Reflections from VSS 2008

Virtual School Symposium Reflection Paper
When I was asked to attend the Virtual School Symposium for my school system (St. Mary's County Public Schools, Maryland), I had no idea about the wealth of opportunities available for online education. I probably should have known since I finished my bachelors’ degree through online coursework, and my entire masters’ degree was completed through an online program at the University of Maryland University College. I tried to prepare myself by checking into the symposium program and other information available online, but nothing can compare with actually attending the symposium itself. My registration was filled out for me, and I found out that I was also attending a pre-conference session with David Glick. Our county has not been pursuing online education and has now decided to explore the options that are available to us.
“How to Start an Online Learning Program” was a roundtable discussion that provided speakers on many different topics of getting started with online learning. Some of the most important information that I got in this session related to orientation of students and staff. Because online learning can be isolated, providing that sense of community for participants can help to ensure success for everyone involved. When the session was over, I have come to the realization that SMCPS needs to determine our niche for online learning. What is it exactly that we want to do with it? We need to define our initial goals and work from that perspective. And we need to approach this initiative in an organized manner. Currently, we are not fully realizing the advantages of the online learning opportunities that are offered by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). Considering Mr. Glick’s Program Analysis and Design Worksheet can help with the plan. Assessing where we are on the worksheet and what we want to accomplish can help us make appropriate choices to give the implementation a fair chance.
Hearing Fabrizio Cardinali give his keynote was interesting. He spoke about “marchitecture” – blending innovation with marketing and architecture. This was a complete shift in concepts for me (paradigm shift). His example of blended art education was very interesting. The concept of bringing the work of the masters in classrooms around the world could bring a window on the world in every single classroom in the world. These classes would be geographically separate – yet could still share an educational experience. The factory model for education truly is dead or dying.
I also attended sessions on HippoCampus, OpenSource resources, launching an online school in 30 days, adapting Open Source resources, Curriki, Moodle, and other topics. The amount of information was almost overwhelming – at the same time it was extremely exciting. It was nearly information overload, but I did come away with some very important concepts.
For SMCPS to take its place in online learning, I believe we need to take advantage of the resources that are already in place in the online arena. MSDE offers online courses that we can offer right in our own county. By making use of existing coursework, we can benefit immediately from implementing online learning. I believe that it can serve to relieve some of the pressure associated with getting the program started. Once we start having students who are successful with online learning, the concept will spread and become more commonplace in its implementation. Instead of a last resort type of implementation, it could become part of the regular toolbox in SMCPS’ arsenal to address the education of our most important stakeholders – the students.
While I do believe we should start with the MSDE courses already available, I also believe that there should be an effort to develop our own courseware in-house as well as make use of OpenSource materials for this effort. By moving to our in-house approach, we can take advantage of subject matter specialists and their years of experience in our district. We would also be able to ensure that the course is focused exactly where SMCPS stakeholders want it to be focused.
I believe that I was sent to this symposium because of my technology experience. I spent over 20 years in industry before becoming a teacher as a second career. I am fortunate because technology use is a natural extension of what I do. I believe that technology is another tool for teachers to use while assisting students in their educational journey. My ease with technology as well as my experience as an online learner may make me the most logical person for assisting with the implementation of this effort in my county. What I need now is actual professional development in order to become an online educator. My current plan is to complete an MSDE course on mentoring students online (currently enrolled). I found out about this course while networking with other professionals at the symposium. After I successfully complete this course, I will be taking a course to become an online instructor for MSDE courses which is currently planned for January 2009.
Prior to this symposium, my focus for online learning was directed toward college-level and graduate-level coursework as a student. Now I am excited about the possibilities for K-12 education, and I am adamant that I will be an active part of this transformation for my school system.

CEU Reflection Paper
In attending the 2008 VSS Conference in Phoenix, I was amazed to find that so much existed about a world that I was just coming to know. I was hired by Connections Academy to work as an Elementary teacher in Nevada. Three days before the start of the school year, I began my training into the world of virtual teaching. I had no idea of where it would lead me of the knowledge I would gain; I was just glad to be out of a “Brick and Mortar” classroom.
In a traditional classroom, I often struggled with time management and discipline. I was finding that in the virtual world, things did not have that definite schedule. Going to a conference was not generally possible in that type of school, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to learn from the many experts that I would be listening to. My own principal was going to be doing a session on one of the topics that was important to me.
Hearing all of the statistics that Susan Patrick gave was an awakening experience, even though they were not that surprising to me. I knew that the US was behind many industrialized nations in education and technology. Her specific information on Australia made me wonder about New Zealand, a country that my husband has recently visited, and has the possible opportunity to work in. Susan told me in person that she knew that New Zealand was beginning the process of online education, but really couldn’t give me specifics. I know that if presented with the opportunity to go to New Zealand that I will be able to help in some facet.
Being a mother of twin 6 year old boys, I cannot work as a teacher at Connections Academy and be my children’s learning coach. I had believed in a traditional classroom for so long that I often wondered if there was a good mix between the traditional, and the technological world. I attended the session “The Best of Both Worlds” and found that there can be a huge benefit for students who need the structure of a classroom, but also crave the technological aspect of learning. The session discussed the VOISE School which works out of a classroom, but provides the students with the technology to be able to research and work effectively. They started at the High School level, but I could see where Middle or Elementary students could definitely benefit from some of this as well. I could definitely see both of my children doing better in school if they had the technology to help them learn, as well as someone there to guide them.
The next session I attended was the one that was my main focus for my personal family- “Too Early, or Just In Time.” My principal, Craig Butz, was one of the presenters. He mentioned that there is a public perception of a proper balance of technology versus socialization that people are often concerned with, but that in general, they are over-concerned. I agreed with that as my children are often too social at the public school that they attend. Janae Cardel, also with CA, showed that using technology in specific ways can enhance a student’s learning, including socialization. She showed how her Live Lesson Sessions are geared to teach, but also entertain and teach socialization to students in the Preschool to Primary grades. I found her methods to be very appealing to the students, but not necessarily for every teacher’s personality. As in a traditional school, it takes the right kind of person to teach Kindergarteners.
One of my more recent positions in CA is that I am in charge of the marketing for my school. The Baltimore office does the leg work, we, in the specific states and schools act as liaisons to the home office giving feedback, and staffing many of the recruiting efforts. The “Build It and They Will Come” session reaffirmed some of my training that I had previously received, but also gave me some new ideas about how some things can be done. Much of it was geared toward start up schools, but the general ideas were adjustable for schools already in place. They gave me some good ideas for things to help my own school, such as brochures, press coverage, and SWAG for Brand Awareness. I hope to use some of these ideas in my future with CA marketing.
The “Online Tutoring” session was one that I could see working hand in hand with our Learning Management System. Many of our students work at night because they have full time jobs during the day, or do sports or acting that take them away during normal school hours. With the online tutoring linked right to our LMS, the students could get immediate help any time they needed in, not having to wait for the teacher to get back into the “office” or call on a lunch break. They explained the differences in some of the packages that the schools could purchase, and showed that you needed to be very specific about what you wanted and when, as the price changed accordingly. This is something that I am definitely going to take to my superiors, as I feel that it could greatly enhance the flexibility we offer at CA.
My favorite session was entitled “Excellent Customer Service” because they made me think about who the customer actually was. It is not always who you think it is, and is often a number of people in different jobs. They went through how Customer Service should work from a “normal” customer service point of view- a restaurant. They explained that not only are the “customers” customers, but that the employees and the management are also customers in their own way. It really made me think about things on a different level.
I was also fascinated at the number of companies who are out there providing things that will work in a virtual world- from software to physical manipulatives, and, of all things, Driver’s Education. I enjoyed looking though many of the catalogs to see what companies offered online school programs, and found that many were willing to customize packages for the individual school’s needs. I definitely have determined where my focus should be, though. I am really looking at spreading the word about something that I believe in. I am going to use the knowledge that I learned at the VSS to help spread the word, that there is not only one option for schooling. The world is turning to technology, and education is next.


