D. Articles on Virtual Schooling

Articles on Virtual Schooling

Here’s some information about virtual schools, online learning, and distance learning

Virtual schoolteacher, Education Next (2011)

What’s it like to work at a virtual school? Karen Faucett briefly talks about her life at the Florida Virtual School. Her article points out ways in which digital learning benefits teachers as well as students.

Lessons for online learning, Education Next (2011)

Eric Dillon and Bill Tucker warn that “without rigorous oversight, a thousand flowers blooming will also yield a lot of weeds.”

They also point out the variety of digital learning experiences and environments: “Virtual public education can be delivered by all types of providers, including charter schools, for-profit companies, universities, state entities, and school districts. Types of online schools and programs range from state-run programs like Florida Virtual School, where each year 100,000 students take one or two courses online as a supplement to traditional schools, to “blended” models, which allow schools to combine online and classroom-based instruction. The most controversial virtual schools are so-called ‘cyber’ charter schools—fully online public schools that students ‘attend’ on a full-time basis. ”

They say that there’s a quality problem: “While the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has published program quality standards, virtual education lacks a commonly accepted set of quality outcome measures.” The authors call for official standards, saying, “policymakers cannot rely solely on parent and student choice to ensure quality.”

The authors warn that in the rush to develop legislation governing  digital learning, there will be mistakes that will cause problems for years.

Among the questions legislators must ask: Will virtual schools be funded by a separate appropriation, or included in state funding formulas?

Another question: As digital learning becomes increasingly part of the traditional district model–that is, no change in governance–will it be able to deliver? “Simply putting the same curriculum online is unlikely to result in higher-quality learning.”

The rise of k-12 blended learning, Innosight Institute (2011)

Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker say that digital learning started out as the online equivalent of correspondence school, but, by using adult tutors, has gone far beyond it. The authors write from the “disruptive technologies” point of view.

Future schools, Education Next (2011)

Jonathan Schorr and Deborah McGriff look at hybrid/blending learning.

E-Learning 2010

Kevin Bushweller, Education Week, April 28, 2010

  • This serves as the introductory piece to a series of articles.
  • E-learning is still in the infancy stage, with many facets of it needing to be worked out: Policies, financing, and administration, to name three.
  • One new theme is that online learning will grow the fastest not as a replacement to traditional classrooms, but as a supplement.

E-Learning Delivery Debated

Ian Quillen, Education Week, April 28, 2010

  • “New theories within virtual learning are bridging the divide between synchronous and asynchronous instructional methods.”
  • One way to blend the two models is to have online chats (synchronous) put into archives for students to consult later (asynchronous).
  • Synchronous work has these advantages: It can be better for students who are solving mathematical problems;  conducting discussions among students; helping younger students taking online classes;  administering standardized tests; and conducting student clubs.
  • Asynchronous work has these advantages: It lets a student who is mastering  one subject spend extra time on a more challenging one; it works well with teaching writing skills; it is consistent with the communicate-in-spurts nature of text messaging; and when a class involves interacting with people in several time zones

District Innovates to Address Dropout Problem

Michelle  R. Davis, Education Week, April 28, 2010

  • The Westwood Community School District, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, sponsors the Westwood Cyber High School, which serves drop-outs and students at risk of dropping out.
  • This program is especially useful now; with the economy in the tank, students who don’t have a full education are even more at a disadvantage.
  • “Students at the cyber high school are often passionate about the projects they choose to work on, eager to collaborate with their peers on schoolwork, and highly self-motivated. But they are also students who in traditional schools were at risk of dropping out.”
  • To make sure that students have access to the online offerings, the school pays for a home broadband connection.
  • The school operates year-round, and students are required to sign on every day. While they work mostly at home, they must travel to the school building twice a  week.
  • The school uses both “mentors” (teachers who check in on students) and “experts,” who are subject-matter teachers.
  • Traditional students fulfill state graduation requirements by seat time and taking specific classes. Learning at the cyber school is project-based, with students working towards meeting the state’s 96 standards through projects.
  • Thanks to Michigan’s tradition as an open-enrollment state, and the attractiveness of the cyber school, enrollment in the district is up substantially, as students from nearby districts seek it out.

