Virtual School Meanderings

July 17, 2018

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: My Journey To and Through K-12 Online Learning Research

As I mentioned in the Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course yesterday, today I wanted to post a sample of a guest blog entry.

Jered Borup is the professor-in-charge of George Mason University’s Blended and Online Learning in Schools Master’s and Certificate programs that are devoted to improving teacher practices in online and blended learning environments. Previous to earning his Ph.D. at Brigham Young University, Jered taught history at a junior high school for six years. He has also taught online and blended courses since 2008. His current research interests include developing online learning communities and identifying support systems that adolescent learners require to be successful in online environments. A full list of his publications can be found at

As a junior high school teacher, I commonly used technology in my classroom. I was the first in my school district to create and maintain a classroom website where I placed learning materials including mini-lecture recordings that I created for students to watch if they missed class or wished to review lessons at their own pace. I felt like I was on the cutting edge of teaching and was frequently thanked and praised by students, parents, and administrators. However, two experiences helped me to realize the limitations of my educational technology use. First, while teaching summer school I made an appointment with the principal and proposed that we start offering my online lectures, worksheets, and exams as an online course for students who needed to recover previously failed credits. She declined my offer because in her words “these students need a teacher who cares about them and is there to motivate them through the course.” Second, I had the opportunity to meet with my superintendent. While I was expecting him to praise my course website he actually challenged me to do more, pointing out that there was not a meaningful change in how I designed and facilitated learning activities. Instead I was simply using technology to digitize what I was doing face-to-face. More specifically, I was using technology so that I could lecture more in class.

Those two experiences made me reimagine the purpose of educational technology. Rather than using technology to simply transmit information, I began to see it as a way to communicate, collaborate, connect, and create. I also began to see how technology allowed me to create learning opportunities for my students that would be difficult or impossible without technology. When I started my PhD program at Brigham Young University (BYU) I was also fortunate to work with people such as Drs. Charles R. Graham and Richard E. West who helped me to see the transformative potential of online and blended learning—a vision that has shaped my teaching and research efforts at George Mason University. This is also when I began researching how online learning communities are formed and the support structures that online students require to be successful. While online learning has grown dramatically, online course attrition rates were—and still are—higher than those in face-to-face courses and I believed—and still do—that online course outcomes would improve if online learning communities and student support improved.

As a graduate student, I attended a seminar where Dr. David Whetten expanded on his 1989 publication, “What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution?” Whetten likened research to a scholarly conversation that requires participants to hear, acknowledge, and build upon others’ contributions. He added that these conversations were centered around theoretical frameworks and stressed the importance of conducting research that is guided by existing frameworks, but he also acknowledged that existing frameworks have “boundaries of generalizability” and some scholars must work to create their own frameworks when their line of inquiry extends beyond the boundaries of existing frameworks. When I conducted research examining online courses in higher education it was easy to identify well-established frameworks to guide my research. In contrast, when conducting research in K-12 online learning environments I struggled to find frameworks that could sufficiently guide my research. As a result, my co-authors and I used K-12 online learning research and frameworks created in online courses in higher education, and frameworks created in face-to-face K-12 learning environments to develop the Adolescent Community of Engagement (ACE) framework. Specifically, the ACE framework identifies and defines roles and responsibilities that parents, teachers, and student peers can fulfill to improve K-12 online students’ affective, behavioral, and cognitive engagement.

The ACE framework has helped guide nearly all of my subsequent research examining K-12 online learning. More specifically, my co-authors and I have conducted a series of case studies examining perceptions and experiences of various stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, teachers, facilitators) in various models of online learning such as a full-time cyber high school, a large independent study program, and a state-run supplemental online program where students were assigned an online teacher and an on-site facilitator who regularly worked with them in their brick-and-mortar school. While I did not conduct these case studies to “test” the framework, they have been helpful in refining the framework by identifying responsibilities that did not appear to be as important as originally hypothesized. At the same time, the case studies identified responsibilities that appeared to be important but were not originally identified in the ACE framework. Some additional case studies are ongoing. When they are finished, my co-authors and I will reexamine and update the framework in light of the case study findings over the last five years. Once the ACE framework has been revised, we will work to create and validate instruments that measure the constructs identified in the ACE framework. These instruments would allow researchers to identify specific types of supports that most impact students’ affective, behavioral, and cognitive engagement and hopefully provide insights into strategies that can make meaningful reductions in K-12 online course attrition rates.

Jered Borup is the professor-in-charge of George Mason University’s Blended and Online Learning in Schools Master’s and Certificate programs. A full list of his publications can be found at  As is the pattern here at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry posted today.


  1. Jered, thanks for contributing this guest entry to my blog. While I don’t believe you specifically state this in the entry, but Jered is going up for promotion and tenure soon. As a part of that process, faculty members have to write a narrative related to the program of research – and what you have read above is a portion of Jered’s narrative.

    As I read through it, I recalled the fact that I have prepared my own narrative on a couple of occasions now. And to be perfectly honest, our narratives contain a great deal of overlap. Both former social studies teachers. Both working in primarily rural areas. Both creating online learning opportunities to serve the needs of our own students (although in my case it was AP courses). Both getting interested in the potential of the medium, but also wanting to know more about how to make it more effective.

    Comment by Michael Barbour — July 17, 2018 @ 11:32 am | Reply

  2. […] Guest Blog Entry: My Journey To and Through K-12 Online Learning Research […]

    Pingback by EDTECH537 – End Of Course | Virtual School Meanderings — August 12, 2018 @ 11:31 am | Reply

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