During the 2008 VSS, I learned the popularity, efficacy, and power of online learning continue to grow. As described by Susan Patrick, President and CEO of iNACOL, in her opening remarks, many states and nations, based upon their belief that online learning holds real promise for providing their students a world class education, are making significant investments in bringing the future of learning to their students today. Ms. Patrick provided interesting facts and perspectives of the realities around the world which helped me to better understand where we in United States “fit in” amidst the people and nations of the world.
She explained how China alone, has 20 million 18 year olds vying for the 2.5 million available seats in China’s institution of higher education. By comparison, we have 50 million K-12 students. To overcome the enormity of China’s goal to reach 100 million more Chinese students, they are committing major resources and have digitized their entire K-12 curriculum ultimately making it available to previously unmet educational needs of children in China’s rural areas.
Ms. Patrick further explained that the countries of the world face many of the obstacles we face in the U.S., limited connectivity, shortage of qualified teachers, and quality courseware. The primary difference, however, is that most countries are taking action now to plan for success in the near future.
Mr. Fabrizio Cardinali, Chair of the European eLearning Industry Group (ELIG), reinforced all of the messages Ms. Patrick delivered. He provided a European perspective and profiled many of the initiatives in which he, ELIG, and the other companies and groups with which he is affiliated, have and are undertaking. He explained the view of Viviane Reading of the European Commission for Information Society and Media and her i2010 group’s belief in the importance of interoperability, individualization, and innovation. They believe the road to successful use of a digital world is based upon open information systems, wider inclusion based upon individualization, and innovations based upon wiser investments.
Mr. Cardinali went on to explain the “Generational Challenge” and “Generational Opportunity” which are transforming the world. He declared that no one will be unaffected. Tomorrow’s jobs and lives will be transformed by the impact the growth of the digital age. In response to the question, “So, what should you do?” he declared we must be creative and develop entrepreneurial mindsets. He then asked, “Should you wait for your learning Sputnik?” or, rather…has it already been launched?” He warned that the “Sputnik” which may get our attention may not come from where we may expect it. He cited the popularity of social networks as an example of a phenomenon no one seemed to believe would last, i.e. most of us didn’t see it coming and are surprised by the many creative ways corporations and organizations are benefiting from its power.
The ideas presented by Ms. Patrick and Mr. Cardinali will assist me in achieving my academic and work related goals. My current primary responsibilities are to partner with our school/school district customers to ensure high quality training for the teachers who are preparing to teach their students with our high quality courses. Further, I work over time with our customers to implement their online learning programs. In the training I provide to schools/districts, I often encounter skeptical teachers who view online learning as just another swing of the pendulum in their career. I always attempt to educate such teachers about the role online learning has and will continue to have in providing students quality options for learning not just required, core academic content and processes, but the opening of new, otherwise unavailable opportunities. Additionally, I can use what I learned at the 2008 VSS to help teachers understand the professional growth and career opportunities embracing online learning can provide them.
Learning to assist our customers with the elusive data interchange between SIS (School/Student Information Systems) and LMS (Learning Management Systems) is an important goal for me. I attended two sessions on this topic. The first was “Data Management Considerations for Online High Schools”. While I knew many schools/districts have and continue to struggle with this issue, I was overwhelmed by the turnout in this session. Over 50 people came to this session. While the presenters did not have solutions to this dilemma, they did an excellent job of facilitating an open discussion of the problems many are facing. This discussion led to several people exchanging information about what they were doing to try to overcome this challenging issue.
A session related to this, but also offering information on another goal of mine, alignment of instruction, assessment, and professional development, was “Alignment of Instruction, Assessment, and PD with SIF Interoperability”. The presenter, Ms. Jill Abbott of SIFA (Schools Interoperability Framework Association), provided impressive information about the intent and role SIFA has and continues to play in assisting education enterprises in taming the data interchange tiger. Thanks to the work SIFA has spearheaded, most major educational software, hardware, and services companies are working cooperatively to provide crucial interoperability. In my previous position as a director of technology for a school district, I was very thankful for the impact of SIFA. I will be continuing to pay close attention to SIFA’s leadership and encourage our customer schools/districts to benefit from the standards they have put in place.
My primary strategies for capitalizing on my strengths in order to become a successful online learner, teacher, and leader are, understanding that while I can’t learn everything, I can benefit from the discoveries and experiences of other progressive educators, I can provide leadership to the people I encounter when I provide training and consulting services, and I can continue to aspire to keep myself abreast of new developments in online learning.
To overcome my weaknesses, of feeling like I’m falling behind and not understanding the next new things right away, I can reassure myself that we never stop learning and that the only way to continue to learn from the tidal wave of new information is to strive to read education journals and news stories to find some sense of direction so I’ll know where to invest my time and energy. I can also join and involve myself in quality organizations like ISTE, iNACOL, ASCD, and NETA. By doing so, I can benefit from the collective knowledge of many committed, passionate people who have the same interest of bringing quality education to the people of the United States and the World.

