Virtual School Meanderings

September 7, 2022

[ WEBINAR TOMORROW ] Proof of the efficacy of online learning

Another notice about this webinar tomorrow.

Can online and hybrid schools demonstrate successful student outcomes?

YES!

The Digital Learning Collaborative’s Proof Points project has been gathering data from schools, programs, and course providers that can show positive outcomes based on externally validated academic data points.

Join us for this special session to hear about the findings from several schools, including interviews with educators exploring their keys to success.

 

When: September 8, 2022 at 3:00pmET
Cost: Free! (Recordings will only be sent to those that register

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DLC Webinar: Demonstrating Online Learning Success

A reminder of this event tomorrow from the Digital Learning Collaborative folks.

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You want proof? We got it.

We’re a couple days away from our first fall DLC webinar demonstrating success in online learning!

We get asked all the time…. can online and hybrid schools demonstrate successful student outcomes? YES! The DLCs Proof Points project has been gathering data from schools, programs, and course providers that can show positive outcomes based on externally validated academic data points. This session will feature findings from several schools, including interviews with educators exploring their keys to success.

When: September 8, 2022 at 3:00pmET
Cost: Free! (Recordings will only be sent to those that register)

Register Now
Not only do we have a line up of experts ready to talk to you, we have data from their programs and schools. Here is just a sneak peak. 👀
Want to see more? Join us September 8th at 3:00pm ET and bring questions for our experts!
Register Now
Questions? Email us at DLC@evergreenedgroup.com
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September 2, 2022

Engaging Parents in a Virtual Setting

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.  In looking at the organization in question, it seems to offer a variety of avenues to participate – including “full-time students, part-time students, home school students, [and] nonpublic/shared time students.”  I mention this up front because it is well known and understood from a legal perspective that the role of the parent in full-time online learning environments is a quasi-instructional one.  In fact, the olytime this issue came before the courts, it was found that parents had the “primary instructional role” in that particular cyber charter school environment.  So understanding the environment that this commentary is written from is helpful with consuming the content.

 

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Engaging Parents in a Virtual Setting

By Betsy Springer. Betsy is an instructional coach & teacher at Gull Lake Virtual Partnership, Richland, MI

Having a child in a virtual class at home comes with expectations for parents that are often new, unexpected, and unclear. Past experiences or faulty assumptions may set students and families up for frustration. Other students, however, thrive in the new virtual environment, feeling empowered by the flexibility and choice. Recent research has attempted to identify and measure the most effective types of parental support for virtual students at home. Parents may breathe a sigh of relief that they do not need to be an expert in Algebra or World History to have a significant impact in supporting their virtual learners.

It has long been established that supportive parents at home correlate with higher achievement and reduced behavior problems in the classroom. The same is true in the virtual classroom. Students with increased parental involvement tend to have higher achievement and greater occurrence of course completion. It is difficult, however, to deduce what comes first. The self-selecting nature of virtual schooling fails to produce a control group; perhaps involved parents are more likely to select virtual schools. There does remain, though, a variance among even voluntary virtual students in achievement and course completion. This may be because, while families choose virtual schools, they may not have an accurate picture of the amount and type of support students require. Also, teachers rely on parents to be their eyes and ears at home, at any grade level, even in high school. While in the classroom, teachers learn to decipher a confused look or lack of engagement, at home it is the parent who will witness behaviors associated with frustration and confusion and then take the necessary actions to address student confusion and achieve understanding.

The most beneficial types of support may be surprising.

First, the type of parental support more strongly associated with better student outcomes is not academic in nature. Many parents will breathe a sigh of relief at this data, as they often don’t feel confident tutoring students in all subjects; that may be the very reason they selected virtual school. The types of support that generate the greatest gains include the following:

  • Expressions of belief in the student’s ability to be successful

  • Encouragement to finish hard tasks and problem solve

  • Encouragement to try new things

  • A generally positive attitude towards the opportunity to participate in virtual schooling

Other parental actions that aid in student success in online courses include modeling responsible work habits and problem-solving in their own activities.

Second, the amount of time effective parent learning coaches interact with their students is substantial, but not onerous. Studies show an average of 90 minutes per week yields significant gains. On average, 60% of that time is not content related; parents are simply providing encouragement to students to finish. They may also be encouraging students to reach out to their teacher, as student-teacher interactions are also impactful and tend to focus on content and instruction.

Moreover, parents should also know that, in surveys, the estimated impact of parental involvement by stakeholders (parents and students) was perceived as more important by students than it was by parents. Take note that, even when advice and encouragement seem to go unrecognized, students report that the counsel is helpful.

In addition, the timing of parental support matters. Studies looking simply at the volume of parental feedback found a negative correlation to student outcomes. However, researchers hypothesize this is because the volume of feedback happened at the end of a course and perhaps only after the teacher reached out due to failing grades. This triggers a negative, tedious conversation between parent and child and often reduces the likelihood of course completion. In contrast, students report feeling positive about a virtual course when they feel supported by parents who believe they can be successful.

