Virtual School Meanderings

May 14, 2022

Standards In Practice: NSQ Online Teaching

An item from this “national standards” initiative.

Standard Highlight:  Online Teaching

Standard D: Learner Engagement
D:  The online teacher promotes learner success through interactions with learners and other stakeholders and by facilitating meaningful learner engagement in learning activities.  

D5:  The online teacher helps learners reach content mastery through instruction and quality feedback using various formats.

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Short description:   Quality feedback is an integral part of any instructional setting, however; the format of the online classroom necessitates a greater level of clarity and specificity in feedback as students may have fewer moments to seek clarity from their teacher throughout the school day. At VHS Learning, our courses are asynchronous, so teachers are asked to provide substantive, specific, and actionable feedback on critical assignments each week to ensure students can understand their next steps in their work. We ask that teachers ensure clarity and use asset-based language to allow the student to accept their feedback.

The following examples and resources are included in the VHS Learning Teacher Resource Area and are used to help teachers hone their practice of delivering quality feedback to their students.

By Stacy Young who oversees teacher quality as the Associate Dean of Instruction at VHS Learning. 

Helpful Hints for putting the standard into practice

Qualities of Effective Feedback 

Feedback does not have to be complicated or overly time-consuming. Remember to base feedback on a set of qualities will help the teacher to create effective feedback for their students. Effective feedback is:

  • Timely — student receives feedback in time to improve future learning

  • Specific — feedback points to specific areas of strength and areas for growth

  • Actionable — students can take feedback and act on it

  • Asset-based — feedback focuses on what a student can do rather than what they did not do

  • Related to learning goals – feedback should reflect the goals and objectives of lessons or units of study

  • Constructive — feedback is designed to support student’s academic and social-emotional growth

  • Iterative — feedback reinforces and builds on previous feedback

Types of Feedback 

Students complete a variety of assignments every week. Some assignments measure a student’s knowledge or comprehension, some the application of learning, and some the important elements of synthesizing, analyzing, and critiquing. There are different types of feedback that should be provided throughout a VHS Learning course. These include:

  1. Content-related feedback: This type of feedback is specific to the content or mechanics of the assignment that supports students in applying their ever-developing, expanding understanding of the content being studied.

  1. Probing feedback: This type of feedback provides a question or prompt to encourage, support, and even inspire students to advance their thinking.

  1. Suggestive feedback: This type of feedback provides suggestions or ideas to encourage and even inspire students to demonstrate their understanding of the content being studied.

Resources to support standard use.

Feedback “Formula” 

It can help to use a “formula” to craft effective written feedback. The formula includes four parts:

Ways to Deliver Feedback 

Within the course platform, there are many tools to help teachers deliver effective feedback.

Author and Organization Bio 

Stacy Young oversees teacher quality as the Associate Dean of Instruction at VHS Learning. Stacy taught middle school and high school for fifteen years before joining the Center for Collaborative Education where she was the Director of the Massachusetts Personal Learning Network. At CCE, she worked with schools and districts around building quality performance assessments, school redesign, and professional learning communities. At VHS Learning, she collaborates with the Curriculum and Instruction Team in the development of high-quality online teacher training and ongoing professional development around online instruction while supporting over 300 teachers each semester.
Copyright © 1996-present VHS, Inc. All rights reserved.

Check out the NSQ Website and  NSQ Professional Learning Portal for more resources.

Copyright © *2022* *National Standards for Quality Online Learning Project*, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

National Standards for Quality Online Learning · 6024 Deer Trace Ct · Dunlap, IL 61525-9662 · USA

May 6, 2022

VLLA Blog Update for 04 May 2022

A newsletter from the folks at the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance.

Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance
Updates from the VLLA Blog

Online learning partnerships boost access, success for rural K-12 learners

Across America’s rural communities, online learning partnerships are planting seeds for student success. As these cooperative efforts grow in our heartlands, so, too, does the measurable impact on rural K-12 learners.

In its March 2022 publication “Partnering for Rural Student Success: Best Practices for K-12 Districts and State Virtual Schools,”  the i4tl Center for Research and Innovation examines relations between virtual school programs and rural schools. The study highlights the positive outcomes for students, schools, communities, and teachers.

For the report, the Center outlined the significant impact of state virtual school programs on rural education from across the U.S., including VLLA member Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and South Carolina.  To best understand and quantify the positive impact virtual learning has on rural settings, the research focused on common characteristics of successful partnerships.