This year’s VSS impacted me more concretely than in past years. To be honest, I left previous VSS events feeling like the work I and my colleagues at my company was perhaps just a bit ahead of the pack. This year, I left feeling a bit behind the curve – and that is a good thing. I learned so much and left with information and insight that I have already begun implementing in my work in teacher training and professional development, meeting the needs of future consumers, and improving the experience for our students.
Teacher Training and Professional Development
I am currently working on a teacher mentoring and induction program, performance evaluations and designing a teacher evaluation process. All three areas were addressed at this conference.
The Going Virtual session was extremely helpful, particularly in learning that the majority of survey respondents indicated that they do not like fully face to face or non-facilitated. This year – and in years past – we have focused our efforts in teacher training to be a large in-person event for hundreds of teachers in the summer. When teachers could not attend, we enrolled them in what is a nearly un-moderated online training course. As I am currently investigating revisions to both of these training efforts, this data was very important to me. I now have further data to direct me to alternatives to the live face to face training component, and to increasing the level of moderation and interaction for the asynchronous training.
In addition, the 18 themes of unique needs and challenges that were identified are helpful in guiding the content of our ne and ongoing teacher training and professional development. As a result, I am focusing extended time and effort on the topics of preventing isolation for new teachers, improving their effectiveness with communication technology and LMS tools and time management.
The Nurturing a Professional Development Ecosystem presentation by the New Mexico State University folks was inspiring. They are already providing the type of professional development environment that I am striving for with teachers served by my company. We recently implemented a social networking environment for our teachers and students. My larger professional development plans include using this space to foster a community of practice for teachers. The efforts of NMSU certainly sparked ideas for me.
The session on Virtual Evaluation: Measuring Competencies of Online Teachers was insightful. It was great to hear what Connections Academy is doing for teacher evaluation. They are a direct competitor to the company I work for. It appears that they began with an “off the cuff” set of standards to measure against and recently moved to a version based on NACOL’s standards, which is in essence a modified Danielson’s model. I love the fact that they are using a visual cue – a “frowny face” – for students who are doing poorly, prompting the teachers to address issues. We are just now wrapping our arms around how we do this at my employer.
Meeting the Needs of Future Consumers
At Fabrizio Cardinali’s Keynote, I learned that mobile learning is really closer on the horizon than any of us think. Many of us have followed Giunti Labs work in the recent years and are excited at the prospects they offer. We look forward to seeing actual working prototypes of their systems – they clearly know where we are headed as an industry and I suspect they will get there first.
Michael B. Horn’s keynote on Tuesday gave me pause. I am familiar with the core messages of the Disrupting Class book, but I have not read it yet. However, the discussion I have heard about the book has always focused on a very simplistic message, which is: “Online Learning will supplant traditional education as we know it.” But Mr. Horn’s message was something deeper. He indicated that disruptive technologies that win:
- are (initially) not as good as the original
- must not be sufficient to replace current technologies (at first)
- finds a small niche of users for whom the existing technology is not affordable or sufficient
- tend to be interdependent in their nature - one part depends on the next.
- Provides the utmost in customization
This struck a chord with me. The group I work for is fantastic, and I believe we are the best at what we do as our core business. But that business really is just “more of the same” in terms of pedagogy. We have been chasing done a much more robust tool set and solution for online education – but it is one that meets the description set forth above of disruptive technology. I am increasingly concerned that there is not the vision or “fiscal fortitude” to make this more robust toolset a reality. As Mr. Horn points out, companies rarely produce disrupting technologies themselves.
At the end of his presentation, Mr. Horn offhandedly indicated that he had recently had a discussion with someone who was considering a method to patch together content from the web for use by homeschoolers. I was surprised as I had recently been considering just such a project. I recently emailed Mr. Horn to see if he could put me in touch with this individual to see if we could work together on this.
Improving the Experience for the Student
When your daily focus really is on execution, it can be frustrating to review research and learn very little that is actionable. It seems that a lot of the research tends to either prove what most would assume was true to begin with, or “call for further research”. The Research Panel featuring Cathy Cavanaugh et al on Monday, however, provided some helpful takeaways. The part of the presentation regarding Cathy Cavanaugh and Kathryn Kennedy’s report on research from the University of Florida’s School of Teaching and Learning was especially helpful. It focused on student perceptions of transactional distance in online teacher education courses. Given my work in teacher preparation while they are employed in schools my company manages, this was of great interest to me. What was a bit surprising was that they found text-based elements reduced the transactional distance more than other media, including audio greetings and live office hours. Students preferred the more interactive elements to have an academic focus for direct instruction. For me, this solidified the importance of focusing on rich and effective written communication in my teacher development efforts.
As I mentioned, I did leave VSS 2008 feeling like we were a bit behind the curve. Online and internet-supported learning seems to be a disrupting technology to traditional education. I fear, however, that the small independent and not-for-profit groups who are stretching the envelope of online education will disrupt those of us who have been in the industry longer and have been delivering just slightly better iterations of what we’ve been doing for 200 years. Rather than disappointing me, this has invigorated me to look differently at how I approach teacher training and professional development and how I can affect the critical path of my employer.