Schools Factor E-Courses Into the Daily Learning Mix

Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, April 28, 2010

  • School leaders are now making online learning an integral part of their class offers, not limited to curricular supplements, electives, or advanced courses.
  • The number of students taking classes online was over 1 million during the 2007-08 school year, up 47 percent from 2005-06 (only 3 years!)
  • Students taking online classes in schools are more likely to succeed when they have an in-school mentor, who need not be a subject-matter expert.
  • The public junior/senior high school in Notus, Idaho, runs its online classes in a single room, with students taking a variety of classes at the same time, aided by an in-class mentor.

E-Curriculum Builders Seek a Personalized Approach

Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, April 28, 2010

  • “Districts are buying online classes from nonprofit and for-profit providers, making their own from scratch, accessing open-source options, or combining all three approaches.”
  • Teachers should still be involved, says Cathy Cavanaugh, an associate professor of educational technology at the University of Florida. They can interact with students through e-mail, Skype, instant messages, and other means. They provide assessments and feedback.
  • Apex Learning, a leading provider of online courses, says it offers three versions of its classes: basic, proficient, and advanced. The versions use different techniques that are keyed to each group.
  • Advocates of project-based learning say it helps address concerns that online classes will lead to plagiarism.
  • The Florida Virtual School, which uses a mix of vendors and technology, regularly surveys its students and makes adjustments to its delivery vehicles as a result.
  • Creating an online class is more than simply taking a workbook and putting it on the Internet or on a CD. This is especially true for students in a credit-recovery program: “If a student fails in a regular classroom and you give them the same thing again but just online, you’re not going to get anywhere,” said an employee of the Omaha Public Schools.
  • Do students in online classes play solitaire when they should be working? They better not, since they can be watched:  “online courses can capture a detailed picture of students’ participation by examining how often they log in to a course, how much time they spend online,how they progress through the course material, and the extent of their participation in chats, blogs, and wikis.”

Advanced Placement Secures Online Niche

Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, March 26, 2009

  • Only 60 percent of schools have in-classroom AP classes, making online learning especially useful for those schools.
  • The College Board, which administers AP, says that some research suggests online students do just as well as those who take traditional AP classes.
  • Online AP classes appeal to rural schools that may not have a critical mass of students to offer AP classes otherwise.
  • Urban districts may lack the highly qualified teachers to lead traditional AP classes.
  • An AP class may save the school $1,000 to $2,000 over a traditional AP class.
  • Online work is not for everyone; some school officials say that an online environment works best with an on-site facilitator who can make sure that students do their work on time.

Breaking away from tradition

Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, March 26, 2009

  • During the 2007-08 school year, the number of students taking online classes increased by 1 million.
  • While online education started out as primarily for gifted and advanced students, there are now more “credit recovery” students than advanced ones taking online classes. These students benefit from one-on-one interaction with teachers and a customized experience.
  • “Online education is absolutely moving beyond the distance-learning model into a whole other category unto itself”–Michael B. Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class.
  • There are still concerns about developing good curricula and good teachers. [Is this anything new?]
  • Some people argue that online learning advocates and practitioners must be aware of the social dimension of learning.
  • Some online schools, such as the VOISE Academy High School (Chicago Public Schools) pair students in online courses with teachers. This hybrid model goes beyond the “go sit in a corner with your computer” model.
  • One barrier to increased use of online schools is the monthly cost of Internet access at home.
  • Can online programs save money? The article offers no numbers, but suggests it can. “As the economy continues to falter, school leaders are increasingly considering online learning as a way to do more with fewer resources, says Elizabeth R. Pape, the president and chief executive officer of the Virtual High School Global Consortium, based in Maynard, Mass.”
  • Rural schools that  lack sufficient students or certified teachers for a traditional class can pair up with schools elsewhere to use online learning.
  • For further reading, see ““Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning,” Evergreen Consulting Associates (2008) and 2009 report from the Sloan Consortium.

