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Virtual Course Consultant Project Linda L. Tavares University of Maryland University College


ONLINE LEARNING Public education is not known for rapid change but with the advent of ever expanding technologies, the last 10 years has seen a growth in online learning. Significant changes in how students access information, share ideas and learn are taking place in K-12 public education. Authors John Watson and L. Kay Johnson (2011) state, parents, students, and educators are beginning to realize the unparalleled equity and access to a high quality education that online learning affords and as of late 2010, 48 states operated some form of state-led supplemental online learning program for students attending physical schools, and/or full-time programs for students who take their entire education online (p. 205). What is online learning? The most accepted definition of a virtual school is an entity approved by a state or governing body that offers courses through distance deliverymost commonly using the Internet (Barbour & Reeves, 2009, p. 402). Online learning utilizes text, video, audio, and animation via the internet and allows students to take part in educational activities (both delivery and learning) at a distance synchronously (in real time) or asynchronously. Summary of Virtual School Status in the United States Online learning is presently experiencing a surge in growth and with each passing year, enrollment in virtual schools continues to increase (Barbour & Reeves, 2009). More students than ever before were taking online and blended courses in SY 2012 13 and two new states allowed fully online schools last year for a total of 31 states (Gemin, et al. 2012). According to Keeping the Pace with Online and Blended Learning (2012), there were 619,847 course enrollments (one student taking a one-semester-long online course) in 28 state virtual schools in SY 2011-12 which is an increase of 16% over the previous year (Gemin, et al.). Further, blended schools and blended programs in districts are a fast-growing and high-profile segment with an estimated number of several million, or slightly more than 5% of the total K-12 population across the United States taking part in all online programs (Gemin, et al.). The images below identify an increase in the number of virtual schools which are being offered as full time and blended/hybrid learning environments. Figure 1 from the report Keeping the Pace with Online and Blended Learning (2012) shows a graphic representation of the number of course enrollments in the United States Virtual Schools in SY 2011-12 and how the program size relates to the ratio to state population. Floridas Virtual Schools has the strongest enrollment


with 303,329. Figure 2 (below) shows the states which had multi-district, fully online schools in 2012.

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Figure 1: State Virtual Schools in 2012.

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Figure 2: States with multi-district fully online schools in 2012

VIRTUAL COURSE CONSULTANT PROJECT Benefits There are many benefits to implementing a program of online learning. Barbour and Reeves (2009) explain the benefits of virtual schooling could be divided into six areas: Higher levels of motivation Expanding educational access Providing high-quality learning opportunities Improving student outcomes and skills Allowing for educational choice Administrative efficiency (p. 409) Professors Tom Clark and Zane Berge summarize the benefits of virtual schools in their publication Virtual Schools and eLearning: Planning for Success. Drs. Clark and Berge (2005) explain virtual schools make courses accessible to student s that they could not otherwise take. Some virtual school courses enrich the curriculum through their high quality and/or challenging nature, and help students meet measurable state and national standards of learning. Virtual schools can extend equitable access to high quality education to students from high-need urban and rural schools, low achieving students, and students with specials needs (p. 2). One key benefit of Virtual schools is the expansion of educational choice. XYZ School District The XYZ School District is located in rural Southern Maryland. The public school system in XYZ District provides education to students in grade K-8 and has a student population of 2300. Mr. Henry, the school superintendent in XYZ District, strives to provide pathways for students to build their 21st century skills. He recognizes the importance of infusing technology into each of the districts six schools and has secured enough technology funding to make computers available to students on a basis of 1 computer per 4 students. Recently, a need for virtual schooling opportunities arose. XYZ district found the following challenges which Virtual Schooling can help them overcome: 1. Several students throughout the district have been identified as gifted and in need of an accelerated curriculum for mathematics. Higher level math courses were not offered in their districts K-8 schools and to meet the needs of these students, additional staff members would need to be hired. Recent budget cuts prevented hiring of new teachers for the benefit of a select


