VHS Learning President & CEO broaches another key topic to tackle amit the pandemic; the curicculum gap.
VHS Learning President & CEO broaches another key topic to tackle amit the pandemic; the curicculum gap.
VHS Learning President & CEO broaches another key topic to tackle amit the pandemic; the curicculum gap.
Many families did not consider the many attributes of quality virtual learning until this past year when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down traditional, in-classroom education. For students, learning online offered expanded opportunities especially for those in rural and smaller districts.
Whether virtual classes or a hybrid of in-classroom with online, the benefits include greater flexibility, improved mental health, and opportunities to learn skills that set students up for a successful future. Today’s students have quickly discovered the many attributes of virtual learning, guaranteeing online options will continue to grow long after the pandemic.
Six-hour days in school with back-to-back classes prove daunting to many students. Virtual learning offers flexibility and allows them to take more frequent breaks. Taking some down time can help reduce stress and increase productivity for both students and teachers.
For younger students, regular breaks throughout the day can effectively reduce disruptive behavior. This, in turn, increases the effort they put into their learning activities.
Sleep has also ranked as a long-time concern, debating if 8 a.m. is too early for students to start their day. When students get the appropriate amount of sleep, their grades improve, according to American Academy of Sleep Medicine. About 70% of students are not getting the recommended 8 to 10 hours for teens and 12 hours for younger children. Online learning gives students the opportunity to set their own schedule and start at their own time. Some students may complete their work at 10:30 a.m. or even 10:30 p.m. as long as the coursework is completed within the acceptable timeframe.
Online school offers unique opportunities with the ability to complete coursework wherever convenient and comfortable for them. This advantage allows students to work in an environment that best suits them, such as coffee shops, libraries, parks or community centers. If students go on vacation, they even have the option to complete assignments while waiting for a flight, during a road trip or lounging poolside to lessen the amount of work needed to be done when they return home.
Students can face significant social pressure at school because they want to fit in with certain groups or society. Virtual learning eases these pressures by not being face-to-face with peers for six hours a day which calms anxieties especially when it comes to bullying and other social stressors. This, in turn, allows them to focus more on their coursework instead of focusing on how they are perceived by their peers.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities says one in five children struggle with learning disabilities ranging from ADHD, dyslexia and hearing impairments. Online education gives these students the opportunity to dictate text or email using voice programs and the freedom to design their own learning space in a way that works best for them.
In addition to completing assignments and learning lifelong skills, students engaging in virtual learning can sharpen their digital skills while using technology. Interactive online tools such as testing, drop boxes, email communications, and video presentations help set them up for success.
For students considering higher education, many colleges and universities offer full or partial online degrees. Even students who attend college in-person have to learn how to stay focused and self-motivated – valuable skills they have learned through online classes. Navigating software, communicating over multiple platforms, and again, working independently are among the many benefits of virtual learning.
For many learners, virtual schooling is a great option that removes barriers and helps achieve goals. From flexible schedules to the convenience of learning anywhere, fully online and hybrid education through school partners promise great opportunities for today’s students.
Key words: virtual, learning, hybrid, classes, coursework, flexibility, opportunities, skills, mental, social, health, advantages, benefits, student
Every teacher in Virginia’s public schools is now able to host virtual classes on the Virginia Department of Education’s Virtual Virginia online learning system throughout the 2020–2021 school year. The expanded access to Virtual Virginia is available at no cost to school divisions through $3.45 million in support from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
“This expansion provides additional options for school divisions that are reopening with limitations on in-person instruction and for school divisions that may have to revert to distance learning during the year because of a COVID-19 outbreak,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane.
The expansion of Virtual Virginia also includes the creation of digital content for grades K–8. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the online learning program focused primarily on providing high school credit-bearing courses in core, elective, and world language subject areas.
“With the likelihood of most of our school divisions offering some version of virtual instruction for the upcoming school year, we wanted to leverage the capacity of our platform to provide content aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning in grades K–8,” Lane said. “This expansion is the first time Virtual Virginia has offered content below middle grades.”
Virtual Virginia content can be loaded onto devices for offline use by students in homes without internet access. VDOE is also using CARES Act funding to double — from 6,000 to 12,000 — the number of free student enrollments available to divisions in Virtual Virginia-instructed courses in 2020–2021.
