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The Best of Both Worlds: Where Tradition Meets Technology - Sandi Atols & Todd Yarch

This new, small high school, VOISE Academy: Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment, is a hybrid model, integrating face-to-face teacher instruction and relevant projects with rigorous online curriculum taught in high-tech labs. VOISE’s educational plan includes quality standardized coursework that hones 21st century skills aimed at enhancing collaboration and communication while providing a caring, mentoring student-centered environment. Using data-based decision making, VOISE Academy will prove and improve itself and become a model for future schools.



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Summary:

VOISE is a small public school in the Chicago area
and with a vision to ultimately achieve a true hybrid learning environment where traditional instruction is accompanied by a rich and meaningful online learning experience. The vision for VOISE is to one day provide students with the time and resources to pursue their learning at their preferred depth and length while also supporting all course requirements. As for now, VOISE represents a traditional model of learning, where students attend their course over a regimented time frame while also becoming acquainted with online resources and technologies to develop further learning. Using an online curriculum and learning management system allows students and teachers to know in real time how the student is progressing, what interventions need to be made, and frees time for the teacher to actually "teach" and work with students individually and/or in small or large groups.

The Hybrid Model:
The hybrid model of learning (online vs traditional) is very novel. VOISE intends to implement a system that utilizes a mentor to survey and guide the learning experience. Content, however, will be almost entirely online. There seems to be some difficulty in finding the balance between guided/facilitated instruction and online learning. Pace is an obvious concern as is providing meaningful collaborative activities when students are off-pace. Suggested group activities revolve around concepts that link students throughout a content lesson, relevant current events, or school wide projects as opposed to addressing specific content bullets.

VOISE
has 150 students, all of whom are freshmen and many of whom are at risk. Students come from the regional area and had to apply for entry - no student could be refused. There was also a mandatory summer orientation session for all incoming students. Getting the students as freshmen allows an opportunity to help to "mold" the students into conscientious digital citizens and become well acclimated to the online learning environment. Every student is provided a wireless enabled laptop to use in school and a desktop for home. The parents are trained on how to use the desktop, etc. VOISE is hosted in a very old building with limited facilities. Many accomodations have been made to ensure that the students have access to their online curriculum. A f2f Freshman Transition course has been created and every classroom also has a SmartBoard.

Staff are selected for success in curriculum and experience working in an online environment. But the real key is the passion and understanding that all students can succeed and go to college with adequate teacher support. There are 8 total teachers, 6 of whom are first year teachers. The small group setting allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of meeting, molding and working forward. As each subsequent year adds more students, the staff will grow.

The content is supported by both online and in-course f2f activities. The key question revolves around how much time the students should be spending in any one place as well as managing block scheduling in math and reading. That determination is made by the teacher based upon the needs of the individual students, concepts that all must learn, and school-wide projects.

VOISE uses APEX.

Traditional: The students have to attend their regular courses during regular hours. There are many hands-on projects implemented by curriculum teachers in those courses.

Technology: All online curriculum used for all courses except PE and Freshman Transition. VOISE is licensing content, the management system, and hosting through APEX. It is taught by the classroom teacher - any additional courses (like fine arts) are offered online through the district's CPS-VHS program; there is no additional need to hire staff to satisfy these additional curriculum requirements since this content is delivered online, taught by certified teachers and supported by mentors who may not be certified in the areas they are supporting. VOISE students are given access to the global community and are encouraged to make use of that time.

3 R's:
Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Rigor comes from the course content and and set expectations, Relevance from hands-on projects and the NU Collbaoratory schoolwide projects, and Relationships are being built daily. VOISE staff has planned and worked hard to model the philosophy of building relationships with caring, support, and encouragement. They know every student's name, interests, and academic needs. Each student has an individual learning plan. Staff is getting to know the parents through meetings, the Parent Advisory Board, and the Tech sessions.

Question for Extension:

Is this representative of the traditional sense of the "hybrid model" of online learning? This seems to be a fantastic implementation of online technologies as a support to a traditional classroom approach. There is a tendancy to view online education as a black box approach to education. Is this a suitable replacement to either a straight f2f or online approach? I love to start a dialog on this!