few students so teachers were having difficulty meeting the demands of accommodating their educational needs. 2. To meet the demands of the new state mandated standards, several electives were being removed from the curriculum to make room for a greater emphasis core subjects. Electives such as Art, Foreign Language Programs (Spanish and French), and Music would no longer be offered in XYZ District schools. Since the XYZ school district recognizes the importance of providing these elective courses to students in order to maintain a well-rounded education, it has decided to add a meaningful online supplemental program by providing for greater technology integration into their public schools. In order to implement a virtual school program that encompasses a balanced curriculum which includes the state standards, XYZ district has sought out a virtual school consultant to assist in the creation of an online learning program. Mission The creation of a mission statement is a quality strategy for teaching and learning at a distance. From the textbook Teaching and Learning at a Distance, authors Albright et al., (2012) identify that, The mission statement contains an explicit statement of the purpose of distance education (p. 165). Developing a clear mission statement can be achieved by focusing on the following list of questions: 1. 2. 3. 4. What are the educational needs of students in XYZ District? What type of school would best meet the needs of the student population? What will the learning outcomes, goals, and objectives of the virtual school? What type of program will help meet these goals and objectives?

Developing clear mission and vision statements will help guide XYZ District through the process of developing an online learning program. Recommended mission and vision statements which apply to the specific needs of XYZ District is as follows: XYZ district is committed to using technology to increase equity and access to the highest quality educational opportunities for K-8 students. XYZ District proposes to target students who have limited educational opportunities by providing elective courses and advanced placement courses online using highly qualified instructors and effective learning opportunities.


The XYZ District provides online courses to K-8 students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to take courses in subjects of arts and humanities including art, music, and foreign languages. XYZ Virtual School District Policies When developing policies for virtual schools it is important to realize they should be based on the policies already in place for brick and mortars schools in that district. Few policymakers anticipated that any space time, any space place learning was possible when most education laws were authored over the past 50 years. The issues largely center on determining when existing educational policies are appropriate for this new model of learning and when new policies should be created (Wicks & Associates, 2010, p. 6). Focusing on how students should learn will help determine which new policies should be created. The following issues should be taken into account when determining policies: Academic: calendar, course integrity, transcripts, evaluation process, course dates and deadlines, curriculum approval process, accreditation, quality standards and program assessment, enrollment caps; Fiscal: Tuition rate, technology fee, state fiscal regulations; Geographic: Service area regional limitations (in this case the district is the region); Governance: Single versus multiple board oversight, staffing, institutional accountability; Labor-Management: Compensation and workload, development incentives, intellectual property, faculty training; Legal: use of copyright materials, intellectual property of students, DMCA and TEAC Act implications, accessibility, liability; Student Support: Student services (admissions, advising, tutoring), computing system accounts, student training, handling student/parent complaints (Albright et al., 2012, p. 327). Conduct an analysis of potential markets. According to Albright et al. (2012), It is important to determine whether the potential market exists in an academic content area that is consistent with the core mission and values of the host organization. (p. 321). Review existing policies and rewrite them as needed to reflect a virtual school. Identify the type of program which is required to meet the needs of the students in XYZ District.

Challenges of Virtual Schools Currently virtual schools have several challenges to overcome including high start up costs associated with virtual schools, access issues surrounding the digital divide, and the


approval or accreditation of virtual schools (Barbour and Reeves, 2009, p. 409). Common challenges and possible solutions are outlined in the following table: Challenge Technical Difficulties There may be instances where students have technical problems that interfere with their ability to access course materials. Solution Teachers should establish a close working relationship with the technology support staff and keep the lines of communication open so when technical problems arise, they will know about them be able to address glitches quickly. Also, make sure students understand their responsibilities include locating another computer (at the library, for example) should their own be compromised. Provide lessons on plagiarism to clarify what constitutes plagiarism and have policies in place to deal with them. Utilize plagiarism detection services such as or SafeAssign. Rely less on objective testing and more on project based learning, portfolios, and small formative tests throughout the course (Albright et al., 2012).

Plagiarism Plagiarism is a serious problem and with an increase in technology literacy of our students has never been easier to commit.

Cheating Cheating is just a prevalent in distance education as in traditional classes.

Model Comparisons There are many different types of virtual schools operating in the United States. Clark (2005) indicated that virtual schools can be categorized in seven ways (see Table 1). While Watson et al (2011) describes five types of virtual schools (see Table 2). A comparison of each category is below: Table 1 Clarks Seven Categories of Virtual Schools ( Type State-sanctioned, state-level College and university-based Consortium and regionally-based Description Virtual schools operating on a state-wide level, such as the Florida Virtual School. Independent university high schools or university-sponsored delivery of courses to K-12 students, such as the University of California College Prep Online (UCCP). Virtual schools operated by a group of schools or school districts, such as the Virtual High School (VHS).


