Virtual School Meanderings

August 13, 2019

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: Working To Measure and Improve Blended Teacher Readiness

As I mentioned in the Week 7 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.  In this guest blog entry, Jered has taken the lead – along with his co-authors Charles R. Graham (Brigham Young University), Cecil Short (Brigham Young University), and Leanna Archambault (Arizona State University) – in discussing their book “K-12 Blended Teaching: A Guide to Personalized Learning and Online Integration.”

Like many familiar to you, school districts near us are adopting one-laptop-per-child initiatives. What’s less clear is how those laptops are to be used. Placing laptops in front of students will not magically improve student learning—or even change much of anything in a meaningful way. However, if leveraged correctly, the technology does provide excellent opportunities when paired with blended teaching professional development. Even when a school district is eager to provide professional development, administrators are left wondering where to focus their limited resources. Similarly, the few teacher-preparation programs that provide meaningful coursework designed to prepare students for blended teaching lack clear standards to guide their course work.

To address this need, our team worked to develop open resources that school districts and professors can freely use to guide and focus efforts to prepare teachers for the blended classroom. It was important that the resources be grounded in research. The research began with Pulham and Graham’s (2018) extensive review of existing online and blended teaching competencies. Using insights from this research, Graham, Borup, Pulham, and Larsen (2019) developed and statistically validated a survey instrument that measured teachers’ confidence completing specific blended teaching skills that were grouped into several categories. We began calling it the process model because the categories largely followed the steps teachers would take to plan, facilitate, and evaluate blended learning activities for their students. While the process model instrument made an important contribution, we found it to be too long to be used repeatedly. We came to believe that an instrument focused on pedagogy—rather than process—would be more useful. As a result, we developed a new instrument that focused on the following four sets of competencies in addition to foundational technology skills and dispositions (see Figure 1):

  • Online Integration – the ability to effectively combine online instruction with in-person instruction.
  • Data Practices – the ability to use digital tools to monitor student activity and performance in order to guide student growth.
  • Personalization – the ability to implement a learning environment that allows student customization of goals, pace, and/or learning path.
  • Online Interaction – the ability to facilitate online interactions with and between students.

You can access the survey online at: 

Figure 1. Four core competencies for effective blended teaching built on a foundation of technology skills and dispositions.

We used the pedagogical model to create an online, open textbook rich with examples, resources, and media. The book, K-12 Blended Teaching: A Guide to Personalized Learning and Online Integration, is now free to anyone to use at We believe the survey and the book combine to create an especially valuable resource. We encourage you to explore both the survey and the book and share them with anyone who would benefit from them. We also welcome your feedback and suggestions. Please send your comments to


Graham, C. R., Borup, J., Pulham, E. B., & Larsen, R. (2019). K-12 blended teaching readiness: Model and instrument development. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 51(3), 239-258. DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2019.1586601

Pulham, E. B., & Graham, C. R. (2018). Comparing k-12 online and blended teaching competencies: A literature review. Distance Education, 39(3), 411-432.

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.


August 12, 2019

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: How Does An Online Course Become (And Stay) Available For K-12 Students?

As I mentioned in the Week 7 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course earlier this morning, today I wanted to post a sample of a guest blog entry.

Jason Siko has held appointments at Madonna University and Grand Valley State University.  Prior to entering the academy he was a high school biology and chemistry teacher in the metro Detroit area.  Jason’s research is primary focus on K-12 online and blended learning.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “There’s no such thing as a bad medical school. If you graduate bad doctors or ones that can’t pass the licensing exams, they’ll shut you down.” The same could likely be said about law schools. The point I’m trying to make is that there are mechanisms in place for the quality control in some areas of education. Heck, the same could be said about restaurants: even with variations in oversight and regulations from health inspectors, Yelp! ratings matter. If people get sick, or see rats coming out of the kitchen, you know that restaurant will not be around much longer.

However, when we look at K-12 online learning, we see a different story. Course pass rates for online courses pale in comparison to their face-to-face counterparts, yet the growth of online learning at the K-12 level continues. States and third-party providers continue to grow their programs and add new courses. How does the process of getting a course approved and keeping it in the catalog work? In this post I’ll provide an overview of how some states handle this process.

Generally speaking, states can require approval at the course level or the provider level, or both. These processes are fairly self-explanatory; at the course level, the course must meet whatever guidelines are dictated by the state before being accessible by students, while at the provider level, it is the provider who must meet requirements before being allowed to provide/administer online courses in the state. In some states (e.g., California), approval of courses is optional. Finally, some states have different approval options based on whether the course is created for use within a district or if students from multiple districts are allowed to enroll.