I was sent to the Virtual School Symposium 2008 to locate curriculum and ideas for implementing online learning. We are currently operating in the traditional delivery of curriculum, face-to-face. However, for the past two years, SMCPS has been attempting to analyze its options for meeting the needs of all students. Our data analysis indicates that some students might have been better served utilizing online learning. We also believe that online learning could be an integral part of our credit recovery program which has been traditionally a summer school program. Although we have not utilized online learning, SMCPS does recognize that the 21st Century learner is not content with the traditional delivery of instruction. We recognize that online learning is much more convenient in regard to time and could be more cost effective. After attending the conference, I believe that SMCPS should implement a blended learning platform which would incorporate the flexibility of online learning while being monitored by a teacher(s). This would provide an opportunity for the non-traditional learner to complete high school.
The Virtual School Symposium provided with the opportunity to see what current school systems are implementing in order to meet the needs of all their learners. On Sunday, I attended the pre conference session Web 2.0 Emerging Technologies for Online Learning. The gist of the initial conversation was to remind the audience that the 21st Century learner needs student-centered, customized instruction. Per the remarks of the speakers SMCPS needs to develop specific policies about online learning before we roll out online learning to the public as a whole. Web 2.0 provides accessible tools at no real cost. As with all SMCPS’ endeavors to integrate technology into our schools, we know that professional development is the key to successful integration. The speakers from the Mississippi Public Schools and Kentucky Virtual High Schools both reaffirmed that their success was based upon PD. I am personally familiar with Google tools, wiki, and blogs yet had not seen them used in an overall virtual program. One of the most valuable discussions was related to the CIPA requirements which currently are restricting SMCPS and other systems across the nation from using wikis and blogs. I was intrigued by the use of Wimba and would really like to see if funding could be located for implementation in SMCPS. Wimba provides an alternative collaborative learning environment for students, teachers, and parents.
The two keynote sessions motivated me to really push to get SMCPS to provide the funding and opportunity for online learning. Fabrizio Cardinalli was most intriguing in his discussion about the digital repository of elearning. His allusion to “marketecture” and the blending of business and marketing for online learning was fascinating. His reference to personal ambient learning (“just in time learning”) and the power of social networking is reflective of the vision that I want SMCPS to adopt. His mention of the MIT Open Knowledge Initiative jarred my memory as I returned home to share the MIT web site with our professional community. Michael Horn’s Disrupting Class was a different type of session in that he referenced the business side of online learning and “disruptive innovation” as it relates to the simpler, more affordable type of learning. According to his business models, online learning will represent more than 50% of high school education in the future.
Since SMCPS is initially thinking about online learning as a credit recovery program and home hospital teaching as well as an answer to our dropout problem, I participated in sessions that might offer solutions to us. The Best of Both Worlds: Where Tradition Meets Technology supported my decision to take Chicago Public Schools’ hybrid learning back to SMCPS for possible implementation. In my system we are very concerned with accountability of the learning process. VOISE has potential as a replicable model for SMCPS eLearning. Chicago does have more fiscal support of eLearning and had a well-developed teacher development program. Redesigning 21st Century Virtual Education After a 20th Century Start was reflective of SMCPS’ current state and where we need to be. After thorough planning and preparation, North Carolina was able to build strong partnerships in order to build a successful program based on best practices. I will be contacting them to get some additional information. Online Classes for Special Education Students in an Alternative Setting offered some additional insight into the value of SMCPS considering use of online learning for our targeted populations.
SMCPS did provide me with a server to install Moodle so we can get a few teachers using the platform as a part of their instruction. The Make Mine Moodle showed me some aspects of the new version of Moodle of which I was unfamiliar. I actually went online to our server after the session to try some of the speaker’s ideas.
The value of the conference was also the eLearning sources that I gleamed during sessions like NROC and OER. and will be a part of my discussion with the SMCPS Curriculum department. Operating a High Quality Online Program provided me with some overall information about accreditation. The materials in the conference packet (Blended Learning, Socialization in Online Programs, Online Teacher Support, Goals, Guidelines and Standards for Scientific Investigations, etc.) will help craft ideas for SMCPS online learning.
Probably one of the best hours I spent was dialoguing with Maryland’s State Department of Education coordinator for online learning. I had emailed him a couple of times in the past year but never had the opportunity to understand what MD has approved for online learning. I now understand the process SMCPS must follow in order to implement an online program for initial credit.
The lunch with the student online learners was interesting. It was reflective of the strengths of online learning. Power to the students! The power of dialogue with other educators from around the country was excellent. Listening to folks share their experiences and implementation of online learning was insightful. I also was comforted knowing SMCPS is not alone in dragging its feet into online learning.
St. Mary's County Public Schools has to take the time to revamp its educational delivery models. We know that policies will need to be developed and strict professional development will be required. As a site-based managed system, each school determines expenditures of its per-pupil allotments. The leadership team might need to rethink the expenditures in order to achieve some of the 21st Century online learning goals. This means shift school funds to a central fund for online learning. We also have to develop our infrastructure to support the requirements of online learning. We must remember that besides the teacher development we must develop the student learner. Just as important, SMCPS must ensure that the online learner is self-disciplined. Establishing parameters that the student, teacher, and parent understand will ensure student success.

End of Conference Reflection Assignment
Discuss what you have learned during the 2008 VSS and how it will assist you in achieving further academic and work related goals.
What I learned:
  • I learned of the state of online education in the United States and the World. Living and working in Montana, where we tend to be rather proud that we are still working to preserve our cowboy heritage and stay immersed in the 19th century, it was a very sobering lesson. To prove my point, one of our senators was re-elected earlier this month by an overwhelming margin. His campaign slogan was: “Montana is what America used to be.” I rest my case.
  • That being said, we must educate Montana students to be successful and accomplished citizens in the 21st century world. As we work to develop an integration between Web 2.0 learning tools, 21st century workplace skills and attitudes and practices in Montana schools, our task can be made somewhat easier by the fact that we have no “legacy” systems to protect or modify. Unfortunately, we have a rather strong teacher union which works diligently to block most reasonable efforts at integrating distance or blended learning opportunities. We also have no laws allowing the creation of charter schools which could more easily bring pure distance or blended learning models into the state.
  • So our challenges are high, but achievable. I was a Superintendent of Schools in one of the districts that helped start the Virtual High School project, so I am familiar with a successful model for developing appropriate content and training staff. I have found a willing group of teachers and administrators in my district and we are working hard to implement a blended model based on the lessons learned from VHS. We are one year into the project and quite pleased with the results to this point. Much work is yet to be done. But we are pleased with the path we are taking, and have entered into conversations with our state department of education and the Governor’s office to expand our model outside our district.
  • Sessions I attended at VSS were targeting 1) emerging trends in what students need to know and be able to do and how to get them there, 2) professional development strategies and techniques, and 3) directions for district growth in linking web 2.0 technologies with 21st century learning skills.