What is the role, then, of the virtual school to support and educate parents on how best to support students? Several schools and programs have developed guidance as well as self-assessments so that families can determine if virtual schooling is an appropriate fit for them. When families begin the journey in online education with inaccurate expectations, the ability to provide all of the types of positive support listed above is hampered.

Other ideas and opportunities to educate parents may occur at an open house, zoom support sessions specifically for parents, and parent-to-parent mentoring programs. Something as simple as frequent and succinct emails or social media posts highlighting effective virtual learning support strategies can also have an impact. Finally, educate parents early and remind them often to contact a teacher or staff member as soon as a concern arises, rather than trying to “tough it out” at home. One virtual school had a parent orientation module that included a disclaimer: If you feel stuck, please stop and reach out to a staff member immediately. Contact info was also readily available and nearly continuously monitored.

While addressing the isolation of virtual students is often discussed, preventing feelings of isolation for parents is also key. Research supports what virtual teachers already knew: parental support is key to student success. Through thoughtful planning, schools can support parents by directing them towards the most efficient and impactful strategies, backed by research.

References

Borup, J., Graham, C. R., & Davies, R. S. (2013). The nature of parental interactions in an online charter school. American Journal of Distance Education, 27(1), 40-55.

Kumi–Yeboah, A., Dogbey, J., & Yuan, G. (2018). Exploring factors that promote online learning experiences and academic self-concept of minority high school students. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 50(1), 1-17.

Liu, F., Black, E., Algina, J., Cavanaugh, C., & Dawson, K. (2010). The Validation of One Parental Involvement Measurement in Virtual Schooling. Journal of interactive online learning, 9(2).

Liu, X., Zhao, L., & Su, Y. S. (2022). Impact of Parents’ Attitudes on Learning Ineffectiveness: The Mediating Role of Parental Self-Efficacy. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(1), 615.

Ricker, G., Belenky, D., & Koziarski, M. (2021). Are Parents Logged in? The Importance of Parent Involvement in K-12 Online Learning. Journal of Online Learning Research, 7(2), 185-201.

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August 31, 2022

Upcoming Learning Opportunities from the DLC! 🌟

Note these upcoming events from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.

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Time to RSVP for Fall DLC Webinars!

After a short summer break, our DLC Webinars are lined up for the fall and we are excited to bring back our monthly opportunities for discussions and learning. RSVP and mark your calendar now ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️ :

Proof Points Demonstrating Online Learning Success

Can online and hybrid schools demonstrate successful student outcomes? YES! The DLCs Proof Points project has been gathering data from schools, programs, and course providers that can show positive outcomes based on externally validated academic data points. This session will feature findings from several schools, including interviews with educators exploring their keys to success.

When: September 8, 2022 @ 3:00pm ET

Register Now!

Online Student Funding: Findings from a National Study

The DLC recently released the report The Land of Confusion: A review of online student funding. This webinar will look at key issues including how funding levels vary by state, and how online schools face different costs and accounting challenges. Join researchers and online school practitioners as we delve into the findings of the study.

When: October 13, 2022 @ 3:00pm ET

Register Now!

Our State Affiliate group continues to grow and we have just added our 24th state! We would like to officially welcome the Utah Statewide Online Education Program (SOEP), Kentucky Department of Education, Massachusetts DESE, Illinois Virtual Schools & Academy and TN Education Technology Association as our latest additions to our growing community of educators.

Want to be our 25th State? Find out more or email us at DLC@evergreenedgroup.com for more information.

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August 26, 2022

The newest terrible idea

So lately John and I haven’t agreed on a lot.  I’ve taken issue with a lot of what he has written and promoted.  But not today.  I agree with every word that John has written.  In fact, I’d go even further and ask the question of why this keeps happening?

In the report entitled Understanding Pandemic Pedagogy: Differences between Emergency Remote, Remote, and Online Teaching that I co-authored near the beginning of the pandemic, where we wrote on pages 8 and 9:

distance and online learning has regularly been suggested for much of the past decade as an option to maintain instructional time during short term school closures such as snow days (Haugen, 2015; Hua et al., 2017; Milman, 2014; Morones, 2014; Swetlik et al., 2015). Many have also called for schools, districts, and systems to engage in planning for instructional continuity through distance and online learning to address longer school closures for the past decade. Barbour (2010) illustrated the planning required for remote teaching when he wrote:

in Singapore online and blended learning was so pervasive that teaching in online and virtual environments was a required course in their teacher education programs and schools are annually closed for week-long periods to prepare the K-12 system for pandemic or natural disaster forced closures. (p. 310).

In fact, the use of distance learning to address issues of instructional continuity during a pandemic is not a new concept. McCracken (2020) described how during the Spanish flu pandemic the telephone – a technology only 40 years old at the time – was being used for high school students in Long Beach. According to the author, “the fact that California students were using it as an educational device was so novel that it made the papers” (para. 2). Another example was the polio epidemic in New Zealand in 1948, which closed all of that country’s schools (Te Kura, 2018). At the time the Correspondence School – now Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – used traditional correspondence education to send lessons to every household, as well as using educational radio to broadcast lessons during the first semester of the school year.