As you can see, there is little followup based on student performance once the course is “live.” Two states, Washington and Colorado, have made efforts to include elements of continued approval of courses based on performance and student attendance, but they are still in their infancy. What challenges do you see (i.e., political, logistical, economic, etc.) with creating a system of oversight that monitors (with consequences) online course success rates based on student performance?

Note: Some of the information in this article comes from the following source.

Barbour, M. K., Clark, T., Siko, J. P., DeBruler, K., & Bruno, J. (2019). Cases of quality: Case studies of the approval and evaluation of K-12 online and blended providers. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 22(1). Retrieved from

Jason Siko, Ph.D., is a researcher whose primary focus is K-12 online and blended learning.

July 23, 2019

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: Technology Powered With Purpose -The Tech Tools Of Personalized Learning

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.

Anissa Vega is an Associate Professor of Instructional Technology in the Bagwell College of Education at Kennesaw State University.  She also holds the responsible of Online Teaching Endorsement/Certificate Coordinator at KSU.  In 2017, Anissa was the recipient of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award for Online Teaching for her work with both credit and noncredit courses (such as the K-12 Blended & Online Learning MOOC).

I teach a graduate class about personalized learning, where I engage in a one-on-one video-chat conversation with each student 4-5 times throughout the semester, also referred to as co-planning conversations. Through over-150 hours of these conversations over the past 14 months, I have noticed a pattern in how my students, mostly K-12 teachers, perceive technology uses for personalized learning. Initially, many confuse either technology integration or blended learning as synonymous with technology for personalized learning. We often talk out the overlap and try to open our minds to the vast variety of possible classroom systems that could support learner agency and individual pacing. Then, we discuss what systems are needed, and how our purposes for the technology dictate the technology selected. Across these conversations, we have collectively come up with five common reasons to use technology for personalized learning. It has been a while since I we have added any items to this list, so I would like to expand the conversation with the online community. So far, our Kennesaw State University community of learners, comprising of over 120 educators, has identified the following five uses of technology for personalized learning:

  1. To present and organize content for individual pacing: This is often the first purpose my students identify. Tool types that fit in here typically support blended or online learning as a means for introducing and explaining new concepts or processes to learners. They include adaptive learning software (iReady, Newslea, ALEKS, etc.), LMS and video recording software combinations used to “flip” direct instruction (Canvas, itsLearning, YouTube, OneNote, Khan Academy, etc.) and comprehensive e-learning packages (Fuel Education, Edison Learning, or Edgenuity).
  2. To track individual growth: Assessment and data tools help to generate formative student data that can inform the teacher and parents of a student’s progress in learning and if they have additional needs moving forward. Tools that fit this purpose include adaptive testing tools (MAP Assessment, iReady, USATestprep, etc.), quizzing tools (Quizziz, Kahoot, Socrative, etc.), and survey tools (Google Forms, PollEverywhere, etc.).
  3. To organize and communicate complex knowledge: Websites (Weebly, GoogleSites, etc.), blogs (Edublogs, Blogger, etc.), or digital portfolios (Seesaw, WeLearnedIt, etc.) can all serve to organize and share the products and evidence of student learning that was acquired through student-centered activity such as service learning, project-based learning, or problem-based learning. The evidence housed in these tools may be organized by a timeline, curriculum standard, or competencies.
  4. To establish student self-management behaviors: Without students managing their own behaviors and co-designing their learning experiences, personalized learning that incorporates student-centered pedagogies can be overwhelming and unsustainable. Learners need to have the skills to self-manage throughout the day in a personalized setting. Tools that might be used for this purpose include ClassDojo or RedCritter. Additionally, students might reflect on how their time was spent each day and set new short term goals using a blogging (Edublogs, Blogger, etc.) or journaling (OneNote, Google Word, etc.) tool to support time management and self-starting behaviors.
  5. To offer student choice in demonstration of mastery: Personalized learning requires learners to employ agency in their learning experience, and choice in mastery demonstration is one way agency may be practiced. The tools that fit here are too many to count, because the teacher will not make this selection for the learner. For younger learners, s/he may provide a limited selection of choices on a “choiceboard” with tool or activity options such as Flipgrid, Popplet, Kidblog, etc. In other scenarios, a teacher may leave the choices open and primarily up to the learner. Student choices might include anything from websites, screencasts, or infographics, to traditional papers.

Some models of personalized learning focus heavily on the first use that focuses in on individual pacing as seen in schools supported by Fuel Education or the Summit Curriculum. However, other models of personalized learning also employ student-centered pedagogies with project-based learning as seen in Fulton County Schools. Given these five purposes of technology, do you see any gaps? How are you using technology to support a model of personalized learning? Comment and share below.

