iNACOL Virtual School Symposium 2009
Initially, I signed up for this program because I thought it was going to review best practices in online learning, specifically what are the things that most impact student learning. The session was instead geared for online schools that had been in existence for a few years; what problems have they faced and what have they done about them.
Instead of a presentation, each attendee became part of a group that then analyzed four different questions. Each question had a facilitator to lead the discussion for that question with each of the groups. After each group had discussed all four areas, each facilitator summarized the findings of his or her problem area.
This was an interesting format, and I found it worthwhile.
The four areas covered were:
· Content quality and development
· Student support issues
· Teacher support and management
· Program evaluation
Following are my summaries of each of the topics.
Content creation and review summary
Schools should have a systematic content review procedure. Content review could be based on a cycle, it could be based on performance data, or it could be a combination.
Who is involved? There are many models; some of the titles involved include curriculum expert, content specialist, master teachers, student data, online learning expert.
Many schools use the iNACOL standards to review content.
Staffing models for developing content:
· build your own
· lease or purchase
· lease or purchase and then build on top of it
Building content takes a long time, if you don't have the funding model, you can't build from scratch.
Every established online school had one person who looks at all the courses offered for instructional design integrity, but the titles differ. This person makes sure that there is a common look and feel, and common instructional methodology in all the courses.
The master teachers are involved in some way, even though they may not have the instructional design expertise. Master teachers are valued for their curricular and content expertise.
Creating collaborative learning environments:
There is a balance between collaboration and individual instruction, there is no one right answer.
Collaboration has to have the content and the instruction aligned.
A variety of synchronous tools are being used; with Wimba and Eluminate being the most popular with this group
Student Support summary
Before the student even enters, there should be things a school has the student do, like attend an orientation. The orientation should set the expectations and look like an online course: students should have to contact instructor and they need to navigate through content, just like a real course.
There is no profile that defines the successful student, some are surprisingly successful, some you would expect to be successful, but are not.
Some schools use student/parent contracts to set and confirm expectations, but this has met with limited success.
Support is more successful if students have a relationship with one or all of their teachers. It is best if one of their teachers actually teaches the orientation class.
Make sure everyone knows that success is different for different students; teachers must understand that not every student is going to graduate in 4 years, sometimes online learning is the student's last resort, celebrate all successes.
An online school is better able to look at all of what a student does than in a traditional school, administrators and teachers have a better view of all that the student is doing, while in a normal school the science teacher may have no idea what is going on in social studies.
Participation, performance, and problems are three different things. You need to look at all three to support the online student.
Teacher support and management summary
Transition of teachers to elearning: When teachers come from brick and mortar environments, make sure they understand the differences and skills for teaching online.
Professional development is a challenge with different time zones, part timers, and making sure everyone goes through it.
It is important to set up guidelines for teachers, including timelines and uniformity of feedback that teachers are given; how soon do they need to get grades and comments back to students after a test or assignment, how often do they need to communicate with the students.
Promising practices in ensuring teacher quality and admin quality
Ensure all stakeholders understand the model. The local mentor doesn't always understand how they are supposed to support the student, administrators at the school do not necessarily understand how the program operates, state education departments don’t always understand the differences and similarities between online and brick and mortar.
Establish protocol, goals, and standards for teachers (like timeframe for replies)
Focus on establishing procedures for teacher selection, hiring, and initial mentoring.
Utilize online PD to model practices you want used with students
Develop rubrics for student progress, participation, and performance to drive teacher expectations.
Program evaluation summary
Finding funding for outside evaluators and evaluation resources.
Lack of student level data for supplemental programs, you may not get all the data to show your effectiveness because the data belongs to the district (and they may not make it available or make available comparative data) and the supplemental program is just one of the factors contributing to achievement.
Policies and regulators are behind where the industry is; a lot of regulations do not fit online courses.
Disaggregating model: difficult to tell what is working, is it the teacher, the curriculum, etc.
Consistent courseware naming and numbering across the state (track how the student did on the state test regardless of where the student took the course)
Policy makers need to assign the same value to services provided to online setting, there is a fear that policy makers are looking at online learning to save money. (Kansas pays 5% premium for online.)
Online providers need to constantly reach out to regulators and accrediting bodies to understand online learning.
Exit surveys and course interviews are good tools to inform decision making. Enlist course developers and researchers. Accreditors and evaluators evaluate both the quantitative data (test scores) and qualitative data, and especially remember the qualitative information.
Develop clear teacher standards.
Clearly articulate expectations for each education component: teacher, student, parent, mentor, etc.
Adaptive curriculum and instructional model, be able to adapt to what student knows.
Perform ongoing evaluation on what the students know and what they are learning.
Credit recovery programs: Are the students learning enough? Is it sticking and is it enough to get them so that they can take and pass the next course? No one was able to answer this question, and there is an inherent conflict of interest between the system (that wants the student to advance) and the education need (which is for the student to learn).
Metrics to measure kids in different buckets. Should there be one standard for all kids, or different standards based on the ability of a student to progress and advance?
How do schools demonstrate that they are working for diverse students? This cannot be done now because there is no funding for this type of evaluation.
How do you know the student is MIA; and what can you do about it? You can't tell that the student is sleeping through the course. How do you hold the kid or parents accountable? You can't give the kid detention.
How do we let everyone know that online courses aren't easier?
What questions aren't being asked? How do we get regulators to start understanding the important questions to ask about online learning?