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Learner Support in K-12 Schools:

The Case of Virtual Virginia


Stephanie Barbee
Stephanie DeMarco
Ralph Hameni Bieleu
Josiland Sledge

University of Maryland University College


April 10, 2014

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Introduction
The use of online courses has accelerated in United States grade schools as institutions
and districts adapt to advances in technology. Virtual Virginia offers students in grades K-12 the
opportunity to learn in an online environment with a variety of possibilities that accommodate
students of all ages and abilities. Emphasizing student support, Virtual Virginias primary
mission is to serve rural and underserved students by offering various individualized courses
taught by highly-qualified instructors (Virtual Virginia, 2014). Virtual Virginia promotes
meaningful student-student and student-instructor relationships within individual and
collaborative opportunities (Virtual Virginia, 2014). This paper analyzes the following areas
within the Virtual Virginia program: characteristics of the provider, educational program,
teaching models, learner needs, desired learning outcomes, as well as challenges and
opportunities relating to learners and the overall program.
Background
Virtual Virginia (2014) offers a comprehensive set of student support services, wherein
collaboration and consultation is accomplished through relationships between students, parents,
instructors, and staff. Virtual Virginia is centralized within the Carroll County School District and
offers learning opportunities for students throughout the state as well as students in other states
and nations. State funded, most financial income is directed from tax-payer dollars, just as if it
were a traditional public school. Bacon (2013) claims that lobbyists currently back political
initiatives in support of Virtual Virginia as well as other online public schools nationwide. The
Virtual Virginia program follows standards, processes, and criteria outlined by the Virginia
Department of Education (VDOE). The General Assembly directed Board of Education provides

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flexibility for diverse learners and ensures that instruction provided by multidivision online
providers is aligned with state standards and provided by highly qualified teachers (VDOE,
2014). In 2013, Virtual Virginia offered online instruction for students in over 119 school
divisions in 240 middle and high schools, as well as students from 13 states and 6 nations
(Virtual Virginia, 2014). Priding itself on accommodating students of all national origins,
religions, ages, political affiliations, regardless of sex, age, or any disabilities, this program offers
courses in Advanced Placement, world languages, electives, online clubs, and college-credit
courses.
Learners and Desired Learning Outcomes
Virtual Virginia provides an individualized learning environment and offers web-based
courses to middle and high school students. It is committed to providing high-quality, rigorous
courses with the flexibility to meet students varied schedules, and strives to meet the individual
needs of each and every student (Virtual Virginia, 2014). In order to enroll in an online course,
students must meet course pre-requisites and gain approval from the school counselor. To
successfully participate in online courses students must have basic computer skills, such as web
browsing and keyboarding, as well as access to the Internet and email and the ability to install
course specific software. To assist students in these areas, Virtual Virginia offers technical
support to students, parents and school personnel.
Students are given extensive reading materials, simulations, flash-based interactive
practice, video files and audio files to actively engage in learning materials with various formats
that best meet the needs of all types of learners (Virtual Virginia, 2014). Through the content of a
course, students work both individually and in cooperative groups to maximize learning

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opportunities. According to the Virtual Virginia website (2014), students are placed within a
cohort that begins at the same time in order to create a cohesive group. Within their cohort,
students participate in course discussions and adhere to benchmark due dates. Virtual Virginia
(2014) courses meet or exceed state and national standards and are facilitated by highly qualified
and specially trained educators to ensure students successfully master the curriculum. Virtual
Virginia, through its course offerings, multi-media set up, and extensive learner support services,
strives to meet the individual needs of all students to ensure academic success.
Teaching Model, Support Services, & the Learner
The teaching model used in Virginia Virtual is web-based and instructor-driven, with
course materials designed by specialists (subject matter experts, instructional designers,
instructional technologists). Teachers and students are separated by distance and time in this
asynchronous system. Teachers moderate the learning management system (LMS), provide and
grade student assignments, set the pace of the course, and facilitate interactions (student-content,
student-student, student-teacher) using instant messaging, email, live conferencing, and phone
consultations. With Internet access, courses and support can be accessible twenty-four hours a
day, seven days a week.
The life cycle of a Virtual Virginia student begins with enrollment. School counselors
are responsible for the promotion of Virtual Virginia and its offerings, and assist students with
the enrollment process. Enrollment is accomplished electronically and students can choose
between courses that are a year-long or semester-long. Students complete their courses using the
Desire 2 Learn LMS and have access to the following throughout the year: instructors via toll
free phone, on-site mentors, tech support, and access to a help desk twenty-four hour a day,