Author note: The references to specific software tools in this blogpost are not an endorsement or evaluative statement of these tools by the author. They are only included for illustrative purposes and other tools of varying quality are also available beyond those mentioned here. For evaluative information on any tools mentioned here or alternatives, visit

Anissa Vega is an Associate Professor of Instructional Technology at Kennesaw State University. She regularly teaches KSU’s K-12 Blended & Online Learning MOOC.  As is the pattern here at Virtual School Meanderings, there will be no additional entries posted today.

July 22, 2019

EDTECH537 – Commentary Entry: Making Your Blog More Accessible [Guest Blog Entry]

As I mentioned in the Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course earlier this morning, I wanted to post a sample of a commentary entry.  As it would happen, this past week I reached out to several of my colleagues about guest blog entries and I received several that I will be able to post over the coming week, one of which was also a good example of a commentary entry.  So this post is also an example of a guest blog entry (although I will post another one of those tomorrow too).

Ray Rose is an online learning and accessibility evangelist. He works with educational institutions to improve educational opportunities for all. His experience with online learning goes back more than two decades when he directed one of the country’s first online teacher professional development projects and was part of the team that created the first virtual high school in the US. His blog can be found at and presentation slides at

Do you want to have a blog read by millions, well thousands, or even hundreds.   Make it accessible to everyone. That means thinking about how people with disabilities access the internet and use that knowledge to make your blog friendly.

People with disabilities access online materials using a variety of applications. People with visual disabilities may access websites using a screen reader. A screen reader uses speech synthesizer technology to read whatever text is on the computer screen and in the case of a blog, on the browser screen.   There are things you can do to help make your blog more accessible.

When a screen reader encounters a graphic, it says “graphic”. Graphics on web pages have a feature called an ALT tags (alternative text). ALT tags are used to describe the graphic or what the graphic is representing. ALT tags are not created automatically in blog platform, the author needs to enter the text the screen reader will use. Want more info check out the CommonPlaces blog.

Note that I didn’t put the full link for the CommonPlaces blog. If it had been there, then a screen reader would have read the entire link.

A number of people have some form of color blindness. Your use of colors should not make for problems for people with color blindness. If your directions depend solely on color you are making it more difficult for about fifteen percent of the population

Videos should be captioned. YouTube videos have an auto-captioning feature, but, according to YouTube, that is only, at best 75% accurate, and depending on the quality of the audio, speaker’s accent, and content, accuracy can be less than 50%. But the auto-captioning can be edited by the owner of the video, and starting with the auto-captioning is easier than starting from scratch. Creating a transcript is better than nothing. Don’t think only people would can’t hear need/want videos captioned. We have captioning turned on our tv all the time, as do many other folks without a hearing disability.

You create a blog to communicate ideas/content/information. Designing the blog to be more accessible ensures that more people can understand your content. There are tools to help with accessibility. All Microsoft products now include an accessibility check. Adobe and many other products have similar features.

One of the tools I frequently use is the WAVE Accessibility Tool. I have it as an add-on to Chrome. It is not a complete accessibility checker (e.g. it doesn’t check videos for captioning) but it does provide a good overview of the basics. I do know that the Office for Civil Rights of the US Dept of Education (OCR) has used it to monitor compliance with federal civil rights legislation.

If your blog were part of an educational institution, then at a minimum the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would apply. Make a blog for your class, and its part of education and ADA as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies.

P.S. This document was composed on Word, and the accessibility checker (File, Info, Inspect Document, Check Accessibility) reported it was accessible.

Ray Rose is an online learning and accessibility evangelist. He works with educational institutions to improve educational opportunities for all. As is the pattern here at Virtual School Meanderings, there will be no additional entries posted today.

May 30, 2019

[REPOST] Online Learning Graduation Requirement: Lessons from Michigan [Guest Blogger]

This entry was originally posted at

Online Learning Graduation Requirement: Lessons from Michigan

Joseph R. Freidhoff, Ph.D.
Michigan Virtual

In 2006, Michigan became the first state in the United States to adopt an online learning requirement for high school graduation. The policy allowed three ways for a student to fulfill the online learning requirement. One way was for a student to enroll in a fully-online semester- or trimester-length course. The second was to participate in an online experience of at least 20 hours. The third allowed for the requirement to be satisfied if the student engaged in online experiences that were incorporated into a series of courses that were required for graduation.

