Virtual School Meanderings

March 5, 2012

SITE 2012 – Designing Engaging Virtual Courses for K-12 Students

The fifth session (because one of the presenters didn’t show up) from the Virtual Schooling SIG at the annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference was:

Designing Engaging Virtual Courses for K-12 Students

Jason Huett, Unversity of West Georgia, USA
Kimberly Huett, Unversity of West Georgia, USA
Using an explanatory mixed methods design, this study employed specifically adapted online course quality survey instruments as well as technologies such as VoiceThread and Jing to conduct extensive reviews of online courses in a blended middle school and a fully online high school to determine if teachers were designing engaging virtual learning environments for students. Quantitative analysis measured five standards for all online courses: content, instructional design, student assessment, technology, and 21st century skills. Qualitative analysis examined data from the audio and textual presentations and stakeholder interviews. The study was conducted over two years, first as an initial pilot study and then an adjusted full-scale experiment. Findings from both studies are presented as well as a comparison between findings.

Jason began the session by explaining that Henry County Schools had approached him about forming a partnership around one of the online and blended things that they were getting involved in. The University of West Georgia’s involvement was focused on having UWG graduate students reviewing the online and blended courses at the middle and high school level that were built by Henry County teachers. It appears that all of the courses had multiple graduate reviewers.

The first phase of the study involved the graduate students individually reviewing the courses using the iNACOL online course design standards (and initially a rubric based on the Georgia Performance Standards, but was later dropped). The second phase involved the graduate students coming together and reconciling their individual reviews. The third phase involved the creation of a Voicethread that essentially provided the combined or summarized or reconciled review of the course. The fourth and final stage involved providing video walk throughs of each of the recommendations for the course to provide the Henry County teachers examples of their recommendation. The process was managed using a wiki.

One of the important question to examine was whether these reviews were resulting in better designed courses that ended up in better student performance. Based on comparing course mean scores from 2010 (i.e., before the courses were revised based on this model) and 2011 (i.e., after the courses had been revised based on the recommendations from this process), the students at both the middle school and high school levels tend to be doing better following the reviews.

Some of the other findings that have come about include less emphasis on state standards in the review process and more focus on the actual course design. There have been requests for specific, focused professional development based on things found to be lacking in the online and blended courses. This project has assisted UWG’s movement towards creating their online teaching endorsement certificate. It has also resulted in UWG getting a second partner in the Georgia Virtual School, who are also interested in having their courses reviewed by the UWG students using this process.

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