Local education agency-based Virtual charter schools Private virtual schools For-profit providers of curricula, content, tools and infrastructure Table 2

Virtual schools operated by a single school or school district, such as the Gwinnett County Online Campus. Virtual schools created under the charter school legislation in many states, such as Connections Academy, also commonly known as cyberschools. Virtual schools that are operated in the same manner as a brick and mortar private school, such as the Christa McAuliffe Academy. Companies that act as vendors for the delivery of courses or the use of course materials, such as APEX Learning.

Watson, Winograd, and Kalmon (2004) offer different categories which have five types of virtual school as summarized below in Table 2: Type Statewide supplemental programs District-level supplemental program Single-district cyber schools Multi-district cyber schools Cyber charters Description Students take individual courses but are enrolled in a physical school or cyber school within the state. These programs are authorized by the state and overseen by state education governing agencies. Are typically operated by autonomous districts and are typically not tracked by state agencies. Provide an alternative to the traditional face-to-face school environment and are offered by individual districts for students within that district. Are operated within individual school districts but enroll students from other school districts within the state. This represents the largest growth in K-12 online learning. Are chartered within a single district but can draw students from across the state.

Wicks & Associates (2010) state that every online program can be described based on a series of defining dimensions (p.11). Table three summarizes these ten dimensions: Table 3 Defining Dimensions of Online Programs Comprehensiveness Reach Type Location


Delivery Operational Control Type of Instruction Grade Level Teacher-Student Interaction Student-Student Interaction

Model Recommendations Taking the specific needs of XYZ School District into consideration and the criteria mentioned above, it is recommended XYZ School District implement the following type of program: 1. ComprehensivenessXYZ District should implement a statewide supplemental program. Students take individual courses but are enrolled in a physical school or cyber school within the state. These programs are authorized by the state and overseen by state education governing agencies. 2. Courses are taken as a form of blended online learning. Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path or pace using a learning management system (LMS) and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home ( Learning management systems are a means of providing learning experiences and tracking student achievement toward state and No Child left Behind standards and is the best choice (over a course management system) for K-12 level students (Albright et al., 2012, p. 184). 3. The Blended/Online learning model should be the self blend model which describes a scenario in which students choose to take one or more courses entirely online to supplement their traditional courses and the teacher-of-record is the online teacher (, p. 18). 4. Reach and TypeDistrict blended and online programs are those created by a school district, entirely or primarily for that districts students. Since the course demands relate specifically to the needs of XYZ district, it is recommended this type of virtual experience be limited to the students in this district only. Additionally, residents of the district who are not currently enrolled but have an interest in taking the virtual courses can register with a small tuition charge to help support the program.

VIRTUAL COURSE CONSULTANT PROJECT 5. LocationHybrid method of school and home. Supplementary courses are offered on school grounds and in each school in the district but having access to the program from any off-site computer allows students to pace themselves according to their own individual needs. 6. DeliveryBoth synchronous and asynchronous delivery given by on-sight staff of teachers. Assignments will often involve working with a partner or in a group. This arrangement of cooperative groups requires real-time interaction with peers. Other times course lessons may be presented in text form, animated form, or as a video presentation. 7. Operational ControlState and local board members supply the curriculum requirements and the virtual classes follow the same curriculum standards as outlined for traditional classroom settings. However, the supplemental virtual school program must be approved before implementation. 8. Type of Instruction: Courses are offered in art, music, advanced mathematics, foreign languages of French and Spanish and fully online. 9. Grade levelelementary and middle. XYZ School District serves a K-8 student population. The virtual school program is geared toward students in grades K 8 and beyond given the educational needs of the gifted/advanced mathematics students who will be taking courses at grade levels higher than grade 8. With foreign languages being offered online, students as young as Kindergarten are encouraged to take these online courses. 10. Teacher-Student Interactionhigh interaction through lesson delivery, activity, and communication using Web 2.0 applications. While the teacher is facilitator of the program, students will be expected to utilize LMS appropriately. The teacher will monitor student progress and growth, recognize difficulties, and implement strategies to assist struggling students. Through the use of office hours and an online help-desk, teachers can help students with technology issues as well as support their learning. 11. Student-Student Interactionhigh interaction between students as they collaborate, use cooperative learning strategies, create group based projects, and use Web 2.0 applications to reinforce communications.