The expansion also allows school divisions to integrate local student information systems with the Virtual Virginia learning management system to roster classes and transfer grades at no cost. In addition, Virtual Virginia provides a dedicated space within the platform for school divisions to curate, create, edit, and share course content.
More than 90 percent of Virginia’s 132 school divisions either use the Virtual Virginia platform or enroll students in Virtual Virginia-instructed courses. Virtual Virginia, the Virginia Department of Education, and the Virginia Society of Technology in Education are collaborating to offer training and support for teachers and staff of participating divisions.
For more information, visit the Virtual Virginia website.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major interruption in daily life. Even though we are paused from seeing our friends and family, going out to eat, shopping and moving freely about, education is moving full steam ahead. Schools have transitioned from traditional learning to a whole new way of learning in a matter of days. While it may not be perfect, our profession has shown an amazing amount of strength, positivity, and growth during this uncertain time in history.
In Indiana, we are choosing to keep learning afloat. Our educators and working tirelessly to transition to what our Department of Education has titled Continuous Learning. Schools and educators who have little to no experience with digital learning, virtual learning, online learning, or blended learning, or even understand the difference in the terms, have jumped in to keep the learning happening for our students.
Indiana Online and PLConnect, two departments with the Central Indiana Educational Service Center, teamed up to provide Keep Indiana Learning, which was modeled after our partners at Michigan Virtual. The 1500+ members of the Keep Indiana Learning Facebook group have access to resources posted from members all over the state.
Leading the charge are Kara Heichelbech, Innovation and Learning Manager with Indiana Online, and Carrie Rosebrock, Professional Learning Specialist at PLConnect. They are working to support educators through the community by sharing resources and best practices in online and continuous learning activities.
In addition to the Facebook group promoting various resources, Kara and Carrie created a Keep Indiana Learning resource board compiled of 25 short videos from not only them, but also from educators across the state. The board features resources for curriculum, eLearning 101 and tools, advice for support roles and a few longer webinar videos. Each day, a video from the board is featured to the Facebook group.
While these resources are valuable to our educators, keeping our community in the discussion was a priority. Therefore, each day, a discussion post is also featured. A few examples are:
During this time of isolation, it is important to create a sense of connection, even if it is done virtually.
Keep Indiana Learning will continue even after the pandemic recedes, so we created a website (keepindianalearning.org) to promote and house all of the resources developed. We hope to launch the website in early May, and we invite you to check back to see some of the resources we have designed and shared.
In developing Keep Indiana Learning, our community network is the most valuable piece, and our number one priority is for our educators across the state to know we are here to support them no matter the situation in education. We are excited for this opportunity to learn and grow with some of the best in the profession, and to continue to help build a strong community of educators across the state. We are all in this together, and our community goal is to Keep Indiana Learning.
And I think we are doing just that.
Kara Heichelbech is the Innovation and Learning Manager at Indiana Online, which serves over 25,000 students annually. Kara graduated with a BS in Marketing from Indiana University, and after 10+ years in corporate America, she completed a transition-to-teaching program and earned her MAT and MBA from the University of Indianapolis.
As an educator, Kara has served many different roles, including classroom teacher, department chair, instructional e-coach, and administrator. She has been involved in many technology-related aspects at her various schools and serves on the Indiana Connected Educators board. She also presents at various conferences, sharing her love for technology with colleagues.
Click here to read this digital education blog titled “Virtual Education Dilemma: Scheduled Classroom Instruction vs. Anytime Learning” from Education Week reporter, Mark Leiberman. Perspectives and resources from VLLA members are shared.
The fifteen members of the Virtual School Leadership Alliance have hundreds of years of collective experience delivering high-quality, engaging instruction to students across the United States and beyond. In a time where so many schools and districts are relying on moving to blended or virtual environments to support remote teaching, VLLA members have come forward with a trove of resources to help teachers and school leaders to focus on quality.
While remote teaching and traditional distance learning models can differ, they share a focus on technology-driven instruction and fostering positive connections between teachers and students.
VLLA member Georgia Virtual offers an extensive content library at no cost to any user, released under a Creative Commons BY license. It includes thousands of lessons and learning objects, through 120-course titles.
