Virtual School Meanderings

November 17, 2017

What Do Online Teachers Need To Succeed?

An interesting item from the inbox yesterday or the day before.

What do online teachers need to succeed?

What do online teachers need to succeed? To find this answer, Wisconsin Virtual School (WVS) collaborated with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s former Virtual Education Research Alliance to conduct a study that resulted in the report titled Professional Experiences of Online Teachers in Wisconsin: Results From a Survey About Training and Challenges.

The experience collaborating with the researchers—from creating the survey questions through distributing the survey, analyzing the results, and determining next steps—was invaluable to informing the direction that WVS has chosen to support the professional learning of our online teachers and address what they need to succeed.

This work began with the Virtual Education Research Alliance (VERA) bringing together stakeholders from across the Midwest region, including WVS, to investigate research questions pertaining to effective high school virtual learning programs and student success in online courses. A previous studyconducted by the alliance had found that lack of teacher training and concern about course quality were the biggest challenges for schools implementing online learning in Iowa and Wisconsin, respectively, regardless of the provider. In response to these findings, VERA developed a survey to investigate online teachers’ training and experiences. The alliance analyzed responses from WVS teachers about their training as it related to online instruction, the challenges they encountered while teaching online, and the type of training they thought would help them address those challenges.

Since WVS embeds its professional learning opportunities in the inTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, the alliance grounded the survey questions and evaluated the findings in connection to the crosswalk of these nationally recognized teaching standards.

The survey revealed three major findings (also illustrated in this infographic):

  • All WVS teachers reported participating in training or professional development related to online instruction. More teachers participated in training that occurred while teaching online than prior to teaching online or during preservice education.
  • Teachers most frequently reported challenges related to student perseverance and engagement.
  • Teachers preferred unstructured (such as mentoring, online forums, or Internet search) to structured (such as a graduate course or workshop) professional development for addressing challenges related to student perseverance and engagement.

Additionally, the survey revealed and confirmed what we thought to be true about the professional learning that teachers need. As we anticipated, four focus areas surfaced for WVS professional learning: (1) assessment and data use, (2) online course development and customization, (3) classroom management and facilitation, and (4) special needs and assistive technology.

We saw these themes echoed in comments from WVS teachers:

  • “Training for online changed what I do in [a] face-to-face classroom.”
  • “Flexibility in [professional development] is needed.”
  • “Online teacher [professional development] needs to include the importance of positive and constructive feedback and great communication!”

The results of the survey led to policy and practice changes. We found it imperative to connect our “teacher voice” from the survey to our current practices and collaborations. Current practice changes include the following examples. Teachers are now participating in the Quality Matters Applying the QM K-12 Secondary Rubric workshop, which focuses on connecting assessment and data use to online course development and customization. WVS teacher training must now connect all we do to the four focus areas mentioned above and include digital content that teachers can access anytime based on need. We also reflected on the best fit for structured (such as graduate course or workshop) versus unstructured formats (such as mentoring, online forums, or Internet search) to include “teacher voice.”

Lynn Sessler Neitzel, a WVS online world language teacher, told us: “What I really like is the freedom of ‘pace’ to work on items, explore, and ask questions. It is really allowing for ‘teacher choice’ like we offer ‘student choice’ in our learning—taking ownership of our own learning as educators.”

We also used “teacher voice” to inform our collaborations such as an annual professional development event, the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative Unconference, a Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA) book studyand also to shape our Google Plus Professional Learning Communities and synchronous session opportunities. The survey results suggested that teachers should share best practices with other teachers to enhance their professional development, which lead a couple of WVS teachers to contribute their knowledge to the development of Michigan Virtual’s Teacher Guide to Online Learning.

So where did we go from here?

There is a need to continue to survey our online teachers in order to connect the teacher voice and choice to current practices and collaborations. We have chosen to repeat the survey in the 2017/18 school year. We anticipate seeing a shift in need based on professional development being offered as a result of the original survey, changing landscape in online learning, and changes of staff. Keeping tabs on what teachers need to be successful will drive student success.

The full report on online teachers’ training and challenges is available on the Institute of Education Sciences website. The survey is located in Appendix A and available for anyone to use. In addition to online programs, traditional brick-and-mortar schools that sign up their students for online courses could benefit, as we did, from using the survey to identify challenges and desired supports for their teachers.