Among these characteristics are the development of alternative accessibility and funding models, support of high-quality implementation of digital teaching and learning, and creative programming that expands learning opportunities. Additionally, continual data collection is key to a program’s success. 

NC Virtual: A Case Study for Rural Collaboration

The power of partnerships, especially how it relates to rural education, is evident to many of the country’s top online providers. NC Virtual, a member of the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance, embraces the importance of educational equity for students in rural North Carolina.

“As an increasingly mobile society, there is a high likelihood that students in rural areas will ultimately live elsewhere,” said Rachel McBroom, Ph.D., chief academic officer at NC Virtual. “To ensure that these students are competitive in the future marketplace, the educational community must ensure that all students, no matter their zip code, have access to the educational opportunities necessary to ensure their lifelong success.”

North Carolina serves over a half million rural students, representing more than 1 in 3 of the state’s public school students. The state has long considered how to best address rural inequities in part of the long-standing Leandro lawsuit filed in 1994 by low-wealth rural districts over the issue of funding. The state has used strategies such as supplemental funding and comprehensive support models from the state education agency. Currently, the state is studying various funding options which address rural schools’ ability to provide an equitable educational experience.

To support collaboration between the state’s public schools and online learning programs, NC Virtual has partnered with rural schools in a number of ways. The driving factor in these partnerships is for NC Virtual to help its rural partners supplement their existing programs to meet their students’ needs, according to McBroom.

Co-teaching courses illustrates one type of partnership. These co-taught courses pair teachers in the face-to-face school with an experienced online teacher. Rural schools that struggle to provide mentors for their new teachers have embraced this model. NC Virtual’s experienced online teachers can provide mentoring to newly licensed teachers in rural schools as they co-teach content.

“Online learning allows rural schools to offer its students expanded opportunities,” said McBroom. “Common challenges faced by rural schools include limited fundings and/or human resources. Through online learning, rural students gain access to a wider variety of courses previously only available at larger urban schools.”

Collaborations not Kingdoms: An Analogy for Educational Access

Just over 1,600 miles northwest of North Carolina sits the Center for Distance Education in North Dakota, another staunch advocate for public school-online learning partnerships. In fact, State Director/Superintendent Matthew Lonn, Ed.D., muses that schools cannot operate as kingdoms.

“Maybe that is a little bit extreme,” said Lonn. “But the point is important. School districts do not have the luxury to function like a kingdom in Europe during the Middle Ages … or Game of Thrones if that’s an easier reference.”

The reference alludes to the typical kingdom in Middle Age Europe which had a strict social order. There was the upper-class nobility, the middle-class merchants and other educated professionals and, finally, the lowest level of the social ladder made up of the peasant class. The basic governmental structure was termed the feudal system, a kingdom made up of lords who owned large land estates often worked by the peasant and merchant class. The lords vowed allegiance to the region’s king. In return, the king protected the lords, and the lords protected their peasants in the event of attack. As such, the peasants promised to serve the lords and the king during times of war and provide funding via taxes.

Middle Age Europe was a time in history with much upheaval. Trade between kingdoms was often a dangerous venture. Kings and queens collaborated little with neighboring kingdoms because many felt they could provide everything they needed on their own. In addition, there was a general lack of trust regarding the ambitions of neighboring kings and or queens. The result was a map of scattered European kingdoms that relied on their own feudal systems for their prosperity and survival. The only real way to expand a kingdom’s resources was to invade another.

“Eerie parallels can be drawn between the Middle Ages and present-day school districts,” said Lonn. “Many districts today are very hierarchical in how they are managed. Most still follow a standard social order of superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, assistant principal, teachers, students. Each has certain expectations placed on them that are associated with their position level.”

School districts also have confined land areas that they can legally operate in. Although to be fair, taxpayers do have the authority to vote on property tax increases which puts a little chink in the armor of this analogy. In addition, districts do not often invade neighboring districts, although, they do sometimes compete for students.

Unlike kingdoms during Middle Age Europe, school districts cannot fall into the trap of thinking they can meet the needs of their constituency in the 21st century without partnering and collaborating with multiple regional, state, and national partners. Knowledge today is vast and supposedly doubling every 12 hours. New and improved services are being developed and improved constantly.

“If a school district is going to make sure that their students have access to quality content presented in mediums that have been shown to help kids learn, they can’t rely on their own staff to do it,” said Lonn. “They simply don’t have the time and resources.”