VLLA members in Michigan and Montana have developed planning resources for schools that look to use virtual learning to help provide continuity of service. Michigan Virtual offers a School Closure Learning Continuity Readiness Rubric that schools can use as a planning tool to spark thoughtful discussion. Montana Digital Academy has developed a document detailing Distance Learning Options for Districts (text only version) matrix that details options available to districts looking to move quickly to remote instruction.
The Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, also a VLLA member, provided live and recorded webinars on topics ranging from “A Day in the Life of a Remote Teacher” to “Remote Teaching Special Education.” Any educator can sign up to attend, or access the recorded webinar later.
A full list of resources from VLLA member organizations appears below.
The VLLA is honored to partner with other outstanding organizations that provide guidance and technical assistance to teachers, schools, and districts to best use technology to engage in remote teaching and learning.
The State Educational Technology Directors Association, or SETDA, has launched its eLearning Coalition, which provides resources and a professional learning community for school administrators and educational leaders to help adopt best practices for adopting and implementing elearning strategies. SETDA also recently hosted a webinar on “Supporting Students with IEPs During eLearning Days.”
Quality Matters (QM) partnered with the VLLA to author and release the National Standards for Quality, providing excellent guidance to organize high-quality distance learning environments with a specific focus on teachers, programs, and course design. QM has also Emergency Remote Instruction checklists designed to provide a framework for moving to remote teaching quickly in extraordinary circumstances.
Organizations across the Alliance have worked tirelessly to provide resources to schools. Some are available to schools just in their state, other resources are available to all.
In an ever-advancing technological age, online educational resources and providers are more prevalent than ever before. Due in part to the flexibility and ease of access, the number of K-12 online institutions has grown significantly; and consequently, many traditional classroom teachers are making the move from traditional brick and mortar schools to online schools and academies.
At first glance, teaching in an online environment is an extremely appealing option, but prior to diving in to the alluring waters of online instruction, it is essential for educators to consider specific aspects and factors necessary to becoming an effective and successful online teacher. Below are 5 key factors to contemplate before adventuring into the innovative world of online instruction.
In the dynamic world of online instruction, there is a plethora of innovative programs and software designed to augment the online learning environment, and each online program has its own preferred delivery method of instruction and unique assemblage of utilized programs. It is essential to have a solid foundation and understanding of basic technological skills in order to adapt to a variety of learning management systems, programs, and software.
Effective time-management skills and self-discipline are fundamental when it comes to working remotely. Creating a daily schedule for yourself is a necessity as is maintaining a workspace that is clear of common distractions such as television, pets, chores, and family members. Treat this space as you would your classroom or office, keeping it organized and professional.
Because online students have the option to complete their coursework at any point during the day or night, you will need to be flexible, particularly when it comes to communication. Many students enroll in online courses because they work and/or have various commitments during the day, so they may need assistance in the evening. Adjusting your schedule to meet the diverse needs of your students is essential to their overall success in your course.
Consistent communication and the cultivation of a strong online presence is crucial in an online classroom. Because you are not face-to-face with your students on a daily basis as you would be in a traditional brick and mortar classroom, bridging this gap can be a challenging task. Ensure that your students are aware of your availability and reach out on a regular basis so that they feel safe and comfortable communicating with you. Whether it is through videos, emails, phone calls, or synchronous sessions, make sure that students are aware of the fact that there is a “real” person leading their course.
Online schooling can feel isolating because students are not regularly surrounded by their peers as they would be in a traditional classroom. Cultivating consistent classroom discussions and group activities will assist in bridging this social gap and help students feel more invested and involved not only with their fellow classmates, but in their own personal success as well. Conducting daily or weekly synchronous sessions where the instructor is teaching a live lesson and interacting with students in real-time can also assist in creating a sense of community amongst students. Students are able to communicate with one another and the teacher is able to provide immediate feedback.
Adjusting to teaching in an online environment can seem like a challenging endeavor; however, the accomplishment of reaching a diverse audience of students is incredibly rewarding. Taking the plunge in to online education will not only benefit countless numbers of students; it will expand your horizons and experiences as an educator and lead you in to the next wave of innovative educational opportunities.
Nevada Learning Academy at CCSD
My yoga teacher often calls Warrior II the “stuck-in-traffic” pose. This standing posture encourages strength, stability, and focus. It has a way of redirecting us away from distractions and discomfort, a helpful skill for dealing with “road rage.” This got me thinking. If yoga can help us become better drivers, could yoga also help us create better online courses?