November 9, 2017

Improving Online Credit Recovery Success

From the Evergreen Education Group.

Improving Online Credit Recovery Success: Enhancing Support and Timeline

For years proponents of online learning have been touting the benefits of allowing students to experience a personalized learning approach tailored to their needs and schedules. This is certainly true of original credit courses and completion and pass rates are positive numbers for most virtual schools to share. Credit recovery success, on the other hand, is more difficult to document. As one might expect, completion and pass rates are often much lower than original credit numbers.

Why is this? One can say that the average credit recovery student comes into class with the odds stacked against him/her. The student has already failed the course at least once. Their confidence in the material is probably low. Perhaps they failed the original course because of lack of self-motivation or poor time management…both of which are very important success indicators in an online course. Once a credit recovery student comes into an online course it may be too late to change some characteristics or behaviors…but not all. What if the program was tailored to support students who are not natural self-starters, tech savvy or motivated…the non-traditional online learner?

At the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance, we have been sharing best practices and strategies to target the credit recovery population in hopes of demonstrating that credit recovery students can be as successful in credit recovery as those in original credit courses. Over the past year Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) and Illinois Virtual School (IVS) have independently made improvements to their programs to better support credit recovery students. In the August 30, 2017 edition of this blog, you learned about the MTDA efforts. Today you will learn how Illinois Virtual School (IVS) took steps to raise up more of our credit recovery students towards successful earning of credit.

In November 2016, the IVS team started an initiative to review our credit recovery program. The goal was to explore what was working as well as what could work better to improve the overall success rate of the program. During the 2015-2016 school year, our credit recovery success rate was 61% compared to an original credit rate of 93%.

The IVS Credit Recovery program originally had a course timeline of 10 weeks. If students did not complete the course, a failing grade was entered. The student could re-enroll to continue working in the course, but the initial failing grade was maintained on their overall completion report. We found many students that re-enrolled were successful in the course the second time around, they just needed more time. Also, support for the credit recovery student was directed to the local school, so if a student had trouble logging in or turning in homework, they were to rely on local school staff, not IVS, personnel. Taking a closer look at the average student experience, the IVS team found many students working in the program with no support or encouragement from their school or family. They were completely on their own. Certainly, anyone would agree that a key factor for student success in an online credit recovery program (in any educational program) is support! An Education Week article ( At-Risk Students Face E-Learning Challenges, August 24, 2011) stated, “Stepping into a virtual learning environment can help struggling students interact with curricula in a new way, begin learning with a clean slate, and provide more flexibility to accommodate work or family obligations, say educators and experts working online with students who are at risk of academic failure. But none of those factors will make such students successful unless they have the support and resources they need to engage with the material and the motivation to work hard for their credits, experts stress.”

IVS re-focused its efforts to improve the Credit Recovery program regarding both time and support. Starting in January 2017, IVS made the following changes to the Credit Recovery program:

  1. The initial time available to the student to complete a competency-based semester credit recovery course was extended 12 weeks. Students that demonstrate progress are given extension options for more time to complete the course. To qualify for an initial extension of 3 weeks, students must have completed 50% of the assignments in the course. Another 3-week extension may be granted if the student continues to progress and submit assignments. In total, a student may be granted up to 18 weeks to complete a semester credit recovery course.
  2. Students that do not start their credit recovery course in the first two weeks of enrollment are dropped without a charge. Students who are dropped are given the option to re-enroll in the course. This process of dropping students that did not start working in their course allowed IVS staff to discuss the situation with the local school and student resulting in identifying the best start date for the course as well as establishing a support network for the non-starters who wish to re-enroll.
  3. IVS designated an administrative team member as the Support Lead for credit recovery students. The IVS Support Lead continually monitors student progress, communicates with the student, parent and school regarding progress, and intervenes with technical support when needed. While the certified instructor is grading submitted assignments and providing feedback (IVS CR includes written work, not computer graded), the Support Lead is helping to remove technical and logistical barriers to student progress so teachers focus on student learning.

Did it work? When IVS revisited the data for January 2017 – June 2017 we found 85% of students earning a passing grade compared to 70% for the same time period, the previous year. Therefore, we hail a resounding YES!