Instead, by partnering with organizations that invest heavily in new content development and technology, a district can allow teachers and support staff the opportunity to do what they do well. That is to work daily with kids, building positive relationships and helping navigate a world that is in a constant state of change.

Instead of each district trying to act as a fully self-sustaining organization, they must recognize the advantages of specialized education for students. Online learning programs do certain things well, including the delivery of high-quality online content and assessment via a Learning Management System and Student Information System. These complex systems are growing and changing almost daily.

“By partnering with regional, state, or national online learning programs, districts do not have to spend time and valuable resources providing a medium of learning that is not their strength,” asserts Lonn.

In contrast, classroom teachers do things well that online programs often struggle with. Hands-on, project-based group learning, live discussions and debate, and one-on-one tutoring are all advantages possessed by face-to-face school districts. By focusing on these advantages with their staff, districts have resources to provide choice and opportunity to students that they do not otherwise have the funds to offer for learners.

“What eventually killed the constant state of war that plagued Middle Age Europe was the realization that through trade and specialization with other kingdoms and nations, everyone can enjoy a higher standard of living without continual disruption,” concludes Lonn.

Many school districts realize that by partnering with online learning programs, students gain choice in their education and school district staff gain the ability to work more one-on-one with students. The result is an educational experience that provides students, especially rural learners, with the skills they need to be successful adults.


Partnering for Rural Student Success: Best Practices for K-12 Districts and State Virtual Schools, i4tl Center for Research and Innovation, March 21, 2022,

Rachel McBroom, Ph.D., chief academic officer, NC Virtual,

State Director/Superintendent Matthew Lonn, Ed.D., Center for Distance Education,

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April 22, 2022

Use the NSQ Online Teaching as a Guide for Professional Learning

An item from this “national standards” initiative.

Use NSQ Online Teaching As A Guide For
Professional Learning

Dear Michael

The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching provide a framework for schools, districts, state agencies, statewide online programs and other interested educational organizations to improve online teaching and learning. The standards are intended to provide guidance while offering maximum flexibility for users wanting to enhance their pedagogy or users looking for guidance in planning professional learning experiences for their staff.

Onboarding Instructors

Members of the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance, a non-profit association of supplemental virtual programs from across the United States, utilize the NSQ Teaching Standards as a resource for onboarding instructors responsible for teaching, communicating, and engaging learners enrolled in online learning courses.   “The standards provide a model for the qualities we need in our new-to-online teachers and aligning our courses to the NSQ provides an evidence-based rationale for each module and task in our training courses,” says Emily Kroutil, Teacher Training Specialist for Georgia Virtual.  

Collectively, the VLLA members train, support, and mentor over 5000 part-time and full-time instructors for their online learning courses.  To address the increased demand during the pandemic, many of our organizations ramped up their onboard processes to bring on new teachers.  For example, Colorado DLSMichigan Virtual and North Dakota CDE each reported tremendous gains in the percentage of new teachers trained during 2020-2021 to provide online instruction ( e.g., 200%, 123% and 137% respective increases in new teachers trained).   “The NSQOT is an excellent foundation for helping teachers understand their role in this evolving environment,” shares Jason Neiffer, Executive Director for Montana Digital Academy.  

Candice McPhearson, Director of Design and Development for Virtual Arkansas reports,“Many of our required courses for onboarding incorporate NSQ standards into the objectives for learning as well as including specific modules about NSQ to introduce teachers to the standards.”

Professional Learning Goals for Continuous Improvement 

Beyond onboarding and preparing instructors to teach, support, and manage their online learning environment, the NSQ standards provide the gauge for continuous improvement.  NSQ Teaching Standard A, Professional Responsibility, highlights the importance of being a reflective practitioner and continuously pursuing knowledge and skills related to online learning and pedagogy.

“Having the NSQ to reflect on and ground our work in has helped our program to articulate expectations and responsibilities for teachers in a way that is grounded in thoughtful design and the national conversation,” says Laura Smith, Sr. Instructional Coordinator for VHS Learning.

Melissa Bardack, Instructional Specialist, reports that Indiana Online“utilized the NSQ Standards to build their rubric as the basis for their teacher evaluation process.  Teachers reflect on their practice and identify learning goals tied to the NSQ Standards.”   This is also true for Virtual Virginia.  Steven Sproles, Outreach Professional Learning Coordinator for Virtual Virginia, commented that their teacher observation and evaluation documents are closely aligned with the standards.

