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Stephanie A. Barbee, Group K-12


OMDE 608
Section 9040
April 20, 2014
Assignment 3
Virtual Virginia: Analysis & Recommendations
Introduction
Virtual Virginia is an online learning program, offered to students in the grades K-12, whose
mission is to serve rural, underdeserved students, and students that prefer learning online instead of in a
traditional setting. A case study conducted by Barbee, DeMarco, Hameni Bieleu, and Sledge (2014)
claims that Virtual Virginias Web-based teaching model provides students with an asynchronous
learning environment that emphasizes communications through a wide variety of technologies. Catering
to various demographics and learning styles, Virtual Virginia provides student support services that offer
a comfortable and exciting alternative to the traditional learning environment. Virtual Virginia provides
students with reading materials, simulations, flash-based interactive practice, video and audio files, and
other resources to ensure active engagement with the various types of technology that exist today (2014).
While the online learning program has many positive attributes, it is deficient in areas that could improve
the programs overall success. Virtual Virginia thrives in areas of mentoring, program accessibility, and
class choice, but allows no more than fifteen students per course. In addition, Virtual Virginia does not
provide students with an Web-based library system, as students are forced to use libraries in their local
school districts. After reviewing the case study conducted by Barbee, DeMarco, Hameni Bieleu, and
Sledge (2014), it is also clear that Virtual Virginia fails to address issues surrounding cultural diversity,
including how it promotes and accommodates a diverse student population. By providing Web-based
library resources for all students, including support services that address cultural diversity, and by
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increasing the amount of students allowed in each course, this proposals goals is to focus on increasing
learner retention, ensuring measurable learning gains, and improving overall learner engagement.
Recommendations
One of the first recommendations for Virtual Virginia is to increase the enrollment limit for every
course. Based on the case study by Barbee, DeMarco, Hameni Bieleu, and Sledge (2014), one of the
major challenges Virtual Virginia faces is limited space within classes, where each course has a limit of
fifteen students. While instructors for classes in a traditional academic setting may prefer smaller
classroom sizes, this could be a disadvantage to students enrolled in online courses. According to
Simonson, Schlosser, and Hanson (1999), distance education relies heavily on class size, as students need
a diverse and dynamic atmosphere that facilitates collaboration to gain the most from their learning
experiences. By limiting courses to only fifteen students, Virtual Virginia limits the amount of diversity
and collaborative efforts each course can offer to a student. Increasing the class size by five students can
result in tremendous benefits to overall diversity, and from a logistical standpoint Virtual Virginia can
offer more availability for each course offered and increase overall enrollment numbers.
Based on the case study conducted by Barbee, DeMarco, Hameni Bieleu, and Sledge (2014),
Virtual Virginia does not mention issues of cultural diversity within their academic programs. It is
recommended that Virtual Virginia incorporate student support services that address issues of cultural
diversity, while promoting the variety that exists in Virginia and the surrounding areas. According to
Spronk (2004), there are many features of the academic culture that may seem alien to learners from other
linguistic and cultural traditions, and many easily incorporated practices can foster learning while
celebrating cultural diversity. Some of these practices include the following: contextualizing the learning,
offering learning spaces where students feel they can communicate freely, welcoming alternative
approaches to academic tasks, effective use of media, and an overall celebration of diversity within the
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classroom (2004). By improving in this area, the academic atmosphere will be obligatory to all ethnic
and cultural backgrounds, providing students with a rich and heterogeneous learning environment.
Another recommendation for Virtual Virginia includes adding an Web-based library service for
enrolled students. According to Simonson, Schlosser, and Hanson (1999), if library resources are
important to a students success as they progress through an online learning program, then library
resources should be readily available in electronic form. Currently, students must travel to their local
city-run library or utilize library services offered by their local school district. One of the benefits of
distance education is the ability to work wherever and whenever, but having to travel to a physical
location for library services interferes with that aspect of online learning. The mere inconvenience of
acquiring transportation and circumventing the operational hours of a physical library are aspects that
should definitely be changed to accommodate distance learning students. Moyo and Cahoy (2005)
reaffirm that students enrolled in distance education courses must to have Web-based library services at
their fingertips in order to be successful.