Upon reflection of the program at large, the changes made were logical and non-invasive to our current operations, the transition being relatively smooth and positively received by IVS staff and much appreciated by our partner schools, parents and students. We encourage all schools to take a hard look at the support, not just being offered, but what is actually happening with students to see if there is room for improvement. At IVS we work every day to ensure a positive student experience and meaningful credits toward graduation, and are always open to self-reflection to push positive change.

October 31, 2017

Statistics for October 2017

This entry is being posted back-dated.

A very quick statistics entry this month.  In October 2017 there were 4,248 hits from 2,296 different visitors.  This was about the same as what we saw in September.  Interestingly, it was within 40 or so hits from October 2016.

Finally, the statistics from my old blog site (which still does generate some traffic)…


September 30, 2017

Statistics for September 2017

This entry is being posted back-dated.

A very quick statistics entry this month.  In September 2017 there were 4,140 hits from 2,296 different visitors.  This was down by about 400 hits, but up by about 300 visitors from August.  Interestingly, it was up about 500 hits and 200 visitors from September 2016.


Finally, the statistics from my old blog site (which still does generate some traffic)…


September 23, 2017

Why Don’t More Girls Compute? – From the Alliance Directors

Note this item from the CEO of the Virtual High School.

Why Don’t More Girls Compute? VHS CEO Reflects on CSforAll Initiative

Introductory note: Following last week’s blog on Idaho Digital Learning’s efforts to expand access to computer science education and coding, we thought it appropriate to reprint a previous blog from Carol Ribeiro, President and CEO of The Virtual High School.

The diversity gap in computer science education today means the field is almost certainly not generating the opportunities or technological innovations that our society needs or demands. Women and racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in learning computer science and obtaining CS degrees. Many — including tech companies and educational institutions — have taken steps to make CS more appealing and accessible to these groups, yet the diversity gap remains. Enjoy these personal insights from Carol.

Why Don’t More Girls Compute? VHS CEO Reflects on CSforAll Initiative

In 1986, fresh out of college, I joined a group of four other women – all computer majors – hired by a Fortune 500 company to be new programmer analysts. So much has changed in the last thirty years and the world of course is different now – no longer do we need to share computers, debug our code on dusty green-bar paper, or physically travel at 2AM to the home office to fix a system crash because we can’t work remotely. Technology is at our fingertips and accessible, in the best of cases, to everyone. We sometimes hear that women “don’t do computing”. That we don’t like STEM. That we can’t. That’s simply not true. We can, and we did, and we do. Grace Hopper popularized the term computer bug. Ada Lovelace wrote instructions for the first computer program. Adele Goldberg helped develop one of the first object-oriented computer languages. So why aren’t more girls into computing?

“The demand for computing skills far outstrips supply, plaguing U.S. employers with a talent shortage. In 2015, there were more than 500,000 open computing jobs to be filled in the U.S. but fewer than 40,000 new computer science graduates to fill them” according to research from Accenture and Girls Who Code ( notes that “Even with projected growth of 15-20% between 2012 and 2022, the vast majority of computer science jobs will be pursued and filled by men. As STEM-related industries on a whole add over 1.7 million jobs in the coming years, there continues to be a notable absence of women in the field. This trend begins well before entering the job market: girls account for more than half of all Advanced Placement (AP) test-takers, yet boys outnumber girls 4:1 in computer science exams. In Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming, not a single girl took the AP Computer Science examination in 2014.”

Now, thirty years after I started in programming, I’m able to help these statistics change. Through the#CSforAll initiative and the non-profit CSforAll Consortium I’m privileged to work with a dedicated group of people and organizations who are helping ensure all students regardless of their geography, gender, or economic circumstance, have access to Computer Science education. My early days as a programmer helped me learn to problem solve and think critically. The skills I learned then, in large part help me in my position as President & CEO of The Virtual High School today. Our non-profit organization helps students at schools nationwide develop the skills they need to be successful in careers and life. I want all students, especially the girls out there, to know they have options. Many women have paved the way, from Linda Roberts, founding Director of the U.S. Department of Educational Technology who developed our nation’s first National Technology Plan, to Karen BillingsEd Tech Digest Visionary (both members of The Virtual High School’s Board of Directors), to Megan Smith the 3rd Chief Technology Officer of the United States. There are many, many others, too numerous to mention. You can succeed, and we can help you. Let us show you that wonderful, exciting, career options are available to you with the push of a button – or maybe just a few keystrokes.


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