Personalizing Professional Learning aligned to NSQ

2gnoMea partner of the NSQ, has built a professional learning portal aligned to the NSQ Online Teaching.  The national portal, free to users, “unpacks” the standards to match vetted and aligned professional learning resources to individual strength and area of need, at scale. Feel free to try the demo below.

Jason Schmidt, Executive Director for Wisconsin Virtual School shared, “WVS launched with 2gnoMe earlier this year, and it has already exceeded our expectations. It not only incentivizes teachers to participate, it provides them with the targeted resources that they need, and at the same time recognizes the importance of community.”  Jason’s story about their experiences with 2gnoMe and the personalized NSQ professional learning portal created was recently shared on 2gnoMe’s site.  Select, Surprisingly personal, surprisingly comprehensive, surprisingly better to read more about Wisconsin Virtual School’s story.

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Copyright © *2022* *National Standards for Quality Online Learning*, All rights reserved.
National Standards for Quality Online Learning · 6024 Deer Trace Ct · Dunlap, IL 61525-9662 · USA

April 14, 2022

Standards In Practice: NSQ Online Courses

An item from this “national standards” initiative.

Standard Highlight:  Online Courses

Standard C: Instructional Design
C:  The online course incorporates instructional materials, activities, resources, and assessments that are aligned to standards, engage all learners, and support the achievement of academic goals.

C6:  The online course provides learners with multiple paths as appropriate, based on learner needs, that engage learners in a variety of ways.

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Short description:   Providing learners with multiple learning paths empowers them to take control of their learning. When learners feel empowered and in control of their learning, their engagement increases. This is important for at least two reasons. First, increased engagement often leads to meaningful learning experiences that remain with learners long after a course ends. Secondly, increased engagement helps learners discover new interests, which stimulates their desire to learn. Presenting content in a variety of modalities and allowing students to choose how they will be assessed are simple strategies that provide learners with multiple learning paths.
By Jill Souza, Founder of Not My Lemons Learning, Ltd. and Krista Tomaselli, principal consultant at National Education Consulting LLC.  

How can UDL help you put this standard into practice?
In This Issue:  UDL at a glance
This video will introduce you to the topic of Universal Design for Learning and provide you with practical strategies for implementing UDL in your classroom to foster engagement and student choice.

Quote: “Giving students voice and choice—the opportunity to choose to learn the way they learn best and to direct some aspects of their learning—helps to make students feel personally invested in their learning and gives them a role in shaping and creating it rather than it being simply delivered to them.”  – Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, “How Implementing Voice & Choice Can Improve Student Engagement”

Helpful Hints for putting the standard into practice

  • Connect assessments to real-world contexts, leveraging the information learners already know and contextualizing new information.

  • Differentiate content by providing just-in-time remediation for struggling learners and enrichment opportunities for advanced learners.

  • Provide formative activities that allow learners to self-assess their understanding at various stages throughout the learning process.

  • Use conferencing to build relationships with learners and informally gauge their understanding to identify opportunities for support.

  • Ensure activities and assessments are aligned to standards, and communicate explicit criteria for success in the form of rubrics.

  • Present content using a variety of media (i.e., text, video, audio, etc.) to accommodate multiple learning preferences.

  • Leverage Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to ensure that all learners have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Resources to support standard use.

Designing for Student Learning Preferences in the Online Classroom: These resources offer practical strategies for designing online education that addresses multiple learning preferences and increases student engagement.

Designing for Student Voice and Choice:  These resources offer practical strategies for incorporating student voice and choice in the online classroom, allowing students to take ownership of and responsibility for their learning.

Designing for Learning Pathways: These resources explain what learning pathways are and offer practical tips for incorporating learning pathways in an online setting.

Designing with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in Mind – These resources offer practical strategies for incorporating UDL principles in the online classroom.

Author and Organization Bio 

Jill Souza, M.A. M.Ed., founder of Not My Lemons Learning, Ltd., is an instructional designer and educational consultant. She has taught at the college and adult-learning levels, managed a GED program, and worked as a writing tutor. Jill has a passion for applying UDL principles to create equitable, accessible, and competency-based learning experiences for all levels of learners.

Krista Tomaselli, Ph.D., is the principal consultant at National Education Consulting, LLC. She has extensive experience working with at-risk student populations and designing quality online courses that meet the needs of all learners. She has worked as a high school English teacher, college instructor, online course designer, and assistant director of an instructional design team.

