From yesterday’s inbox…
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(1) To develop the capacity for Wisconsin and Iowa to collect and use data to implement effective high school virtual-learning programs that result in improved student outcomes, and (2) to develop and carry out a research agenda that focuses on questions about student achievement and virtual-learning conditions, particularly regarding methods through which online teachers and school staff can support student success in online courses.
Message From the Alliance Lead
Welcome to Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s Virtual Education Research Alliance (VERA) newsletter for 2015. Our members are directly involved in supporting the work of online high school programs in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Our alliance has focused on working with members in Iowa and Wisconsin to collect and analyze data about the use of online courses in their respective states, as well as analyze survey data about the professional development experiences and needs of their online teachers. Upcoming work will examine data in the learning management system of Wisconsin’s online program to answer questions about student success in online courses. With the fast pace of change in online learning, we are excited to share our work with you.— Pam Jacobs
New Report Identifies Usage and Challenges in Online Learning in Wisconsin and Iowa
REL Midwest and VERA recently published a report examining how and why public high schools in Iowa and Wisconsin have used online learning for their students.
The report, Online course use in Iowa and Wisconsin public high schools: The results of two statewide surveys, found that recovering course credit for classes that students had failed and completing core requirements were among the top academic objectives of online course enrollment in both Iowa and Wisconsin. Among Iowa high schools that reported using online learning in 2012–13, 71 percent enrolled students in an online credit recovery course. In Wisconsin, 66 percent of high schools using online learning enrolled students in an online credit recovery course. Most of the online courses were in the primary academic subjects: English language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science.
The Iowa Department of Education and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction administered the survey to a representative sample of public high schools in each state, and REL Midwest analyzed the survey results.
“Historically, we have provided students with online course opportunities for all of the reasons identified in the study, but our primary focus has been to provide high-quality, rigorous courses that would not otherwise be available to students,” said Gwen Wallace Nagel, director of Iowa Learning Online and VERA member. The insight that Iowa schools most commonly cited credit recovery as the reason for providing online learning opportunities “may require us to shift our priorities when creating or adding course opportunities to our curriculum,” Nagel said.
For Dawn Nordine, executive director of the Wisconsin Virtual School and VERA member, the key discovery came while analyzing the survey results on the challenges schools face. In Wisconsin, 37 percent of schools that used online courses in 2012–13 identified concerns about course quality as a challenge, and 23 percent reported challenges related to a lack of student interest.
“This survey really helped us refocus on quality and building awareness of our programs,” said Nordine. “We are now more focused on what the Wisconsin Virtual School has to offer, and the quality assurances we have in place to help schools support students to be more successful online learners.”
As an outcome of this study, Wisconsin Virtual School will use the Quality Matters rubric for online courses to ensure that courses being delivered meet a rigorous quality standard. In addition, Wisconsin Virtual School is adapting its communication strategies to more clearly share information about its quality assurance process with partnering schools and the public.
Read more from the recently released report, which includes the survey instrument:http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/projects/project.asp?projectID=356
Video: Research Alliances: A Structure for Collaboration
Hear VERA lead Pam Jacobs; lead researcher Peggy Clements; alliance members Marcel Kielkucki, Gwen Nagel, and Michele Nickels; and REL Midwest senior researcher Carrie Scholz discuss how the structure of the research alliance promotes collaboration:http://bit.ly/1H4vo6k.
Meet the Alliance Member
Marcel Kielkucki, director of high school completion programs at Kirkwood Community College, has been a VERA member since the alliance formed in 2011. Kielkuckin’s involvement in K–12 online education began 11 years ago when he became an American history instructor at Iowa Learning Online . Kielkucki joined Kirkwood Community College in 2006 as a high school distance learning coordinator and currently oversees five programs as the director of high school completion programs—adult basic education, English language learner classes, correctional education, alternative high school education, and high school distance learning programs.