At VirtualSC, we build online courses using collaborative design teams. Since teamwork can cause “traffic jams,” we are continually working to improve our course-building process and how we work together.
The author Stephen King calls a metaphor a kind of miracle because it can change the way we think or talk about something. So I began using yoga as a metaphor for instructional design. Here’s how: I compare how we build quality online courses to the sequence of a yoga class.
Often a yoga class starts with easy seat, a simple cross-legged position. While seated, yogis (people who practice yoga) set an intention for their practice. It helps the class come together and each person to be fully present.
We hold a kickoff meeting for new course projects at our summer conference. We invite design teams to attend the session. During the meeting, we set the expectations for design teams. We define the requirements for a completed course, clarify roles for design teams, and review the course project calendar. This is how we come together.
Next, a yoga class begins to match movement with breath using cat-cow pose. This gentle flow stretches the body and prepares for other, more energetic activity. It helps the body get started.
We use the “Working on a VSC Design Team” course to orient design teams to our process for course building and quality control. The course includes two projects similar to what design teams do to create a new online course. We start our process by practicing.
Sun salutation is a sequence of poses that create energy, increase blood flow, and strengthen the body. It is where the work of yoga occurs in the body and mind.
Like sun salutation, we repeat cycles of creation and review throughout our course-building process. We plan the course, workshop the plan, then revise it. We develop each unit, then review and revise it. By repeating these cycles, quality becomes our habit.
Yoga is about balance, and most balance poses, like tree pose, require two sets of muscles to provide stability for the body. Balance also impacts the grace we extend to ourselves and others. Chinese philosophy sees yin and yang as opposite but complementary forces that interact to make the whole greater than its parts–like the two sets of muscles in a stability pose.
For a course project, this idea suggests that when we disagree, we have the potential to create something better. Mark Twain said, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Perfectionists have trouble sharing their work and receiving constructive feedback without getting defensive. Within a design team, this can make the process of quality review difficult. But we must disagree skillfully, kindly, and productively.
At the end of class, yogis lay on the mat completely still, like a corpse, to renew both body and mind. This posture helps us to reflect on how the yoga practice has affected us.
When we finish a course project at VirtualSC, we update our documentation. For courses, this includes the syllabus, instructor resources, and standards alignment. For our process, this involves instructions, templates, and agendas. This reflection looks back on the process and allows us to capture lessons learned.
A yoga practice finishes with the Namaste gesture, bringing hands together at the heart. It serves as a symbol of gratitude and respect between yogis. As you finish this blog, I hope that the metaphor of yoga has had a positive effect on your ideas about creating quality online courses. Namaste.
Clay Alan Ham, Ph.D., PMP is an avid yogi. He serves as an instructional designer/project manager supporting teams in developing online courses for VirtualSC, a program of the South Carolina Department of Education. He regularly leads review teams for Quality Matters as a certified K-12 Master Reviewer. Clay received the 2019 Directors’ Award for Exceptional Service to Quality Matters for K-12.
The number of K-12 students enrolled in online courses has risen dramatically over the last decade, giving more students the flexibility to learn from home or pursue areas of study not available at their schools. But the growth has also prompted criticism from educators and others that online learning lacks high standards or accountability.
To address concerns about quality and try to improve online learning, the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance and Quality Matters recently unveiled newly revised standards for virtual education—one set each for online teaching, programs, and courses. Representatives from the two organizations spent two years combing through the existing standards from the Aurora Institute (formerly known as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL) and soliciting feedback from the field to shape the new standards. It has been nearly a decade since those standards were updated.
Cindy Hamblin, the director of the alliance, led the effort alongside Christine Voelker, K-12 program director for Quality Matters. In a phone interview, Hamblin explained why the standards needed a refresh and how that process worked.
How are these standards used?
“As an online teacher, I can use those in self-reflecting on my own practice and seeing what areas I need professional learning on,” Hamblin said. “We also have programs that are beginning to use those as an evaluation tool, and state departments that utilize them on approving quality online programs.”