In 2013, Michigan joined a handful of other states by adopting legislation that provided parents and students the right to request a school enroll their child in an online course. Typically known as course access or course choice, the policy expanded online course access for students. The year before, the Michigan legislature directed Michigan Virtual, a state-supported, non-profit organization that ran the Michigan Virtual School as well as offered online professional development for educators and education personnel, to create and operate a research institute to support and accelerate innovation through research and provide leadership for the state in online and blended learning.

Over the last several years, Michigan Virtual tracked the state’s virtual learning performance through reports such as the Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Reports, original research, and a series of best practice guides for students, parents, mentors, teachers, administrators, and school board members. We have learned about the policy proposed for Ontario and believe there are lessons from Michigan that may be applicable as it is discussed and implemented.  Below are six recommendation we suggest be part of Ontario’s planning and development as it moves forward.

#1 – Focus on Spirit

As we understand it, the letter of the policy is that students will need to take a minimum of four courses in order to graduate. The spirit is that students will graduate being proficient with digital learning. The challenge with those focused on the letter is that it often becomes a checklist just to get through. Those who focus on the spirit tend to see it as a learning progression. With the spirit mindset, we think it is easier to have conversations about what students should be doing before they take their first online course as well as the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they should be developing during their online courses. Simply put, people with letter mindsets are going to ask the question “Is online learning right for this student? People with the spirit mindset will ask “What type of online experience is this student ready for?”

#2 – Insist on High-Touch

When it comes to e-learning initiatives, there tends to be a lot of talk about the technologies – the learning management systems, the computers, and the design of the courses.  We refer to these as the high-tech aspects. What typically is less often discussed are the high-touch components. This would include things like the role of school staff, the role the online instructor should play, even the role of the parent in the process. These wrap-around supports and connectedness are critical. We see time and time again that schools that have robust, high-touch components—in addition to strong high-tech components—are able to run successful programs, while programs that neglect the importance of the high-touch elements tend to struggle.

#3 – Play to Strength

In Michigan, one of the patterns that is quite clear is that students tend to be directed toward e-learning options when face-to-face options become problematic. Some of those problems are benign such as using e-learning to resolve a scheduling conflict or to take a course that is not offered face-to-face in the school. However, the most prevalent reason is that the students were not successful the first-time around in the face-to-face course, what we refer to as credit recovery. The challenge with credit recovery is that in addition to learning how to learn online, they are trying to tackle subject areas that are already a struggle for them. For first-time e-learning students, it may be worth considering scheduling them in subjects that they like and see as a strength of theirs and save subjects they may struggle with for after they have experienced success in the e-learning medium.

#4 – Start with Less

Another trend that has been quite consistent over time is students tends to show higher pass rates when they take fewer courses. To illustrate, students taking one or two e-learning courses in a year tend to show higher pass rates than students taking 3-4 or those taking 5-6. This trend suggests that it is advisable to spread the four courses over multiple years, or at least limit the number of e-learning courses in the initial years until the student has shown success, then slowly increase the number of e-learning courses thereafter.

#5 – Monitor Effectiveness

One of the examples in Michigan that we suggest replicating in Ontario is an annual report on student performance in their e-learning courses. As I mentioned earlier, in Michigan we have Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report. On an annual basis, the report shares data on how many students are taking e-learning courses, how many schools, etc. as well as how well these students and schools are performing. These data help inform the ongoing policy discussions and suggest opportunities for revisions to better achieve the spirit of the plan. It also provides opportunities for programs to benchmark their performance compared to their peers across the state. Across years, it also allows for monitoring trends.

#6 – Spread Best Practices

In Michigan, about a quarter of schools with e-learning have pass rates of 90% to 100%. What that means is that there are many examples of programs manifesting in the kind of success envisioned. It also means that many programs are not. The same thing holds true of students. We continue to see about half of students always succeed in e-learning courses while about a quarter experience mixed success and a quarter never succeed. We think it is safe to conclude that Ontario will also see large variation between schools and students. What will be essential is identifying what successful schools and students are doing and developing mechanisms to help successful practices spread to less successful programs and students as quickly as possible. This will require intentional design.

Let me end by admitting we don’t profess to understand the political dynamics at play in Ontario that have led to this policy. In the few articles I have reviewed, it seems that at least some people are concerned (or hoping) that the policy will result in less cost for the education system. We can’t speak to the policy’s intention. We can say, however, that it has not been our experience that high performing schools and programs have seen cost savings, rather high performing schools and programs are spending their existing funding in strategic ways to ensure student success.

We hope these insights from Michigan can help inform the debate and eventual shape of Ontario’s e-learning system.

Dr. Joe Freidhoff is a vice president at Michigan Virtual and leads its Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute.


This entry was originally posted at Please leave any comments on that site.

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