Kielkucki cites the REL Midwest study, Online Course Use in Iowa and Wisconsin Public High Schools: The Results of Two Statewide Surveys, as a particularly useful and informative project conducted during his time with the alliance. REL Midwest and VERA alliance members developed the survey, and the Iowa Department of Education and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction collected the data.
“You hear from school districts that they are offering online learning opportunities, but you don’t necessarily know how they are doing this,” Kielkucki said. “This study gave us baseline data to really know what’s happening on the ground.”
This baseline information should benefit students by revealing existing challenges in online learning, which alliance members can communicate to educators and policymakers to enact necessary changes, according to Kielkucki.
Kielkucki said his participation in the alliance has made him a more critical analyzer of research data and better informed about what quality research entails. In addition, he said the alliance structure benefits both researchers and practitioners by enabling them to better understand each other’s roles, which ultimately yields more useful and actionable findings.
“We all have a common goal in mind, but different paths to get there,” he concluded. “And in the end, this results in better research.”
Meet the Researcher
Margaret (Peggy) Clements, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at Education Development Center who brings more than 20 years of experience in the overlapping fields of developmental psychology and education research to the REL Midwest team.
Clements entered the world of online learning when she served as co-principal investigator of a large-scale randomized controlled trial for REL Northeast and Islands. Access to Algebra I: The Effects of Online Mathematics for Grade 8 Students investigated the effectiveness of broadening eighth-grade students’ access to Algebra I through an online course.
As VERA’s lead researcher and cofacilitator, Clements directs multiple technical assistance projects, research projects, and communication activities that focus on K–12 online learning. She is passionate about conducting research that produces information about how virtual education can best be used to benefit student learning.
“I think online learning has the potential to increase equitable access to learning opportunities that some students might otherwise not have, but schools and districts need to think carefully about the online courses they select and the kinds of support students will need to be successful,” she said.
Clements is quick to point out that online education is a delivery mechanism. Whether instruction takes place online or in a classroom, effective instruction addresses the academic, developmental, and social needs of students. Effective instruction also requires skilled teachers and thoughtful implementation. But online teachers may not receive effective professional development for teaching in online environments.
A REL Midwest study, A Survey of Online Teachers’ Professional Development Experiences and Needs, is addressing this issue. This study builds on previous work in which the research team conducted a scan of virtual education training programs to provide VERA members with information about how virtual education programs around the country prepare educators to support students enrolled in online learning programs.
“Working with the VERA members has been a valuable and rewarding experience,” Clements said. “Alliance members identify the kinds of information that stakeholders need and that researchers might not otherwise consider, and we can work together to produce relevant research.”
Virtual Education Resources and Events
- A recent response to a REL Midwest Reference Desk request on the topic of online learning in rural education is archived online. Additional annotated bibliographies that focus on the benefits of orientation to online learning for high school and undergraduate students taking an online course, and the effectiveness of one-to-one computing in K–12 schools in relation to student achievement, will be archived online soon.
- The website of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) offers a variety of downloadable resources on topics of interest to practitioners and policymakers.
- The Research Clearinghouse for K–12 Blended and Online Learning is a collaborative effort led by iNACOL and the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute that provides a repository of references to research articles and other publications.
- Future Ready is a new effort led by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology that seeks to maximize digital learning opportunities that lead to personalized learning experiences for all students, especially those from traditionally underserved communities. Resources available to district teams whose superintendents take the Future Ready district pledge include regional summits and an online leadership network.
- REL Northeast & Islands will present a free webinar on May 27, 2015, titled Online Learning and Credit Recovery: What We Know from Research and Practice. Researchers will present two new studies exploring online learning for credit recovery. Educators in the Northeast with expertise in online learning will share strategies on the implementation of online credit recovery.
- The annual Distance Teaching and Learning Conference, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be held August 11–13, 2015. Registration will open in May.
- Registration is open now for the annual iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium. The symposium will be held November 8–11, 2015, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Please contact us for more information
about any of the items in this newsletter
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We look forward to hearing from you.
REL Midwest at American Institutes for Research
Early Childhood Education Research Alliance
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.
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