More recently, Barbour et al. (2011) reported that following high levels of absenteeism during the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, a number of private schools in Boliva developed their own virtual classrooms and trained teachers on how to teach in that environment. The report specifically noted that this trend did not translate within the public school system as it had in places like Hong Kong and Singapore. With respect to Hong Kong, Alpert (2011) described how online learning helped facilitate continued access to instruction in 2003 when schools had to close due to the SARS outbreak. While the SARS closure was consistent with the emergency remote teaching we have seen in North America with the current COVD-19 pandemic, following the outbreak school began to implement planning for a more formal use of online learning for future school disruptions. This planning was evident during the H1N1 outbreak in 2008, when 9 remote teaching allowed approximately 560,000 to continue learning during that pandemic induced school closure (Latchem and Jung, 2009).

Extended school closures due to pandemics have not been the only potential source of guidance. For example, a school or district could use the lessons learned in a case described by Mackey et al. (2012), who outlined “the immediate post-earthquake challenges of redesigning courses using different blends of face-to-face and online activities to meet the needs of on-campus, regional campus, and distance pre-service teacher education students” (p. 122), to plan for remote teaching. Rush et al. (2016) described many of the aspects that schools should plan for in case they found themselves in the position of having to transition to remote teaching to “sustaining school operations when a disaster makes school buildings inaccessible or inoperable for an extended period of time” (p. 188). The list of topics included issues surrounding connectivity, device distribution, teacher preparation, instructional modalities, content creation/curation, etc.. While only published in April of this year, using interviews and focus groups conducted in 2017 and 2018, Schwartz et al. (2020) described the lessons learned following the 2017 hurricane season on how distance learning could be used as “a way to continue instruction in emergencies and can support social distancing” (p. 2).

How many more examples do we need to add to that narrative before school districts, departments of education, and teacher education programs begin to take emergency planning around alternative modes of educational delivery seriously.  In the case of this example that John is discussing, this Ohio school district has spent the last two and a half years engaged in various forms of emergency remote learning, remote learning, and online learning.  And given that we’re still in the midst of the pandemic, why didn’t this school district have a better plan?  I mean at some point the district should have planned for the potential that a large percentage, potentially even a majority of teachers in the district could have been out of the classroom due to COVID.  Was this the best plan they had at the time for that kind of contingency?

Why can’t these authorities engage in better planning to address short-term and long-term school closures?

 

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The newest terrible idea

BY JOHN WATSON

It’s well understood in digital learning circles that emergency remote instruction during the pandemic was both the best option when schools had to be closed, and a bad reflection on learning online. District and school leaders, teachers, and everyone else did the best they could on short notice, but it’s clear that emergency remote instruction was neither highly successful nor did it represent, in most cases, best practices in online instruction.

We’re now seeing the first of what may be a new trend that would be an even worse reflection on online learning.

The Columbus (OH) school district is facing a teachers’ strike, and is planning to shift to online instruction using substitute teachers.

(Before I write further about this, I want to be clear that nothing I’m writing is intended as commentary on the legitimacy of the strike, the district response in general, or any other union/management issues. I haven’t look into the details of the strike, and in any case I have never dug into work disputes in education.)

From a Columbus Dispatch article on August 11:

Columbus City Schools announced plans Thursday for remote learning using non-union substitute teachers if the Columbus Education Association follows through on its formal notice to the State Employment Relations Board to strike if it does not reach a new contract agreement before school starts Aug. 24.

If the CEA does set up picket lines, the district will move to “synchronous and asynchronous remote learning” and the district’s buildings will be closed to students and community members, according to information on a district webpage Superintendent Talisa Dixon sent to district families Thursday afternoon.

“The District Administration will send parents and students correspondence regarding the procedures to begin the remote learning program before the first day of school,” according to the district. 

Did anyone think this was going to go well? If they did, they’ve been proven wrong. From an article on August 24:

Columbus City Schools superintendent Talisa Dixon admits ‘technology challenges’

Columbus City Schools Superintendent Talisa Dixon on Wednesday morning said the district has had “technology challenges” and asked for patience.
“We know this is not ideal,” Dixon said. “We know our families are stressed and not happy with the decisions to move forward, but we have to open up schools and provide additional supports to our students and our families. I understand their frustrations. I am very optimistic that we will resolve this as soon as possible to get them back in school face-to-face with their teachers.”

As mentioned earlier, I have no position on the labor dispute in Columbus. But I do have a position on how digital learning advocates should react, if asked.

  • This is not online instruction.
  • This is unlikely to produce learning gains in students.
  • “Addressing labor disputes” should not be among the reasons that a district considers adding digital learning options.

Aside from work stoppages, other circumstances arise (snow days, natural disasters, pandemics, etc.) where teachers and students may not be able to meet in person. Districts would benefit by being prepared with a plan for transitioning to high quality online learning options in these situations. Providing all teachers, families, and stakeholders with communication plans and some training, based on researched best practices, for teaching and learning in online learning environments are a necessity for ensuring continuity of learning during these temporary circumstances.

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