Notes From the Virtual School Symposium 2011


The Closing Student Panel from VSS 2011

Over 1,900 conferees assembled in Indianapolis for the Virtual  School Symposium November 9-11, 2011.  My notes from the day follow.  A wiki is available for the event.

On Wednesday, I participated in a day long workshop for participants starting online programs.  Holly Brzycki, John Canuel, David Glick, and Phil Lacey presented about their specialties:  curriculum, leadership, technology, policy, and professional development.

The program started with a panel of teachers from across the country.

 Fostering Quality in Digital Learning.  I wrote a separate review of the session here.  The essence of the presentation was policy development so that market forces can produce new learning platforms.  My thoughts are that the presenters are missing an important factor in their calculations — teacher-student relationships.

Presenters were no-shows at two of the sessions I attended, although audience members rose to lead discussions that were similar to the titles in the program.  This speaks to the interest of the participants, but the program committee, of which I am a member, needs to do a better job ensuring that speakers are in attendance.

In the lunchtime presentation by Steve Midgley (US Dept of Education), he reviewed technology advances with Google, Youtube, and others.  Not much new here.

Mickey Revenaugh from Connections Academy lead a panel discussion about course quality.  This was a different discussion from the policy issues discussed earlier in the day.  While vendors were on the panel, the discussion was about how to develop quality courses.  The participants did not feel “sold.”  The design process includes visual literacy concepts and prototyping new courses sections with students.  Teachers’ loads are determine by the amount of grading effort by the teacher and teacher-student interaction.  Assessments, standards, and such were discussed.  Some measures of quality include end of course exams, mastery learning, and growth models.  Interestingly, one vendor collects student feedback on each lesson with a 5 star rating system and a text box for specific comments.  Ratings and comments are used to make changes in content.

On the evening of the first day of VSS, the planners  provided an exceptional evening of  food and entertainment at the Indiana Roof Ballroom.  Vendors had evening receptions, making it a parade of events for the evening.

On Friday morning, Michael Horn and Paul Peterson had a panel discussion about a world class education.  Peterson quoted PISA scores showing the apparent dismal scores of American students, yet later he stated that he was not an assessment expert.  If you’re unfamiliar with the possible problems with PISA, start here.  Peterson described the idea of co-production — how unpaid labor increases productivity.  They include:

  • Big box stores where customers troll the aisles with carts, moving goods from the stores to their cars.
  • Banks were ATMs serve customers and banks use online statements.

In schools, Peterson stated, students are the most important part of unpaid labor.  We must look for student engagement in courses to get them to learn what they should know.

Like others, including Horn, Peterson stated that we are at the beginning of digital learning and much possible as technology improves, such fully interactive and 3D.

He stated that competition between blended learning and online learning will improve options for students.

Peterson closed with three areas to observe success:

  1. The system must be transparent with standards, curricula.
  2. Student accountability is essential.  The learning must be verified.
  3. The system must be flexible.
  4. There must be a policy framework for competition.

Next I attended a panel discussion led by former West Virgina Governor Bob Wise.  Participants gave specific information about success in their programs.  Some general ideas from the presenters:

  1. Blended learning ensures success for many types of students.
  2. Success in blended learning depends on quality teachers
  3. Professional development is important.
  4. Social networking will become important.

Next I attended a session where Robyn Bagley described the process how Utah Senate Bill 65 was passed to encourage digital learning in that state.  She described a new model for Utah:

  • Funding follows the student.
  • Funding based on successful completion of the course.
  • Students customize their education with blended learning
  • Students provide courses and provider
  • Subject matter mastery replaces seat time
  • Student have access to the best courses and best teachers.

She outlined how she was able to shepard the bill through the Utah legislature.  Robyn was passionate and articulate about the topic.  She has a winning attitude.

My final breakout presentation was about how Hall County, GA is implementing digital learning in its schools.  The program includes curriculum development and sharing, infrastructure design, assessments, and professional development.

The day and conference concluded with a student panel presentation.  Students explained how and why they were in online and blended learning programs.  They talked about their challenges — some of the content is hard to learn — to their triumphs — I can take my school with me when I travel.

It was a great closing to this conference.

The next VSS is  October 21-24, 2012 in New Orleans.

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One Response to “Notes From the Virtual School Symposium 2011”

  1. Virtual School Symposium: Learning Online in Person « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Says:

    […] several blog posts about the Virtual School Symposium here, here,  here, here , here,  here, and here.  It was nice to read the many press releases about the growth of K-12 Online Learning from the […]


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