Virtual School Meanderings

January 25, 2013

REL Research Update Newsletter January 2013

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Midwest Regional Educational Laboratory at American Institutes for Research

Research Update

January 2013
Vol. 2, No. 1

kid reading newsletterWelcome

REL Midwest is one of 10 regional educational laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and is administered by American Institutes for Research (AIR). Each edition of REL Midwest’s Research Update brings you news of how our scope of work is unfolding in your state and across the region and offers information about resources available from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program and other research and technical assistance providers. Research alliances figure prominently in REL work, and REL Midwest has 10 of them that drive our activities in research, evaluation, technical assistance, and dissemination. This month, we introduce you to our Virtual Education Research Alliance.


Our Work
Meet our Virtual Education Research Alliance.

News, Events, and Activities
Learn about people, organizations, and issues in the region.

Resources to Explore

Contact Us
REL Midwest
1120 East Diehl Road
Suite 200
Naperville, IL 60563-1486

Our Work

Virtual Education Research Alliance

Midwestern states are using virtual education to enhance‚ supplement‚ and in some cases replace traditional brick-and-mortar K–12 public schools. The Virtual Education Research Alliance (VERA) has two main goals: (1) to develop the capacity for the states of Wisconsin and Iowa to collect and use data in order to implement effective high-school virtual learning programs‚ and (2) to develop and carry out a research agenda that focuses on specific questions about student achievement and virtual learning conditions. AIR Senior Technical Assistance Consultant Pam Jacobs‚ Ph.D.‚ leads the work of the alliance‚ and Peggy Clements‚ Ph.D.‚ research scientist at Education Development Center‚ Inc. (EDC)‚ serves as principal investigator. Alliance members include:

During 2012‚ VERA met three times‚ offering alliance members the opportunity to broaden their understanding of rigorous research and the process of developing a research agenda. Among the key issues that emerged were the need for information on how and for what reasons schools in their states are using online courses‚ and the need for research on professional development programs that target support mechanisms for students enrolled in online courses. The REL Midwest research team is working with VERA members on two research efforts related to these key issues. The first involves developing and administering a survey that VERA member states can administer to determine the extent to which schools are utilizing online course options for their students‚ the reasons why schools are turning to online course options‚ and the policies and practices schools employ to support students enrolled in online courses. In addition‚ the research team is planning a series of studies building toward a potential randomized controlled trial that will investigate the effect of student support on student success in online courses.

In November 2012‚ REL Midwest hosted a Making Connections event in collaboration with VERA. Presented as a webinar‚ the event focused on the implications of virtual education on state longitudinal data systems; it is archived on the REL Midwest website. For more information about the alliance‚ contact Dr. Jacobs by e-mail.


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News‚ Events‚ and Activities

  • AIR Principal Researcher R. Dean Gerdeman‚ Ph.D.‚ became REL Midwest acting director effective January 1‚ 2013‚ following the resignation of Matt Dawson‚ Ph.D. Senior Researcher Chris Brandt‚ Ph.D.‚ has moved into the position of REL Midwest deputy director. Dr. Dawson‚ who served as REL Midwest director from 2006 through 2012‚ is now with AdvancED in Georgia.
  • The 29th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning‚ sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison‚ will be held August 7–9‚ 2013‚ in Madison. Visit the conference website to receive more information.
  • The International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) will hold its 2013 Virtual School Symposium October 27–30‚ 2013‚ in Orlando‚ Florida. Visit the iNACOL website to learn more about its events and resources.
  • Plans for REL Midwest’s 2013 Making Connections event series include a February webinar on college and career readiness‚ an April public television event in Ohio on low-performing schools and school improvement‚ and an in-person event in Indiana in June on college and career readiness. As we finalize arrangements‚ we will post details on our website.
  • There is still time to register for “Connect-Inform-Advance: Promoting Academic Success of Rural Students‚” the 2013 national conference on rural education hosted by the IES-funded National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed). The conference will be held April 3–4‚ 2013‚ in Omaha‚ Nebraska. Visit the R2Ed website for details.
  • REL Central is offering a webinar from 10 to 11:30 a.m. (Mountain Time) on January 30‚ 2013‚ titled Interpreting the Evidence Around College Access Strategies. Featuring IES practice guide coauthor Neal Finkelstein‚ Ph.D.‚ the webinar will focus on curricula that prepare students for college‚ what assessments can be used to estimate college readiness‚ how to engage students in completing steps to gain college entrance‚ and how to work with families to obtain financial assistance for college. Visit the REL Central website for details.


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Resources to Explore

The U.S. Department of Education‚ federally funded technical assistance providers‚ and other organizations offer information on a variety of topics‚ including virtual education. Check out the following resources:

  • Education administrators and policymakers who want to better understand the potential impact of online learning on educational productivity may find Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity helpful. The Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International prepared this 2012 issue brief for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.
  • The 2010 revision of the U.S. Department of Education report Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies involved a systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008. The main finding of the literature review was that few rigorous studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K–12 students have been published.
  • The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology has released the draft report Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World for public comment. Developed in partnership with a technical working group of learning technologies experts‚ the report “discusses the promise of sophisticated digital learning systems for collecting and analyzing large amounts of fine-grained data…as users interact with the systems.”
  • Interested in some background information on collecting useful data about virtual education? Review the recommendations in the Forum Guide to Elementary/Secondary Virtual Education. Published in 2006 by the National Forum on Education Statistics‚ the guide is geared toward staff of state and local education agencies.
  • Follow REL Midwest on Twitter.
  • Ask a REL is a collaborative reference desk service designed to function in much the same way as a technical reference library. Following established search protocols‚ our researchers provide timely responses to your questions in the form of referrals and references. Submit your question online today.
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Contact Us

For more information about any of the items in this newsletter or to speak with a member of our staff‚ please contact us by telephone (866-730-6735) or by e-mail ( We look forward to hearing from you.

REL Midwest at American Institutes for Research
1120 East Diehl Road‚ Suite 200
Naperville‚ IL 60563-1486

This material was prepared under Contract ED-IES-12-C-0004 by Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest, administered by American Institutes for Research. The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. This publication is in the public domain. Authorization to reproduce in whole or in part for educational purposes is granted.
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