E-Learning  Industry Evolving

Katie Ash, Education Week, March 26, 2008

  • Can online learning save money? One advocate says yes. “If the districts literally don’t have the money to have their own physics class, then private providers can come in. The main cost in education is personnel, and it is a huge advantage of technology that it is cheap compared to the cost of the labor of teachers, and distance learning involves a much smaller number of teachers per student. If it’s done right, over time the cost will go down even more dramatically.” — Terry Moe, author of Liberating Learning. Cheryl Vedoe of Apex Learning says, “One of the greatest benefits of online education is that it has the potential to be a very cost-effective way for learning opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take those classes.”
  • Beware that cost savings may not be what you think: “”Lots of states are under the misperception that online learning is less expensive. But really, the investment is in a different place. Instead of investing in bricks and mortar, we’re investing in technology,” as well as teacher training and one-on-one coaching”–KC Distance Learning.
  • BMO Capital Markets predicts that while online learning will continue to grow, its growth rate will slow for a while, due to funding pressures.
  • Private companies can help schools scale their online presence, from offering online learning to just a few students to offering it to many.
  • One barrier to increased use of commercial developers of online learning: State caps on the number of service providers.
  • One advantage to using commercially developed online schools: Those organizations can tap private capital markets to make investments needed to develop curricula. This might be especially useful to school districts that have constricted fiscal situations.
  • Districts and schools that use private contractors must use due diligence to assess the educational quality and financial soundness of the company–William R. Thomas, the director of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board’s Education Technology Cooperative.
  • Service providers themselves say they have incentives to provide good service, so as to get a good reputation.
  • There is not much research on the comparative educational effectiveness of online learning.
  • Some state officials say states need to be aware that companies selling their services in many states will be trying to sell to a national and not state market. State officials, they say, must be sure the programs fit their own standards and curricula. [Is this an important concern? I have my doubts. I would not want the federal government to force states to take up a national standard, but have no problem with online programs offering standards and curricula that differ from each other or from traditional school programs.]

Hunting the Internet for Quality Content

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, March 26, 2009

The Internet is a great place to find educational material–as well as ways to waste your time, indulge in idiocy, and stew in stupidity or hate. How do teachers find useful material on line? In some ways, the Internet is no more useful than the printing press. This article discusses various tools that teachers and schools have used to find the good stuff and discard the rest.

Lessons from the Ivory Tower

Katie Ash, Education Week, March 26, 2009

  • Colleges face fewer structural impediments to change than K-12 schools, so it’s no surprise they have a longer history of online schooling.
  • Schools should learn from the experiences of colleges.
  • High-quality content is essential, but so is having high-quality teachers and a support system for students.
  • Dual-credit programs, in which high school students earn college credit, are becoming more common–and expected by students. They might also introduce students to college who might not have otherwise thought of it.

Teacher training goes in virtual directions

Steven Sawchuk, Education Week, March 26, 2009

  • Teachers are starting to use the online world for  their professional development needs.
  • It can save money: “for states that have an online-delivery infrastructure, such as a virtual school network, the online training also has the potential to lower costs over the long run while providing more uniform professional-development experiences for teachers.”
  • Online tools are going beyond the equivalent of watching a series of powerpoint slides by adding, among other things, social networking tools. But some people fear that teachers will use online tools to work with teachers in other cities and states while ignoring those in their own schools.

Virtual approaches vary

Katie Ash, Education Week, March 26, 2009

  • Some states use a state-wide model for virtual schools, while others leave it to districts to offer (or not) online options.
  • In some states, an online option is available only for AP classes, while in others it’s open to more.
  • Some states use a money-follows-the-student model, while others allocate a fixed a mount of money in a lump sum.
  • States must “strike the correct balance between strict oversight and accountability for student achievement, on the one side, and enough flexibility for schools to adapt to changes in technology and growth, on the other.”

Can online classes save money? The answer, as is often the case in this new world of online learning, is “it depends.”

At the same time, virtual schools could lead to savings for school districts and states, says Melinda Maddox, the director of technology initiatives for the Alabama Department of Education, which runs ACCESS, or Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, and Students Statewide.

“In these economic times, this is really the most cost-effective way to offer all these different courses,” she argues.

But saving money shouldn’t be the sole motivation behind starting a virtual school, warns Thomas of the SREB, and officials should be prepared to pay to ensure quality.

“If you’re really going to create a quality course with all the whistles and bells that you need, and you don’t change any other [part] of your given model, the courses are going to cost at least as much and in many cases even more” than traditional courses, he says.

“What we did find was that once the course was developed, that same course can be taught by 50 teachers, 500 teachers, or 5,000 teachers,” he says. “And that’s your cost savings over time.”

MORE to come

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