Check out the NSQ Website and  NSQ Professional Learning Portal for more resources.

Copyright © *2022* *National Standards for Quality Online Learning Project*, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

March 17, 2022

Standards In Practice: NSQ Online Teaching

An item from this “national standards” initiative.

Standard Highlight:  Online Teaching

Standard D: Learner Engagement
D1:  The online teacher uses digital tools to identify patterns in learner engagement and performance that will inform improvements to achieve individual learner growth.

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Short description:   Online teaching relies on a different toolset to gauge student learning and their understanding of the material. We often hear about course “pace”, but using that as an acronym for “Progress and Course Engagement” helps to frame the question of “What tools can we use to identify patterns in learner engagement and performance?”  Virtual learning ecosystems, content, and tools generate data we can use to answer that question beyond just looking at grades.
By Jeffrey Renard, Founder/Director/Principal for Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC)

What does this standard look like when it is successfully put into practice?

In This Issue:  Peak Activity by Time of Day
Data removes “best-guess” ideas for how to support students. Looking at when students are most active can help inform online programs on when to provide real-time supports, ensuring there is help available when students need it. Providing flexible support keeps students on pace and encourages student agency.

Helpful Hints for putting the standard into practice

  • Think of student data to gauge pace in two categories, activity and participation

  • Activity data tells you if the student is “active”. (i.e. logins, attendance, page clicks). However, it does not tell you what they are learning.

  • Participation data  demonstrates “engagement”.  (i.e. discussion participation, submitting assignments, responding to teacher assignment feedback, emails, reassessment)

  • Know what data points your learning ecosystem archives. Do you have access to time of day, duration of access, reassessment attempts, and communication logs?

  • Do you use a variety of tools that do not integrate or pass data to a single portal (usually your SIS)? Having fewer places to view student data makes the process of identifying patterns easier and more efficient.

  • Is there a time of day when the student(s) are working and there are no synchronous supports available for them during that time?

  • Be explicit with weekly expectations for how often and for how long students should be accessing their course(s).

  • Be explicit with when assignments are due, and how long students are able to reassess using teacher feedback.

  • Provide feedback to students using data points compared to expectations to help students grow and improve their proficiency.

Resources to support standard use (mostly practical

Using Data to Inform Instruction
“This resource has been designed as a step-by-step tool for educators interested in ways to use data to inform their instructional practice. This tool can be used by individuals or teams to guide the identification of a problem statement, selection of data sources, data analysis, action-planning, and adjustments to practice.”

How to Best Use Data in Remote Learning
“With data analytics, schools can provide more equitable and effective learning environments for all students.”

Using Learning Analytics to Assess Student Learning in Online Courses
“Learning analytics can be used to enhance student engagement and performance in online courses. Using learning analytics, instructors can collect and analyze data about students and improve the design and delivery of instruction to make it more meaningful for them.”

Differentiation: How do I use data to adjust instruction fro groups and individual students?
“To serve students equitably, teachers must support the holistic needs of all learners, especially targeting the needs of students who are furthest behind. Using data effectively helps educators better understand learners, build relationships, and personalize instruction to meet unique needs.”

Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World
“Sound decisions must be made at each step of a continuous improvement process to successfully guide refinements. Without thoughtful analysis of data, iteration is a random walk.”

The Importance of an Online Learning Ecosystem
“Having the right tool for the job is just as important in education as it is for any other field. Teachers are used to many of these tools they used daily in the traditional classroom. However, now that educators find themselves in unfamiliar territory, many of the tools they once used in the face-to-face world are no longer useful.”

Author and Organization Bio 

Jeffrey Renard, Founder/Director/Principal
Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC)

VTVLC is Vermont’s public education online learning program, providing a wide range of supplemental and full-time options for K-12 students. Using a “cooperative partnership” model, VTVLC does not compete for students with their brick and mortar schools. Instead, VTVLC acts as an extension of the school to offer courses for students not offered locally, cannot be accessed due to scheduling conflicts, or allowing students to learn at times to maximize the success of each student. Created in 2009, VTVLC has grown into a robust program providing learning opportunities for schools, career and technical education centers, and adult education and literacy program across the state.

Check out the NSQ Professional Learning Portal and NSQ Website for more resources at 

Copyright © *2022* *National Standards for Quality Online Learning Project*, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

National Standards for Quality Online Learning · 6024 Deer Trace Ct · Dunlap, IL 61525-9662 · USA
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