Virtual School Meanderings

December 30, 2015

Article Notice: Real-Time Virtual Teaching – Lessons Learned From a Case Study in a Rural School (Online Learning)

As I mentioned on Monday, I’m posting notice of the articles from the Online Learning 19:5 K-12 Online Learning Research Special Issue.

Real-Time Virtual Teaching: Lessons Learned From a Case Study in a Rural School

Michael K. Barbour
Sacred Heart University

Abstract – Due to the challenges facing rural schools, many jurisdictions have had resorted to the use virtual school programs to provide curricular opportunities to their students. While the number of virtual schools that rely on synchronous instruction as a primary or significant method of delivery is quite small, there are some programs that do (and a growing number of virtual schools that use it with small group or individuals). This case study examined the use of synchronous online instruction by one virtual school with students in a single rural school in Newfoundland and Labrador. The data from a variety of collection methods revealed three themes: similarities with how online student experiences and the traditional classroom, the development of local learning communities, and the preference for students to use chat over audio.

Article Notice: An Examination of an Online Tutoring Program’s Impact on Low-Achieving Middle School Students’ Mathematics Achievement (Online Learning)

As I mentioned on Monday, I’m posting notice of the articles from the Online Learning 19:5 K-12 Online Learning Research Special Issue.

An Examination of an Online Tutoring Program’s Impact on Low-Achieving Middle School Students’ Mathematics Achievement

Shanan Chappell, Pamela Arnold, John Nunnery, and Melva Grant
Old Dominion University

Abstract – The purpose of this mixed methods study was to determine the impact of synchronous online tutoring services on struggling middle school students’ mathematics achievement. The online tutoring was provided as a response to intervention (RTI) Tier 3 support (intensive, individualized intervention) in schools implementing a school-wide mathematics program that addresses Tier 1 (high-quality classroom instruction) and Tier 2 (small group interventions). We employed quasi-experimental, within- and between-group designs to examine impacts for 119 students in two schools to measure the tutoring’s impact on mathematics assessment scores. We also conducted qualitative analyses of student and tutor postsession commentary. The findings suggest that the tutoring contributed to statistically significant gains in student assessment scores postintervention. Online tutors’ descriptions of their practice centered on ongoing progress monitoring of student learning, delivery of guided practice to students, the use of multiple explanations and representations of target concepts. Student perceptions of the online tutoring were predominately positive in nature.

December 29, 2015

Article Notice: “When We Talk About Compliance, It’s Because We Lived It” – Online Educators’ Roles in Supporting Students with Disabilities (Online Learning)

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m posting notice of the articles from the Online Learning 19:5 K-12 Online Learning Research Special Issue.

“When We Talk About Compliance, It’s Because We Lived It” Online Educators’ Roles in Supporting Students with Disabilities

Mary Frances Rice
University of Kansas

Richard Allen Carter, Jr.
University of Kansas

Abstract – As participation in online learning grows, so do concerns around the ways in which students with disabilities are served in virtual school programs, both full and part-time. At the crux of this struggle is the way in which federal and state laws (many of which were incepted before online learning existed or gained traction as an educational option) are interpreted by educators and translated into policies at the school level. Further, administrators, special education case managers, and teachers all interpret school level policies and answer to directives from a hierarchy of supervisors. The interpretations of these policies and the understandings educators use to guide their thinking have not been well-researched. In the present study, teachers, special education case managers, school level special education administrators, and regional directors were interviewed about their roles in developing, supporting, and implementing accommodations and other forms of support for students with disabilities in online courses. Findings from this work focus on the role conceptions of various types of educators in virtual schools and the tensions they experience as they work to support each other in positioning students with disabilities for success.

Article Notice: Interview With Joe Freidhoff – A Bird’s-Eye View of K-12 Online Learning (Online Learning)

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m posting notice of the articles from the Online Learning 19:5 K-12 Online Learning Research Special Issue.

Interview With Joe Freidhoff: A Bird’s-Eye View of K-12 Online Learning

Leslie Pourreau
Kennesaw State University

Welcome to the interview portion of this special issue of the OLC Online Learning journal. Our intent is to introduce our long-time Online Learning readership to the field of K-12 online learning while also providing direction for our K-12 online learning scholars about where the field is going or should be going in terms of meeting the needs of K-12 stakeholders. We recently sat down with Dr. Joe Freidhoff, executive director of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, and asked him to provide us with his perspective on this ever-changing field.