They’re also cited in the process of certifying some courses and programs. When districts issue requests for proposals for online program providers, they often refer to the iNACOL standards, Hamblin said. A handful of states—including Florida, Ohio, and Texas—require by law that certification processes for online courses and programs use the standards as a benchmark.
In what ways did the standards need to be updated?
More than 320,000 students are enrolled in statewide online schools, and another 420,000 are enrolled in state-supported virtual schools, according to data from the Digital Learning Collaborative. Growing numbers like those raised the stakes for online education quality, Hamblin said.
The standards “were widely used, but not considered as far as updates in practice and where we are with courses and teaching. What we’ve learned in the last ten years weren’t reflected in the standards.”
The topic of accessibility was mentioned only briefly in the 2011 version; now it’s a separate standard. The teaching standards now feature a deep-dive into the definition of student engagement and the value of communication between students and instructors.
Structurally, the 2011 standards mainly dealt in abstracts. Now, each of the 52 indicators that help clarify the eight standards also includes a real-life example from the field.
How did the revision process work?
“The process of updating it took a year from the initial survey that went out in the field. Then it went through another review chain. Another set of volunteers came in and made comments to the revisions. Then [Christine] and I made sure there was consistency in the standard sets.”
“The community involvement was very key. We had researchers, we had practitioners, higher ed, state departments of ed, K-12 practitioners, even representation outside of the U.S.”
What were the most challenging topics to address?
Accessibility was a big one, she said. “Making sure that that was where we wanted it to be and yet still respect the individual state requirements, yet not so specific that a state coudn’t add their own pieces.”
Accounting for the wide variety of online programs also took some fine-tuning, Hamblin said. “We wanted to make them flexible, whether you were a small program within a district or a large program. In a small school, a lot of times the teacher is designing that course. In a larger program, the teacher doesn’t even touch that course—there’s an instructional design staff to build that course.”
Where is there still room for improvement?
“The online program standards, those were the oldest ones—we feel like maybe that needs another round. I feel like there’s still room for improvement in that area. That’s getting to governance, that’s getting to program evaluation, staffing, all of those kinds of issues. That might be our next round of revisiting that to make sure we’ve got everything covered.
“But what we don’t want people to think is there’s going to be a startling change. We’re massaging, enhancing, refreshing, looking at the field on what needs to be added, or in some cases removed.”
What’s the overarching goal?
“We want to ensure that as we see the field being populated with a lot of different groups, we’re trying to push people to see what a quality course is, this is what it means to be a quality online teacher. As we’re developing programs, this is a great framework to build that quality program.”
Computer science is currently one of the most in-demand college degrees as computing jobs are the number one source of all new wages in the U.S. However, only 45% of U.S. high schools teach any computer science classes. Idaho currently has 925 open computer jobs but only graduated 435 students with computer science degrees in 2017. In addition to these low numbers, universities in Idaho did not graduate a single new teacher that was prepared to teach computer science in high school.
In an effort to improve student access to Computer Science in Idaho, Idaho Digital Learning Alliance (IDLA), Idaho’s state-sponsored online program, has become the Regional Partner for Code.org. Regional Partners are U.S.-based organizations that help spread computer science locally. The goal of the Regional Partner program is to help each organization establish itself as a K-12 computer science hub for their region, offering professional learning opportunities for teachers and building a strong local community. Due to the rural nature of Idaho’s geography, IDLA’s role as the Regional Partner is paramount to the initiatives success. IDLA’s digital footprint allows the entire state to access the resources and curriculum online. Idaho is the first state to use this model of delivery with Code.org.
Under this partnership, IDLA organizes and hosts Professional Development Workshops and all related activities to prepare Idaho teachers to adopt and use Code.org’s curriculum in their own classrooms. Whether they are new to teaching computer science or have experience teaching other CS courses, the program is designed to promote growth by providing space to become comfortable with curricular materials, computer science content, and pedagogy. The program supports teachers with diverse teaching backgrounds as they prepare to teach the following courses:
According to Code.org, this program and partnership have had a great impact in Idaho.
IDLA’s commitment to computer science doesn’t stop there. Every December, during Computer Science Education Week (December 9-15, 2019), IDLA partners with Idaho Public Television, Micron, Idaho STEM Action Center, Discovery Center of Idaho, and Idaho Career & Technical Education to bring Hour of Code to schools throughout the state. The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code”, to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts.