Virtual School Meanderings

March 5, 2012

SITE 2012 – Designing Engaging Virtual Courses for K-12 Students

The fifth session (because one of the presenters didn’t show up) from the Virtual Schooling SIG at the annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference was:

Designing Engaging Virtual Courses for K-12 Students

Jason Huett, Unversity of West Georgia, USA
Kimberly Huett, Unversity of West Georgia, USA
Using an explanatory mixed methods design, this study employed specifically adapted online course quality survey instruments as well as technologies such as VoiceThread and Jing to conduct extensive reviews of online courses in a blended middle school and a fully online high school to determine if teachers were designing engaging virtual learning environments for students. Quantitative analysis measured five standards for all online courses: content, instructional design, student assessment, technology, and 21st century skills. Qualitative analysis examined data from the audio and textual presentations and stakeholder interviews. The study was conducted over two years, first as an initial pilot study and then an adjusted full-scale experiment. Findings from both studies are presented as well as a comparison between findings.

Jason began the session by explaining that Henry County Schools had approached him about forming a partnership around one of the online and blended things that they were getting involved in. The University of West Georgia’s involvement was focused on having UWG graduate students reviewing the online and blended courses at the middle and high school level that were built by Henry County teachers. It appears that all of the courses had multiple graduate reviewers.

The first phase of the study involved the graduate students individually reviewing the courses using the iNACOL online course design standards (and initially a rubric based on the Georgia Performance Standards, but was later dropped). The second phase involved the graduate students coming together and reconciling their individual reviews. The third phase involved the creation of a Voicethread that essentially provided the combined or summarized or reconciled review of the course. The fourth and final stage involved providing video walk throughs of each of the recommendations for the course to provide the Henry County teachers examples of their recommendation. The process was managed using a wiki.

One of the important question to examine was whether these reviews were resulting in better designed courses that ended up in better student performance. Based on comparing course mean scores from 2010 (i.e., before the courses were revised based on this model) and 2011 (i.e., after the courses had been revised based on the recommendations from this process), the students at both the middle school and high school levels tend to be doing better following the reviews.

Some of the other findings that have come about include less emphasis on state standards in the review process and more focus on the actual course design. There have been requests for specific, focused professional development based on things found to be lacking in the online and blended courses. This project has assisted UWG’s movement towards creating their online teaching endorsement certificate. It has also resulted in UWG getting a second partner in the Georgia Virtual School, who are also interested in having their courses reviewed by the UWG students using this process.

SITE 2012 – An Examination of Educational Leadership Program Field Experiences in K-12 Virtual Schools

The fourth session from the Virtual Schooling SIG at the annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference was:

An Examination of Educational Leadership Program Field Experiences in K-12 Virtual Schools

Dennis Beck, University of Arkansas, USA
Jason LaFrance, Georgia Southern University, USA

Virtual and blended experiences are an emerging trend in education. K-12 virtual schooling was first utilized in the 1990s and continues to grow. Currently 48 of 50 states offer some virtual experience in K-12 education. Of these, 39 states have state virtual schools. Professional development is beginning to be available for virtual school teachers, however, little information is available on professional development for administrators. This study will provide a status report on the state of school administrator preparation for K-12 online and blended learning in the U.S.A. This research will be conducted by surveying Educational Leadership certification programs regarding the extent which pre-service administrators are being exposed to K-12 online and blended learning. Important ramifications exist for the field of K-12 online learning as well as for Educational Leadership programs that are preparing educators to lead fully online and blended learning programs.

Dennis began with the potential of online learning – and immediately went to the rhetoric about being a disruptive force that could break the factory model of education – and that policy hasn’t kept pace to allow for K-12 online learning to reach its full potential. He then transitioned to focus upon the role of leaders in K-12 online learning, but skipped over some of his slides in the interest of time.

He looked at 348 NCTATE institutions that offered leadership and administration preparation to see what they were doing with regards to K-12 online learning (and he had a little better than ~40% response rate).

There were 14 institutions that offered virtual field experiences in educational leadership (8 private universities and 6 public universities). Some findings:

  • all experiences were with private or charter virtual schools
  • 50% of the experiences began in the [ast three years
  • most experiences included face-to-face and online experiences

There was only one university that mentioned previous virtual school experience in the potential students. Sixty-four percent of the respondents that had field experiences indicated that the field experience was limited to 0-4 hours of time in the online environment.

The descriptions of what school leaders did in these virtual field experiences matched what they would have done in a face-to-face field experience. The method that these universities used to assess leadership students in these virtual field experiences also matched what we’d find in the face-to-face field experience (with the exception of one university that used login and other LMS tracking data as part of their assessment).

Interestingly, of those institutions that did not offer a virtual field experience, 36% indicated that they should and 24% indicated that they were in the process of developing one.

Dennis’ future research will dive into the existing 14 programs to pick apart the models that are in use. As well as looking at some of the experiences that those students who are going through these virtual field experiences actually possess.

SITE 2012 – Situated Online: Theoretical Underpinnings of Field Experiences in Virtual School Settings

The first session from the Virtual Schooling SIG at the annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference was:

Situated Online: Theoretical Underpinnings of Field Experiences in Virtual School Settings

Leanna Archambault, Arizona State University, USA
Kathryn Kennedy, Georgia Southern University, USA

This paper describes the historical, practical, and theoretical underpinnings behind an essential component of teacher preparation, the field experience. It explores the theory of situated cognition as it applies to online teaching and learning which advances the notion that learning requires a contextualized, authentic setting with the participant engaged in direct interaction and reflection (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). Discussed is the basis for the development of field experiences in K-12 virtual schools. Various models that have emerged to address the need for teacher preparation within K-12 online settings are described, and implications for teacher education programs are also addressed.

Kathryn began with some background on how student teaching experiences came about and became a standard aspect of the teacher preparation program. She mentioned that teacher education accrediation organizations have not paid any attention to online student teaching to date, but organizations like ISTE, SREB, and iNACOL have taken an interest and, in some instances, become advocates for online teacher education experiences. Kathryn transitioned to providing some background into the preparation of teachers for the online environment – including the TEGIVS project, the online student teaching experiences that Florida Virtual School has with several universities, her and Leanna’s dissertation work in this area – as well as the online teaching endorsements in Georgia and Idaho.

Kathryn transitioned to a brief mention of their national survey they presented on last year – which basically found that only 1.3% of teacher education programs actually had experiences specifically for preparing teachers for K-12 online learning. Note that the article on this study should be appearing in the Journal of Teacher Education in the next month or so. One of the important developments that have push Kathryn and Leanna to look at possible models and theory that could support virtual school field experiences is because more and more recent graduated teacher education students are getting hired by K-12 online learning program (as opposed to teachers with 3-5 years of experience, which used to be the case).

In terms of the theory that can help inform online teacher education experiences, Leanna spoke of:

  • situated cognition – allowing online student teachers to monitor and be mentored by an experienced online teacher in an authentic environment
  • experiential learning – online student teachers can be engaged by questions, engaged by doing
  • TPACK – allowing online student teachers to be mentored and engage in pedagogically sound strategies, specific to their discipline, in this technology-mediated environment; and many of the self-regulated learning strategies that are needed to be successful in the online environment are embedded in the PCK aspect of TPACK

As TPACK is one of Leanna’s other interests, she spent most of her time on this one. One of the bullets on her TPACK slide read:

“To learn to apply TPACK in the online classroom, preservice teachers must be provided with authentic learning environment in which their cognitive apprenticeship can be situated.”

At present, most of the existing examples of pre-service teacher education programs that focus on K-12 online learning preparation are in Florida (and in partnership with the Florida Virtual School).

SITE 2012 – Frequency, Confidence, and Self-Perception: Comparing Two Modes of Preparation for Online Teaching

The second session from the Virtual Schooling SIG at the annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference was:

Frequency, Confidence, and Self-Perception: Comparing Two Modes of Preparation for Online Teaching

Priscilla Norton, George Mason University, USA
Dawn Hathaway, George Mason University, USA

Few online high schools report requiring online education for their teachers, and few programs exist to prepare teachers to work in online classrooms (Smith, Clark, & Blomeyer, 2005). Professional development for online teachers continues to be a major concern, and evaluative research that examines the effectiveness of various types of professional development is needed (Archambault & Crippen, 2009). The purpose of this study was to compare differences in reported frequency and confidence with which online teaching tasks were performed as well as teachers’ perception of self as an online teacher between teachers who had complete a comprehensive preparation program and teachers who participated in a one day face-to-face workshop. Results found few differences between the groups and challenge conventions related to the nature and role of teacher preparation in online teaching.

The presenters were from George Mason University, where they worked some years ago with three school divisions to create a supplemental K-12 online learning program. One summer, as budgets became tight, a series of school districts decided to cancel summer school – which increased enrollment in this online academy. The academy normally required teachers to take a five graduate credit hours of training, but with this influx of students the university waived this PD requirement and instead offer a single day PD session. The study being presented today looked at self-reported data on if there were differences between the online teachers that had the traditional five graduate credit hours (returning teachers) and the online teachers who did that single day of PD (new teachers) with:

  • how frequently the teachers did teacher tasks
  • their teacher efficacy with regards to these online teaching tasks
  • their perceptions of themselves as online teachers.

The teaching tasks were based on the SREB/iNACOL online teaching standards – of at least 22 of them that they felt were applicable to their model of online delivery (which they organized into six categories). There were 21 teachers in the returning teachers group and 24 teachers in the new teachers. There were no statistically significant differences in the frequency and efficacy between the two groups. However, the new teachers felt that they were better online teacher than the returning teachers at a statistically significant level.

The study was limited by the fact that the instrument wasn’t validated. It was also limited by the fact that the researchers did not examine the actual teacher actions to see if the teachers’ own perceptions matched their actual behavior.

SITE 2012 – Tracing International Differences in Online Learning Development: An Examination of Government Policies in New Zealand

The first session from the Virtual Schooling SIG at the annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference was:

Tracing International Differences in Online Learning Development: An Examination of Government Policies in New Zealand

Allison Powell, International Association for K-12 Online Learning, USA
Michael Barbour, Wayne State University, Canada

In 2006 the North American Council for Online Learning surveyed the activity and policy relating to primary and secondary e-learning, which they defined as online learning, in a selection of countries. They found most were embracing e-learning delivery of education as a central strategy for enabling reform, modernising schools, and increasing access to high-quality education. While North American countries appeared to be using the internet as a medium to provide distance education at the secondary level longer than most countries, the lack of a guiding vision has created uneven opportunities for students depending on which state or province they live in. In New Zealand, the government has sought to provide a vision or guiding framework for the development of e-learning. In this article we trace that vision by describing three policy documents released by the New Zealand government over the past decade, and how that vision for e-learning has allowed increased development of primary and secondary online learning.

This presentation was based on our article in the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, which you can read at

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at