December 28, 2015

Article Notice: K-12 Online Learning – Editorial (Online Learning)

As I mentioned earlier today, I’m posting notice of the articles from the Online Learning 19:5 K-12 Online Learning Research Special Issue.  Beginning with a complete posting of the editorial that Anissa and I prepared.

K-12 Online Learning – Editorial


Within the past four years all 50 states and the District of Columbia have developed significant online learning opportunities for K-12 students (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, & Rapp, 2013). K-12 online student enrollments in the US have grown from approximately 40,000 to more than four million in a period of fifteen years (Ambient Insights, 2011; Clark, 2001). Similar growth has occurred internationally, particularly in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and several Asian nations (Barbour, 2014; Barbour, Brown, Hasler Waters, Hoey, Hunt, Kennedy, Ounsworth, Powell, & Trimm, 2011). While there is a developing body of research that supports the practice of K-12 online learning, most scholars agree that practice is out-pacing the availability of useful research (Barbour & Reeves, 2009; Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009; Hill, Wiley, Nelson, & Han, 2004; Rice, 2006).

While at an admittedly slower rate than the growth in enrollments, research in K-12 online learning has been picking up pace in the past decade and a foundation in best practice is now being laid. Still, state and national policy makers, online charter school management companies, and various advocacy organizations continue to push forward with innovative practices that lack an empirical basis. The consequences of non-reflective policy making and practice that omits the value of constructive criticism based on empirical evidence has an unsettling impact on learners. Most recently, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University published a national report investigating the outcomes of 158 full-time online schools across 17 states. The study found that the majority of K-12 online charter school students severely lacked academic gains in math and reading as compared to their counterparts in brick-and-mortar schools (CREDO, 2015). While experts hope virtual school leadership will internalize these results and seek evidence of effective practice, previous studies have not made noticeable impact on these contexts (Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2011; Colorado Department of Education, 2006; Hubbard & Mitchell, 2011; Innovation Ohio, 2011; Joint Legislative Audit Committee, 2010; Miron & Urschel, 2012; Office of the Legislative Auditor, 2011; Ryman & Kossan, 2011; Zimmer et al., 2009).

This is not to say that K-12 online learning does not hold promise as an effective mode of instruction. However, it does call for responsible innovation practices that are reflective and data-driven. Additionally, it is not enough to study what does not work in K-12 online settings, but we – as experts – must also investigate and report instances of effective policy and practice in K-12 online and surrounding settings such as K-12 blended classrooms or online learning for non-K-12 students. These investigations test and narrow down promising practices that may serve K-12 online learners in the future. A special K- 12 issue of Online Learning is an ideal avenue for such academic dialogue. The focus of this special issue of Online Learning is to present rigorous research specific to the context of K-12 education including systematic inquiry into promising practices, various schooling models, measures of quality, and parent and teacher experience. All authors have provided explanations of K-12-specific terminology to support readers new to K-12.

Special Issue Articles

Since Online Learning has not historically facilitated discourse between the online learning experts of K-12 and those in higher education, this issue begins with an expert’s view of the field in K-12 online learning. Poureau’s interview with Dr. Joe Freidhoff, the Executive Director of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute. He introduces readers to what is currently understood in the body of literature and where research needs to head to have an impact on K-12 learners. This piece will be especially valuable to experts in the field of online learning in settings beyond the K-12 sector.

Our next piece by Rice and Carter presents qualitative results that expand on the roles and challenges of K-12 online educators, administrators, and support staff who serve students with disabilities in the online setting. To further inform best practice in serving K-12 learners who need additional interventions, Chappell, Arnold, Nummery, and Grant conducted a quasi-experimental study to investigate the impact of an online math tutoring support service for middle school students.

In rural environments, K-12 schools may depend on online programs to open opportunities to new courses. In Barbour’s case study, he illuminates how one school in Canada used synchronous distance education to effectively engage groups of students in local learning communities. Borup, Stevens, and Hasler Waters also investigated effective practice in the high school setting. They interviewed parents of online high school students to better understand parental engagement behaviors and obstacles to effective parental engagement.