Sessions I attended:
  • Opening keynote: Key points
World perspective on the expansion of online courses. This offers those of us in the US a huge new audience with which to facilitate conversations among our students and others across the globe.
Statistics about the state of US math instruction compared to industrial economies
The percentage of US students who require remediation in reading and math, which closely parallel the numbers of students requiring remediation in Montana.
The Educause 2004 work is huge for us in developing our blended learning model. The reference to first and second generation elearing was particularly significant to me.
  • Keeping PACE: Key points
Policy developments across several states
Lawsuits in Wisconsin and Chicago
The Florida online initiative. Particular interest in the comments from the panel member from Pearson publishing and how the textbook publishers may be responding to the needs of Florida districts to have text in a format that can be used online.
  • Co-presented a session on Monday afternoon with Liz Pape of VHS. It goes without saying that it was one of the most outstanding presentations of the conference……
  • Tuesday morning keynote: Key points
In all seriousness, one of the most outstanding presentations I have attended in quite some time. I took nearly 3 pages of notes during Michael’s address, in addition to blogging during his speech. Wish I had taken his book in order to follow along with his thoughts. All of this is to say that I now have a number of speaking points to use in reinforcing our case to “disrupt” education as we know it; how we need to resolve the conflict between how we teach and how our students learn; how to create new metrics to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of new teaching models; and how we can build speed, responsiveness and customization into the model of “school.”
  • Credit Recovery Using Online Learning: Key points
Students in non-traditional schools are best served by matching rigorous curriculum with highly qualified teachers in positive and flexible learning environments. We are in our first year implementation of an alternative high school program for students who have not been successful in the traditional high school. I brought back many tips and lessons to use with our alternative high school staff.
  • Wyoming WeAVE Key points:
  • Montana has a significantly large population of Native American students. We also the Indian Education for All act which provides every Montana school district with significant resources to teach Native American students, and to teach all Montana students of the many impacts Native Americans have made both in Montana and elsewhere, and to retain the rich culture and traditions of our Native American populations. This is truly not an unfunded mandate, it is one of the neatest initiatives I have seen in my 30 years experience in public education. I had read a few things about the success of the WeAVE project and really appreciated the opportunity to see it up close.
In sum, my time spent at VSS was time very well spent. I have shared my experience with my local district and with some staff at the Montana Office of Public Instruction, our state department of education. We have moved past the rhetoric and into practice in reinforcing much of what we are doing to prepare our students for the world they will live in, tweaked some other things in order to improve our chances of success, and have begun to look at some new things to help us prepare our students for their futures rather than our past.

End of Conference Reflection Paper
To give you, the reviewer, some context, I would like to begin this reflection paper by describing our school.
I am the Head of Schools for the Hoosier Academies, a hybrid virtual school with a brick and mortar facility. We have two schools, one in Indianapolis and one in Muncie, Indiana. This is our first year of operation and both schools opened at the same time this September.
The Muncie school is a K-8 Learning Center located in the back half of a private Catholic school in Muncie. Students attend school on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the traditional school calendar year. On “off” days, students work at home with a learning coach on their online curriculum and with traditional materials. The learning coach is typically the parent but can also be a grandparent, other relative or responsible adult. K12 Inc. provides the curriculum and the hardware for each family. The teachers on their “off” days support half of the K-8 students at the Indianapolis Learning Center virtually.
The Indianapolis school is a K-10 Learning Center located in a renovated office building on the northeast side of Indianapolis. The teachers at the Indianapolis Learning Center teach two, two-day tracks; Tuesday-Thursday and Wednesday-Friday. For both schools, every Monday is an organizational and professional development day throughout the school year. To our knowledge, we are the first hybrid of this design anywhere in the nation.
The North American Council for Online Learning conference was my first as a 30+ year educator. My experience in public K-12 education includes having been a teacher, assistant and principal, central office administrator as well as a consultant.
Because this was my first NACOL conference it was extremely valuable for a variety of reasons:
  1. To attend a conference with like-minded educational leaders.
  2. Expand my own knowledge base on virtual learning, online courses, and present and future applications of technology in today’s classrooms.
  3. An opportunity to network and make connections with other educational leaders who are in new positions like myself and,
  4. Created an opportunity to meet with my own K12 colleagues and talk business in a comfortable setting.
I would like to consider myself a progressive educational leader but the variety of topics offered throughout the two day conference was very impressive with many topics that I was unfamiliar.
Because we are two new charter schools as well as a hybrid model, you can expect constant criticism and skepticism of this new school model. All the sessions that I attended were worthwhile but three sessions proved invaluable in the political environment I am now working.
The Best of Both Worlds: Where Tradition Meets Technology offered a Midwest partnership with the Chicago Public Schools in a traditional brick and mortar that is somewhat similar to our school in Indianapolis. Their challenges are similar to ours where you have students who are literally years behind their peer group and incapable of reading. In addition, K12 has a virtual hybrid school in Chicago that we are reorganizing and relocating and looking for a working partner.
All Eyes on Wisconsin: A Review of the Major Legal and Legislative Battles Over Wisconsin’s Online Public Charter School. This session was very helpful as we go into our own long legislative session where virtual education legislative language is going to be introduced. The success in Wisconsin was largely a result of a grassroots effort of parents and students who showed up at their state Capitol. This groups’ organization and recommendations to help position us to pass our own legislation will be critical to our efforts.
Working with Legislators: Five Things You Must Do. Similar to the above session, this panel of experts talked about how to prepare for not only working with legislators but how you also work with lobbyists. At this session I also met an Indiana Virtual Coalition officer who I will be working closely with as the Head of Schools for both our Indiana Learning Centers. There were takeaways for both us in our specific roles. An added bonus in positioning for this movement in Indiana is that the NACOL conference chair, Fred Sagester, is a former colleague that I will have the opportunity to work with on this legislation.
Strategies for Strengths and Weaknesses:
It is always my goal to capitalize on the expertise and experiences that others can offer me. The added bonus as I previously reflected was to have an opportunity to be with my K12 Corporate Officers and Heads of Schools from across the nation. We were able to share best practices as well as articulate the challenges that we know are forthcoming. In addition, the location offered us an additional day for our corporate meetings.
A strength that I would hope I exhibit is my ability to network and work proactively with others. The recognized strength that I personally observed is K12’s position in the online community as well as the world. Their expertise allows our school to have the support from the corporate office to make our schools better as start-up charter schools.
A weakness that we have at this point in time is the reality that there is no model like ours that we can learn from. We are literally building the plane, and school, as we’re flying it. These sessions and the conference has placed both of our schools in a better political position in the present and for the future.
Thank you for this opportunity.