Organization of Services and Achieving/Evaluating Goals
The goals for increasing the number of students allowed to enroll in a particular course include
increased diversity, learner retention, learner engagement, and potential cost savings for the institution. It
appears there are no state regulations that limit classroom sizes for online courses in Virginia, so changing
this limitation should be fairly straightforward and uncomplicated. To accomplish this recommendation,
no changes need to be made regarding organizational structure or additional staffing. Currently, Virtual
Virginia requires a request be submitted to the Supervisor of Curriculum and Student Services in order to
increase the enrollment size for each course (Barbee, DeMarco, Hameni Bieleu, & Sledge, 2014). This
procedure can still be applicable, with the exception of increasing the enrollment limitation According to
the Senate of Virginia Senate Finance Committee (2012), Virginia school divisions have reported that
increasing the number of students allowed to enroll in any given course is one the best budget strategies
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they can implement to save money. It also provides an example that states going from a class size of
twenty-two students to a class size of twenty-seven students represents a twenty-three percent reduction in
the number of teachers required (2012). Cost savings in this area can be allocated to areas like Web-
based library services. To evaluate this recommendation, the institution must gather information that
relates how increasing class size effects the overall learning environment, and this evaluation method can
be accomplished over a one to three year period (2012).
Achieving and evaluating goals surrounding cultural diversity is much more difficult to
implement and manage. In order to accomplish this feat, it is not necessary to locate new resources or
hire new faculty; however, it can be cost effective to utilize tools already available to the institution.
Fortunately, Virtual Virginia already has individual mentors staffed to assist each student in the online
program, who can devote some of their energy to accommodating the culturally diverse population of
students that attend this institution. Providing the public with information that promotes the institutions
cultural diversity can increase student enrollment, ensure student retention, and enhance the overall
learning environment. Another avenue to assist in this recommendation is additional staff training.
While this is a program that comes with a certain amount of cost and will require additional time
commitments from faculty, the benefits this recommendation provides to faculty and students outweigh
the drawbacks. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of this recommendation, institutions could monitor
the overall demographics of enrolled students. Evaluating the successfulness of this recommendation will
be quite difficult, but may serve as a good foundation for the evaluation process.
The recommendation to incorporate a Web-based library service into the Virtual Virginia
program is, perhaps, the most significant. In order to organize an undertaking of this size, the school
would have to consider how to implement this type of service in a financially and logistically responsible
way. Hughes (2004) states that funding to develop and update a library collection must be seen as a
necessary annual expense. There are various online library services and information retrieval services,
much like those used with online higher education programs, and it would simply be a matter of selecting
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the right system for Virtual Virginia (Smith, 2010). In addition to the financial aspect of purchasing a
Web-based library system, Virtual Virginia would need to consider the financial implications of providing
technical support and additional staffing to manage the service. After implementation, staff training and
student tutorials would ensure the library service was used effectively and efficiently. This
recommendation focuses on the following goals: learner retention, learner engagement, measurable
learning gains, and positive results in learner performance and skill development. In order to evaluate the
effectiveness of incorporating a support service of this magnitude, information gathering from students
and faculty can provide institutions with valuable feedback. Teachers can monitor the changes seen in
written and research assignments and students can provide feedback on the convenience and usability of
the service.
Rationale
Regarding Web-based library services, Moyo and Cahoy (2005) conducted two studies that
followed the perceptions, expectations, and use of Web-based library resources of both students and
faculty. Ultimately, the results showed that Web-based library resources and services were rated as being
the most valuable and important component, of an online program (2005). The authors conclude that
students who do not have access to adequate library resources are placed at a disadvantage compared to
the institutions that provide Web-based library services (2005). As stated by Hughes (2004), online
sources of information have transformed libraries in distance education: where in the past libraries
focused on holdings, they can now focus on access. The library experience is profound for the student
and is a crucial part of the learning process, where students improve their critical thinking skills and learn
how to properly evaluate sources.
