning [2]

                According to Charles R. Graham, "Early models began trying to define the contours of blended learning by answering the question “What is being blended?” in three competing ways :

                • Combining online and face-to-face instruction
                • Combining instructional modalities (or delivery media)
                • Combining instructional methods" [3]

                Most teachers use a combination of instructional delivery methods and modalities to reach learners. So in a sense, the last two types of blended learning exist so frequently, that they not need to be addressed as anything innovative. [4] The first combination showing the relationship of online classes vs. face-to-face instruction is what will be refered to as blended learning from this point forward. One of the most important components of a blended learning environment is that students have some control over the pace of their learning. Gone are the days of everyone learning the same thing at the same time. A variation in the path of their learning plays a key role as well. Students need something other than the teacher to convey a concept in order to gain understanding. In a blended learning environment, the computer can aid in the delivery and practice of material. Within a blended learning framework, students can continue learning outside of school. They have access to materials at home beyond the school day ad possibly beyond the school year. [2]

                The Approach in Practice

                There are several approaches and educator can take in using Istation in a blended learning environment. One approach is the Rotation Model of blended learning. The image below show what a rotation model may look like. Station rotation is common in elementary schools where computers are available in the classroom, although this can be, and usually is, done without the help of a paraprofessional.

                Station Rotation Model [2]

                Another approach needs a computer lab that is separate from the classroom learning environment.

                Lab Rotation Model [2]

                Lastly, but not least, is the flipped classroom model. Istation is accessible from home. Students may work on their individualized plans at home and get support or smaller group instruction at school based on their results from the program. This model requires some computer access from home or from a source outside of the school building.

                Flipped Classroom Model [2]

                Critical Reflection

                As with any program, there are pros and cons to its use. The blended learning environment allows for the teacher to supplement where the program lacks substancey and personal connection. According to, there are more than 900,000 students across 38 states using this program. [5] Istation is used and viewed differently in each school. Listed below are personal opinions of teachers that use the program.


                Istation has many good qualities that support learning. The program begins with assessment and builds from what the student already knows. It is a game type of setting. While earning points, badges, etc. are not part of the lessons, the students interact with the screen the way they would with a game. Graphics and animations are current and interesting. This program also provides teachers with concrete sources and scripted ideas. While the lessons provided are scripted, the teacher can use discretion when using them. There is no such thing as "fidelity" to this program. It can be used however the school decides; whether it be for the whole class, ESL support, or RTI purposes.

                No program can be perfect and Istations has some flaws. Students also need some sort of computer literacy to be successful using this program. One of the reviewers above wrote that her Kindergarteners had a hard time with the actual use of the program and that it may have affected their results. Students can also have an "off" day, which can affect their scores. A computer doesn't know this, but a teacher does. With no way to override the scores in this program, a student may end up wasting time on something previously learned. Teaching sounds correctly and not according to regional dialect is important, especially for ESL students. This is a big error that hopefully Istation will correct in the future.

                Conclusions and Recommendations

                Nothing can replace a teacher. Personal connection is so important to Pre-K through 12th grade education. Computers are wonderful tools for learning and can be a great resource. Students may be more engaged reading on a computer with beautiful graphics, than looking at an old and worn paperback.

                Use Istation how it was intended to be used, as a tool. Istation does not pretend to be the fix-all or the perfect standalone product. In contrary it includes a teacher component, recognizing the benefits of a blended learning environment. A teacher stated in the previous section, as does the I station website, to not use Istation as the only intervention in the classroom. While Istation supports the teacher with resources, teachers need to remember what they have been trained to do.

                We all struggle to meet the demands of documentation for RtI (Response to Intervention.) Istation has printable, detailed reports that are easily accessible. Print reports for Tier 2 and 3 students weekly to make sure they are progressing and meeting goals. Print the mini-lessons that are available to help provide direct instruction that these students may need.

                There are endless ways to set up the use of this program in a classroom. Keep in mind the suggested time that students need to work on this system in order to show growth. Successful students may not need Istation, which allows more time for struggling students to work on the computers that are available.

                Overall, Istation seems to be beneficial for struggling students. If a school agrees to make the purchase for the program, it would be worth a try. It's just one more way of getting students interested in literacy.

                Next Steps

                I will be required to implement this program starting next month. Several of my students have used it in the past and are excited to start again. To me, that says a lot. Anything that can motivate my second graders to develop their reading skills is worth a try. I will be implementing the station rotation model of blended learning. I will also encourage use of this at home for nightly practice.


                2. Horn, M. & Staker, H. (May 2012) Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Retrieved from
                3. Graham, C. R., Henrie, C. R., & Gibbons, A. S. (2013, in press). Developing models and theory for blended learning research. In A. G.Picciano, C. D. Dziuban, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), Blended learning: Research perspectives, volume 2. New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from
                4. Graham, C. R. (2005) Blended Learning Systems: Definition, current trends, and future directions. Retrieved from
                5. EdSurge (10/4/14) Istation Reading. Retrieved from
                6. Anonymous-Usernames (March 2009- May 2010) Istation. Message posted to