Prior to delving into the 2008 Virtual School Symposium, I felt I needed to begin by providing a little background information as to why it was so important for me to attend. This information will shed valuable insight into what I’ve truly gained from this experience.
My role is two fold. First, I’m the director of White Mountain Institute; an online learning classroom designed as a success lab for a small, rural, public high school in northeast Arizona. Second, I’m a teacher and facilitator of both virtual and real-time students attending White Mountain Institute. I am relatively new to online instructional environments, as this is only my second year in this position.
When recruited to this position, I was completely caught off guard by the sheer magnitude behind the term, “online instruction”. I spent the majority of my first year creating policy and procedures from real-life trial and error experiences. Being such a remote school, I didn’t have contacts with other instructors in the same boat. It was as if I was a lone ship trying to stay afloat. Searching the Internet for help had never occurred to me. I simply ran my program the best way I knew how. Sadly, what worked in a traditional classroom doesn’t always work with virtual students.
At the beginning of this school year, my administrator gave me permission to begin a search for a different online educational provider. I conducted several searches for a program that would better meet the needs of my students and found a program which opened my eyes and brought much needed hope. When speaking with their sales representative for my area, he asked me if I would be attending the Virtual School Symposium in Glendale, Arizona. Until that moment, I had never heard of an organization for people that did what I do. As he informed me about NACOL, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I immediately went to the NACOL website and printed page after page of information. I was so excited! It was almost like being told there was a cure for my disease. I rushed to meet with my administrator and was granted permission to attend the symposium. The symposium was only three weeks away in a city only four hours from my home. What are the odds of this working out so perfectly? Had that sales representative not said anything about NACOL’s VSS, I would not have known about the conference and would have missed my opportunity to attend. This experience has changed my entire outlook on the future of my career. For this I am grateful.
I spent the next three weeks gathering and organizing what I needed to research at the conference. My primary responsibility was to find an online provider that will better meet our students’ needs. I needed to learn how other online schools operate and then glean as much usable information as possible. And I needed answers regarding state standards. The only way of attaining my goals would be through signing up for every breakout session that was even remotely applicable to my situation and by networking with everyone I met. What came from doing this was invaluable!
There were many options for breakout sessions in which to choose from. I attended eight breakout sessions, one pre-conference session, two dinners, two luncheons, one breakfast, one marketing meeting for a large educational provider, and two keynote address presentations. This does not include my search for a new online educational provider by meeting, analyzing and evaluating every vendor in the exhibitor hall. My busy conference schedule was as follows:
Sunday, October 26, 2008 - Pre-Conference
1:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Pre-conference Sessions

How to Start an Online Learning Program – David GlickStarting an online program as a part of a school or as a separate school is a many-faceted challenge, even for seasoned educators. This session will give you the opportunity to work with practitioners from around the country. Topics will include program design, professional development, student recruitment, curriculum decisions, policy development, and more. This session is designed for educators who are new to virtual schooling or in their first two years of their program.
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
**NACOL President’s Welcome Reception**

Monday, October 27, 2008 - Conference Day 1
7:00 - 8:00 am
Breakfast with Florida Online School administrators
8:00 – 8:30 am
Welcome and Opening from Susan Patrick, NACOL PresidentOnline learning started as a way to expand access to courses and teachers that were otherwise not available at schools. In the future, the issues will be centered on how to use the innovation of online learning to solve the bigger problems in K-12 education – how to offer a world-class education for every student, how to improve teaching and course quality, how to move to performance- and competency-based models of learning, how to ensure every student is college-ready and how to scale the delivery model for all students.

In this opening, Susan Patrick will speak about innovation and online learning as a disruptive innovation providing opportunities and options where they do not exist for students.

Special Recognition:
Pearson Education
Pearson Education

8:30 – 9:30 am
Keynote with Fabrizio Cardinali: “Innovating E-Learning for the Knowledge Society: Global Challenges, Threats and Opportunities”
10:30 – 11:30 am
The State of Online Learning in California
1:45 – 2:45 pm
Best Practices in Teaching Online Mathematics
3:00 – 4:00 pm
Dropout Recovery: If You Welcome Them, They Will Come Back
4:15 – 5:15 pm
Third Life: Real Social Networking for Online Teachers
5:15 – 6:15 pm
Reception with Aventa Learning representatives
6:30 – 9:30 pm
VSS Networking Dinner Please join us for the annual NACOL Virtual School Symposium Monday Night Networking Dinner!VSS Monday Networking Dinner
Monday, October 27 - 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
University of Phoenix Stadium, 1 Cardinals Drive, Glendale, AZ 85305Dress is casual: wear jeans and jerseys or your favorite team or school T-shirts!RSVP: Don’t forget to make your reservation when you register for the conference. We’re looking forward to seeing you!Special Recognition:
Insight Schools
Insight Schools