Two new texts in the field were also released and worthy of review. Mayse provides an account of the Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning edited by Ferdig and Kennedy. As a comprehensive open resource, this text holds promise to impact the field as a seminal read. Equally promising, Rycroft offers a review of Online, Blended, and Distance Education: Building Successful Programs in Schools, which was edited by Clark and Barbour.

From this special issue, Online Learning readers who are unfamiliar with the K-12 setting should take away a new understanding of the connections and commonalities of online learning in their own contexts and in the K-12 environment. While K-12 online learning is influenced by a fluctuating sociopolitical context, and the complexities of our younger learners, there is much to be learned and shared across settings. Those readers currently engaged with the K-12 online learning setting should take away the new promising practices presented in the special issue, and consider Online Learning as a new venue for academic discourse in our field.

Regular Issue Articles

As a re-branded journal that has recently merged with Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, there is a need to include articles in this issue that were not submitted to this special issue of Online Learning. The first of these articles by Scott, Temple, and Marshall serves as a bridge in this issue between the K-12 setting and higher education. In a special education teacher preparation course that was designed for the online setting using Universal Design for Learning principles, these authors found that participants in three different course sections perceived the course had positively impacted their preparation.

The issue of online learner readiness affects online learning outcomes, which is true in both graduate teacher education and undergraduate online learning. To better predict the readiness of first year undergraduate online learners, Yu and Richardson sought to test the validity and reliability of the Student Online Learning Readiness (SOLR) Instrument using an exploratory factor analysis. In this article, the authors found the instrument to be valid and reliable and make recommendations for use of instrument results, which could contribute to planning support structures.

To further support the process of planning, Picciano presents a systems model for planning college or university-level online programs. This systems model takes into account hardware, software, faculty development, infrastructure, finances, and policies. University administrators may find Richardson’s description useful in planning and evaluation processes.

Our last piece in this issue by Ruby, Perna, Boruch, and Wang revisits massive open online course (MOOC) evaluation practices. These authors use sixteen University of Pennsylvania Coursera MOOCs to apply measures of social media engagement to measure and compare learner engagement with course content. The authors suggest such measures can guide targeted instructional improvements in MOOCs.

With this issue, it is clear that Online Learning as a title and common theme suits the historic roots of this publication by merging the legacies of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks and the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, while inviting the growing K-12 online community. Online Learning promises to be an influential center of academic discourse.

Anissa Lokey-Vega and Michael K. Barbour – Guest Editors


Barbour, M. K., Brown, R., Hasler Waters, L., Hoey, R., Hunt, J., Kennedy, K., Ounsworth, C., Powell, A., & Trimm, T. (2011). Online and blended learning: A survey of policy and practice from K-12 schools around the world. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Center for Research on Education Outcomes (2011). Charter school performance in Pennsylvania. Stanford,CA: Author. Retrieved from

Center for Research on Education Outcomes (2015). Online charter school study. Stanford, CA: Author. Retrieved from

Colorado Department of Education (2006). Report of the State Auditor: Online education. Denver, CO: Author. Retrieved from Auditor.pdf

Hubbard, B. & Mitchell, N. (2011). Online K-12 schools failing students but keeping tax dollars. I-News Network. Retrieved from

Innovation Ohio (2011). Ohio e-schools: Funding failure; Coddling contributors. Columbus, OH: Author. Retrieved from

Joint Legislative Audit Committee (2010). An evaluation: Virtual charter schools. Madison, WI: Legislative Audit Bureau. Retrieved from

Miron, G., & Urschel, J. (2012). Understanding and improving full-time virtual schools. Denver, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

Office of the Legislative Auditor (2011). K-12 online learning. St. Paul, MN: Author. Retrieved from

Ryman, A., & Kossan, P. (2011). The race to online: Arizona experiments with virtual K-12 schools. Will they work for your child? Arizona Republic. Retrieved from

Zimmer, R., Gill, B., Booker, K., Lavertu, S., Sass, T. R., & Witte, J. (2009). Charter schools in eight states effects on achievement, attainment, integration, and competition. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

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