A culturally rich and diverse atmosphere is one of the most effective tools online instructors have
at their disposal. In regards to mentors and what they offer students, Hughes (2004) suggests that online
learners receive assistance to identify particular needs that help reduce stress, enhance their learning
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experience, and address cultural challenges they may face in the classroom. In addition, Sanchez and
Gunawardena (1998) state that the cultural differences among students must be accounted for in an
educational setting, and instructional technologies offer teaching and learning to a wide variety of cultural
groups. The most important result of cultural diversity is what it provides to collaborative and
communicative interaction between students and their instructors. Anderson (2004) states that
communication is a vital and necessary part of the education experience, where students share knowledge
and develop a sense of community among students.
The rationale for increasing classroom size is much like the rationale for cultural diversity. The
greater the number of students in a class, the more diverse the learning atmosphere will be. Much of
online education relies on interaction between students, where a community of learning can develop. For
example, in a case study on the University of the Arctic, as described by Hughes (2004), asynchronous
discussions formed the basis for the exchange of knowledge, where students shared experiences and
resources to build upon prior knowledge. In addition, Hughes (2004) adds that learners, for whom
English was not the first language, felt comfortable participating in discussion because the course design
facilitated a secure environment where students could share with one another in a respectful and open
manner.
Conclusion
Virtual Virginia is a thriving online learning program for K-12 students, and is leading the way in
non-traditional educational methods nation-wide. Levy (2005) states that administrative structures spend
a great deal of energy on support structures, student services, technology support and faculty training, but
physical, organizational, and programmatic changes occur and an institution must be able to adapt. While
some recommendations may prove to be costly ventures for an institution, adaptations in other areas can
make up for the cost, resulting in benefits that far outweigh their initial expenditures. The primary goals
for the above three recommendations include learner retention, learner engagement, measurable learner
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gains, and performance enhancement, and there is little disruption to organizational structures and
staffing. In order to offer a successful online learning program to the public the institution must focus on
student support first, become proactive rather than reactive to technological changes, and present a
comfortable atmosphere where learning centers around the sharing and building of meaningful
knowledge.















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References
Anderson, T. (2004). Student services in a networked world. In J. E. Brindley, C. Walti, & O. Zawacki-
Richter (Eds.), Learner support in open, distance and online learning environments (pp. 95-108).
Oldenburg: Bibliotheks-und Informationssystem der Universitt Oldenburg.
Barbee, S. A., DeMarco, S., Hameni Bieleu, R., & Sledge, R. (2014). Learner support in K-12 schools:
The case of Virtual Virginia. Retrieved from
https://learn.umuc.edu/d2l/le/12563/discussions/topics/58091/View
Hughes, J. A. (2004). Supporting the online learner. In T. Anderson, & F. Elloumi (Eds.). Theory and
practice of online learning. Athabasca, CA: Athabasca University. Retrieved from
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http://www.libraries.psu.edu/content/dam/psul/wcpsuo/documents/Moyo%20OCLS%20paper.pdf
Sanchez, I., & Gunawardena, C. N. (1998). Understanding and supporting the culturally diverse distance
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oldenburg.de/cde/support/readings/sanch98.pdf
Senate of Virginia (2012). Stretching Virginias public school dollar in a global economy and a digital
world. Senate Finance Committee. Retrieved from
http://sfc.virginia.gov/pdf/retreat/2012%20Retreat/5_K12.pdf
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Simonson, M., Schlosser, C., & Hanson, D. (1999). Theory and distance education: A new discussion.
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oldenburg.de/cde/found/simons99.htm
Smith, S. S. (2010). Web-based instruction: A guide for libraries (3
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Spronk, B. (2004). Addressing cultural diversity through learner support. In J. E. Brindley, C. Walti, & O.
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169-178). Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universitt Oldenburg. Retrieved
from http://www.c3l.uni-oldenburg.de/cde/support/fa04/Vol.%209%20chapters/Spronk.pdf