VIRTUAL COURSE CONSULTANT PROJECT Overcoming Anticipated Hurdles The design model for XYZ School District should be considered a pilot program. Obstacles can be anticipated and arrangements made to meet the demands of an online lesson delivery system and thwart problems as they arise. Possible Problems Service Slowdowns Suggestions for Solving Problems Make sure organization has reliable Internet access, sufficient server capacity, adequate routers, servers for redundancy in the case of server failure, emergency generators during power failure and a file backup system and off-site storage (Albright et al., 2010, p. 324). Consider having IT staff member available to students and a Help Desk support line. Technical assistance for online learners is crucial for the user-friendliness and getting help in real time is a must for young students. Annually budget for repair and replacement of technology. Most technology should be replaced every four to five years including routers and servers. Training programs should be given in the form of workshops on using the chosen delivery technologies and course management system. Staff members should check all lesson delivery materials daily to ensure they are in good working order and to limit student frustration with the program. As this is a pilot program, there will be many opportunities to review and revise the online school policies. By examining what is working and what needs changing, faculty members create a positive working environment and prove they are invested in the project.


Student has difficulty with technology


Faculty not trained Access to materials


Plan of Implementation Developing an online or blended program using provider-supplied courses and district teaching requires solid planning and strategic steps for implementation. The suggested timeline presented here with and key milestone events leading to the launch of the virtual school supplementary blended program has been adapted from a report which was outlined and published by John Watson et al. (2012) in the publication Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice ( It includes a 12 month strategic planning process. The implementation plan should begin one full year prior to the first online course being launched.

VIRTUAL COURSE CONSULTANT PROJECT 12-month strategic planning process October 1. Needs analysis: identify educational goals 2. Strategic planning: Key stakeholders Administrators Teachers Parents Students Superintendent School board Community Program definition Late October Project leader, instructional team, administrative leaders to Virtual School symposium (if available). November Grade levels Student populations BL/OL model Facilities Bell schedule Instructional strategies and assessment Identify courses Identify teachers December Identify project leader School board buy-in Start your strategic planning process with a needs assessment to help identify targeted educational goals that will affect student outcomes, especially where you are presented with unique educational challenges (, p. 54). Operations meeting to make group decisions regarding enrollment, orientation, technical support, academic support, budget analysis, and evaluation of the proposed program.


Identify and agree on defined educational goals of student learning for a targeted group of students.

Create a presentation that includes plan of action for the Virtual School Blended Learning Program which includes mission statement, goals and objectives, needs assessment, and budget analysis. Present to school board. Identify LMS for implementation of school supplemental program. Create a process to choose the most appropriate Learning Management System (LMS), traditional or open source. Utilize SREB Checklist while evaluating LMS (at

January Plan for blended learning/online learning teaching requirements Develop and issue blended/online learning course provider and LMS, including instructional strategies, standards linkage, LMS functionality Design the technology infrastructure Identify upgrades and changes to facilities Develop a communications plan



February Review blended/online learning course provider proposals Initial budget outline and proposal draft Begin community outreach and recruiting (existing and outside students from the district). March Initiate planning for special education Select blended/online course provider Refine budget School board update from project leader Student course enrollments and blended/online schedules are created. April Course development quality and progress check (instructional designer and teachers) Course review Finalize technology support plan and training of staff Finalize LMS integration and data dashboard. May June

Use SREB Checklist while evaluating course materials (at

Include special education teacher with the process of identify differentiation requirements and adhering to IEP goals.

During content acquisition: evaluate and purchase individual courses that align with district instructional strategies. Utilize SREB Checklist while evaluating course materials (at

First year blended/online learning teacher support plan (project leader and team plan) Programmatic evaluation plan Finalize student/parent and teacher handbooks Professional development for staff.

Professional Development for teachers including LMS, using technologies associated with the online lessons and projects.

Blended/online teacher professional development End device configuration: finalize policies and procedures Technology staff training Load and location Wifi testing Teacher supervisor training Facility construction/reconfiguration complete.