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 - Conference Day 2
7:00 – 8:00 am
Continental Breakfast
8:00 – 9:00 am
Keynote Address with Michael Horn: "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns"Michael B. Horn is the co-founder and Executive Director, Education of Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to problems in the social sector. He is the coauthor of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill: June 2008). The book uses the theories of disruptive innovation to identify the root causes of schools' struggles and suggests a path forward to customize an education for every child in the way he or she learns. In his keynote address, Horn will share the main ideas of this book to inspire change in today’s online learning field.
9:15 – 10:15 am
Optimizing Credit Recovery Options Through Online Learning
11:00 – 12:00 pm
Operating a High-Quality Online Program: A Focus on Standards and Accreditation
12:00 pm – 1:15 pm
Networking Luncheon: LOL@VSS and Birds of a Feather Roundtable DiscussionsLOL is “laugh out loud” (not little old lady or lots of love), an activity that is especially important for those who work in the serious field of online learning and virtual schooling. In this session, we have some help to offer —our wit and the power to evoke laughter. Several leading figures in online technology and learning (well. . . perhaps not all leaders—but several have figures) will seek to enlighten and entertain by presenting information that might not be particularly welcome as testimony at state legislatures. Since the presenters’ efforts have not been vetted, they feel free to engage in ruthless examinations of the state of the field. While the participant list is still under consideration, let it be stated that familiar names with stellar reputations will be among the presenters—if blackmail works. Some topics under consideration are: holding hands with handhelds for learning, virtual teachers versus virtual students in a robot competition; Where in the Virtual World is. . .?; World of Warcraft as a model for online teacher training, and a history of distance learning: from smoke signals to chip implants. Success will be judged by laughter, embarrassed recognition, and an understanding that comedy is a lot harder than course design.
1:45 – 2:45 pm
Serving At-Risk Students in an E-Learning Environment
3:00 – 4:00 pm
Georgia Credit Recovery: Helping Schools Make a Difference
Knowing my opportunity to gather as much information was limited to just three days, I took every moment available to accomplish my goal. Now that the conference is over, the difficult task of compiling and evaluating all of my information is now at hand. There are many fine online programs available to schools. However, by using the information shared by other schools, I’ve been able to determine what we truly need versus what applications are merely luxuries. Doing so, I have been able to narrow my search for an online educational provider down from twenty four to only two. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without attending the Virtual School Symposium. In fact, I have pages and pages of notes written during my breakout sessions that contain valuable procedures I’m ready to implement upon approval from my administration.
I plan to use the information I’ve gathered to present a proposal to the Arizona State Legislature to allow our state department of education to organize a state standard for online education. I’ve come away from the conference believing that Arizona schools are going in too many different directions with our online educational endeavors. We need to have unity in what is being taught. We need to form an organization for online instructors so that we can have open forums with teachers/directors like myself. Many states already have such state organizations and provide much support for new and existing online programs. I would be honored to be a part of something like this for my state.
I am saddened I had to try to recreate the wheel for over a year. I’m even more concerned for all the schools that were not able to attend this conference. On the other hand, I cannot express how grateful I am to have attended this conference. I feel invigorated and empowered. I can and will accomplish my goals. And in thus doing so, my students will reap the many benefits of a better academic program.

NACOL Conference Summary 2008
October 27-28, 2008
Opening: Susan Patrick
Global learning. Going beyond the borders of the US. Innovation causes disruption and change. How do we scale delivery models for all students. Develop opportunities and options for students where they do not exist.
Innovating E-Learning for the Knowledge Society; global Challenges, Threats and Opportunities: Fabrizio Cardinali
World wide distribution of course content. EU is growing exponentially in online learning.
A “Just in Time” Professional Development Model: Connie Radtke, Joan Pebbles, Kelly Pochap & Greg Mahaffey
Wisconsin eschool network. Developed out of the need for a economically effective way to address professional development model that was time effective and cost efficient.
Used google docs to work on docs simultaneously. LMS moodle ability to collaborate over a distance. Electora

Idea! Week 0 week zero Name for Tech Week

Online Facilitation 3 graduate Credit Hours
Preparing for the course
Awareness Building a Foundation
Awareness Need for Change
Facilitation Getting Started
Facilitation- Meeting the Students
Supervising and Evaluating Online Teachers
Mentoring a new on-line teachers
Best Practices in Teaching Online Mathematics: Matthew Waymack
Best blends synchronous and asynchronous tools They use Elluminate

Asynchronous Tools

Daily work check for accuracy and effort
Weekly problems
Submitted through the drop box
Checks for effort comment on student work meaningful feedback
Scanned or submitted in rtf format

Students come in for final exams

Synchronous Tools

Virtual class once a week focus on previewing
Not mandatory offer extra credit or homework pass
mandatory if course work is below a C
Virtual Office hours and teaching
Schedule at different times to accommodate
Record and archive course for use asynchronously
Hardware/SoftwareWacom tablet or digital pen
TI graphing calculator

Course Planning and Pacing Guide

Younger students need more structure
Math and Languages are linear and it is easy for kids to get behind

Final Exam

Face to Face adds to program credulity
If final exams differs from average by 25 points student must take an additional proctored test.


Parent/ auditor role
External gradebook open to auditor
First contact by email
Never put into words anything you do not want to have appear on the front page of your local newspaper
National Repository of Online Courses
Introduced myself during questions and answersand spoke to 6 instructors interested in teaching Honors Geo. They will send their vitae.
770-362-8082 Dr. Waymack
Recent Research on Online Teaching and Learning Implications for Practice: Susan Lowes,Cathy Cavanaugh, Kathryn Kennedy, Linda Cavalluzzo, Selen Turkay, & Saul Rockman
Evaluating and Improving Online Courses:
Colorado Online Learning:
Courses have always been designed by our instructors. Basically looked like text on a computer. Over 70 courses.
Online course standards: concern with quality Develop a review form , their creation is on the NACOL wiki. Based on the NACOL standards. How can we help and support instructors. Course proposal…Course Review…Course Revision. Teachers did not know how to revise their courses.
What feedback does the instructor receive? Everything, that is collected. Paid teachers $250-$350 for revising their courses.