Examine, review, and create new policies for virtual education program. IT to examine infrastructure and make recommendations for facility upgrades, expansion and replacements required to support the program.




Course development complete/testing in LMS Student recruitment/enrollment School board update Community outreach

August Online student orientation Blended/online teaching professional development completed LAUNCH WEEK: First day of blended/online classes Technology and lesson issues identified Execute communications planpress releases/media relations/community outreach Student/parent blended/online orientation face-to-face meeting. September Post-launch status update School board update.

Professional Development: Teachers investigate LMS, lesson delivery methods, and further familiarize themselves with the program. IT conducts tests and final installments as necessary. IT integrates support system including a help desk component. Develop an online orientation course for students to set performance expectations, familiarize the students with the technology and gauge their commitment. Consider successful completion a requirement to gain access to registered courses. Hold parent conferences to introduce the program. Implement online orientation course for target students registered in the program. Implement online program. Continuing throughout the program: collaborative sessions should be held with teacher, IT, and Administration to identify program successes and brainstorm ideas for improvement.

Compiling Data Through to May Throughout the school year it is important to compile data showing student progress and growth. In May, prepare a report to share results with state and local board of education members. Continue to review and revise program time parameters and policies and meet regularly to analyze successes and to alter program as needed. Six Criteria Necessary for a Sound Virtual School Model Mission and Goals: Identify a need for using technology and projected outcomes. The community and faculty must be supportive of the online program. Identifying valid goals which use technology to meet the educational needs of students (as well as those in the districts community) helps convey the project planners level of confidence for successfully meeting the goals. Planning for Distance Education: No organization should enter into the distance education marketplace without a clearly though through plan that has gained the consensus

VIRTUAL COURSE CONSULTANT PROJECT approval of all key players (Albright et al., 2012, p.319). Including staff and procedures to make sure the courses are effective and are high quality. Professional Development: Many online program professional development requirements focus on helping teachers understand how to motivate individual learners, enhance student interaction and understanding without visual cues, tailor instruction to particular learning styles, and develop or modify interactive lessons to meet student needs (Wicks & Associates, 2010, p. 12). Ensure faculty readiness and support by offering access to Technology Symposiums, Webinars, and Professional Development Workshops. Access to Technology: Readiness of the technology infrastructure means ensuring the technology is reliable, sufficiently robust, and well supported and backed by necessary funding (Albright et al., 2012, p.324). Without a strong and working network complete with sufficient back-up plans, the project will fail. Support: Faculty support including training, course evaluation support, and technology support is important so teachers and administrators know they can get assistance as needed and they are adequately prepared to implement the program. Faculty will need training, assistance with course development and delivery, and access to a dedicated help desk as means of support. Student support includes access to an online library, technology information should they have trouble interacting with the course technologies. Institutional Policies: Distance education policies must be developed and revisions to existing policies are done when appropriate including online learning policy, academic policies, fiscal, geographic, governance, labor-management, legal and student support policies (Albright et al., 2012, p.327).


VIRTUAL COURSE CONSULTANT PROJECT References Albright, M., Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc. Barbour, M., & Reeves, T., (2009). The reality of virtual schools: A review of the literature. Computers and Education, 52, 402-416. Barbour, M. K., Cavanaugh, C.S., Clark, T. (2009). Research and practice in k-12 online learning: A review of open access literature. The international review of research in open and distance learning 10(1), 1-22. Retrieved August 6, 2013 from Berge, Z., Clark T., (2005). Virtual schools and elearning: Planning for success. Retrieved August 5, 2013 from library/proceedings/03_71.pdf Checklist for evaluation online courses.(2006). Southern regional educational board. Retrieved August 4, 2013 from 2006Pubs/06T06_ Checklist_for_Evaluating-Online-Courses.pdf Gemin, B., Murin, A., Rapp, C., Watson J., and Vashaw, L. (2012) Keeping pace with online & blended learning. Retrieved August 2, 2013 from Itslearning. (2013, May 24). Blended learning in 2 minutes and 38 seconds [Vidoe file]. Video posted to Johnson, L.K., & Watson, J. (2011). Online learning: A 21st century approach to education. Explorations of educational purpose. Retrieved August 8, 2013 from Wicks, M. & Associates. (2010). National primer on K-12 online learning. International Association for K-12 Online learning. Retrieved August 1, 2013 from


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