Teen panel was composed of aabout 10 students who were taking all of their classes on line. They opened by sharing a variety of reasons for choosing online learning. Across the board flexibility was a key issue. One student had been struggling with diabetes, another was out of the country half of the year. Two had moved from former locations to local schools and felt that the neighborhood schools they had moved to were a step down from what they were used to. One was a home-schooled student who had out grown her parent’s abilities to teach her. All loved the flexibility and self-pacing. Many believed their time management skills had improved. One student was working a full time job to save money for college. Another student swims competitively and felt it opened up his time and opportunities.
The discussion turned to students attitudes towards brick and mortar schools. They talked about public school cliques. Comments included “kids treat kids badly” “ there’s a lot of bullying” “it’s degrading” “Kids judge you on the outside, but on line they judge me on the inside.” Three out of five boys on the panel had been subject to severe bullying experiences and chose online learning to escape. They felt that online they were judged by their abilities and character.
18 out of 50 states allow for full time school programs online. The students felt they had greater access to real world learning opportunities. They shared that their text books in school were outdated in two years. “Stuff from the 60’s is irrelevant today.” “You are in charge of your learning.”

NROC National Repository of Online Courses

Seasonal Examples:

Teaching Science in Teen Second Life

Global kids island gives students a place to conduct learning, and establish social contacts. It increases the awareness of world social issues.
School or district purchases an island, shared bby 5-10 teachers. Teachers are restricted to the island. Their avatars are present of the main grid of the island.
1st virtual summer camp. It was an online gathering focused on global warming and global issues.
International Space Flight Museum NASA has an island.
Music & Theater Island
LITERACY ALIVE! Island has a recreation of Dante’s Inferno (Rings of Hell) and an Edgar Allen Poe Mansion.
Second Life Educational Wiki:
Teachers had 100 hours of faculty training.
Check on
BYU Independent Study Educator Resource Guide- provides ideas for 2009-2010 brochure. I have a copy and a DVD if you would like to see it.
Frank Eshelman Provides lab kits and lab manuals for Biology, Physics and Chemistry classes. These can be customized according to the curriculum. Biology kits included cell slides, plant parts for dissection, flatworm, crayfish, grasshopper, fish, frog, cow eye, and fetal pig for $39.95. They are working on lab kits and manuals specific to the requirements of the College Board for AP. I have copies of the manuals if you would like to see them.
NACOL: I picked up copies of their most recent publications.

VSS 2008 Reflection Paper
Two years ago, I began my venture into virtual education with a tentative step into online graduate school. Everything I encountered during the initial experience was daunting, to say the least. However, once assimilated, I became impressed with the new types of learning opportunities and the level of empowerment I gained over my own education.
Since then, I have become a part-time high school online teacher. I feel my experiences, including my fear, add to my skills and level of awareness as a teacher in this format. I can clearly envision the place and value online learning will hold in our students’ futures—postsecondary education and career training—and its place in our high schools in the immediate future.
I have been involved with high school reform in the state of Florida for the past two years. Though Florida Virtual is a leader in enrollments nationally, it is currently underutilized in most of our high schools due to funding issues (Schools do not collect FTE on those students participating during the school day.). The availability of virtual courses affords students the opportunity to recover credits and maintain flexibility in scheduling—allowing many to participate in rigorous career academy coursework or dual enrollment.
I am currently working with a northwest Florida school district and Florida Virtual to expand the use and role of virtual school in the development of a new secondary model. We are in the process of designing virtual coursework that is vertically aligned and college preparatory in nature, but that is also integrated with real-world onsite/immersion learning experiences that utilize collaborative projects. It was with this effort in mind that I registered for the NACOL conference.
I selected sessions I felt would be the most beneficial in my implementation process of this model. Specifically, I sought sessions involving best practice/success story sessions along with ones addressing curriculum development. The Monday session of “The Best of Both Worlds” was an excellent presentation by the Chicago school VOISE. What was especially appealing about their story was the instructional format of the school—they have in practice that which we are seeking to replicate—virtual blended with both online and face-to-face collaborative learning. I was pleased to hear that it could be done with excellent results and feedback. I plan to lean on them for some technical support in the logistics stage of the school setup.
In addition, I attended “IB,” “Project-Based Learning” and “Case Studies in Open Educational Resources” to build a knowledge base of the vast possibilities and resources available in the development of a high quality, rigorous curriculum. Each provided generous amounts of information that will be utilized in our efforts to build upon Florida Virtual’s framework. I was also pleased to learn of a free new non-credit course developed by Michigan in the Open Ed Resources session, and sat in on the full session on Tuesday regarding its development and structure. It provides excellent engaging career exploration coursework.
Beyond curriculum development, I was also interested to learn of how virtual schools compared to one another. This summer, I had the opportunity to evaluate many programs currently available across the country; therefore, I was enthusiastic to participate in sessions dealing with evaluation. “Improving Virtual Schools,” “A Comparative Study of Virtual Schools,” and “Evaluating and Improving Online Courses” were all useful, though provided limited information on the quality of delivery. There was a consistent message of the challenges of comparing virtual providers for want of a consistent set of metrics.
I left empowered with knowledge and contact information of experts, energized by the spirit of innovation and change that ran throughout the conference. I was also especially pleased to gain insight into national and international advances in the virtual world. However, I was not able to participate in sessions regarding instructional practices and professional development, and have been learning elements of these through personal experience with our local district Florida Virtual franchise as a teacher.
I continue to struggle with developing a cutting edge, engaging delivery with high level content. My strengths lie in reading and writing across the curriculum, and this has served me well in the analysis and development process. However, I will need to seek content area specialists for the best use of our immersion site projects and cross-curricular designs. Continued research and use of best practices and advice from those who have “been in the trenches” is and will continue to be ongoing.
Overall, I found the conference to be informative and invigorating. The professional learning process has continued beyond those two days of formal presentations and sessions. I personally gained a considerable amount of information and future contacts during “off times” of networking, which will prove invaluable in the days and months down the road. Once home, I poured over the literature and reports provided by NACOL, especially the state-by-state comparisons citing funding and legislative differences. I had spent a significant amount of time with the vendors and have continued contact with them for further assistance and resources. Lastly, I have devoted much time to the review of school and informational sites provided during the sessions. Therefore, I can say the conference continues to be a success for me.