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seven days a week (Virtual Virginia, 2014). Mentors act as a liaison between Virtual Virginia,
students, counselors, and parents, monitor student progress, proctor tests and exams, collect
student forms throughout the year, and guide students through technological aspects of learning
(Virtual Virginia, 2014). Advisors, counselors, and technological support are provided by the
students local school district to ensure student success. While Virtual Virginia does not provide
students with online library access, students are awarded access to their local school districts
libraries and state-run libraries.
Challenges and Opportunities
There are several challenges the Virtual Virginia program faces in regards to their student
population. Private and home school students are able to enroll in Virtual Virginia courses but are
not eligible for the Early College Scholars Program. This will hinder these particular students
from receiving tuition remission or the Advanced Placement exam fee payment (FAQS, 2014).
While distance learning allows for a flexible way to learn, it may not be as cost effective for
some. It can be expensive to enroll in online courses, and not having the opportunity to receive
even a minimum of funding can deter students from taking these types of courses. Another
challenge Virtual Virginia faces is limited space within classes, with only fifteen students per
course. To have more than fifteen students enroll in a course, a request must be sent to the Virtual
Virginia Supervisor of Curriculum and Student Services (FAQS, 2014). Instructors may not
desire large classroom sizes, but more than fifteen students increase the diversity and overall
significance of collaboration and knowledge-building within an online learning community.
There are multiple opportunities available through Virtual Virginias program that meets
the needs and demands of todays students. The flexibility of the institution in adapting course

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requirements so that students may organize their learning independent of a study group is a key
quality aspect for many online students (Rekkedal, 2004, p. 2). The opportunity to participate
in distance education at this level will prepare students for online learning at the collegiate level.
Rekkedal (2004) states that using multimedia technologies and the Internet improves the quality
of learning by providing access to resources and services. Video and audio clips and whiteboard
interaction enhance the students virtual learning experience. Each individualized learning
programs is developed by some of the finest minds in education, including teachers, reading
specialists, biologists, mathematicians, and artists. Coupled with exceptional designers and
writers, these experts have developed a curriculum that makes learning come alive by combining
the best research with rich, engaging content (2009). Just as brick and mortar schools provide
extracurricular clubs, Virtual Virginia does as well, including: Latin Club, Modern Languages
Club, National English Honors Society, and the Social Studies Club. Activities include
community service projects, forums, games, and real-time web conference sessions with guest
speakers (Virtual Virginia, 2014). These opportunities allow students to learn online while still
benefiting from collaborating and building a community with their classmates.
Conclusion
Developing standards outlined by the VDOE (2014), Virtual Virginia promotes learning
opportunities facilitated by highly-qualified instructors. Utilizing a Web-based teaching model
for asynchronous online learning environments, Virtual Virginia emphasizes communication
through a variety of different technologies for student convenience. Student support and
institutional resources accommodate the needs of all types of learners, while course design
integrates individual and collaborative requirements to help meet that needs of all learning styles.
While Virtual Virginia does not offer an online library system and only offers one liaison

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between Virtual Virginia and the students, local school district, and parents, it does offer students
an alternative to traditional education in a setting that can be tailored to individual students. This
institution is not without challenges, but opportunities within Virtual Virginia (2014) offer
students an exciting online educational experience that fosters academic success and embraces
online education while successfully supporting students throughout the educational program.

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References
Bacon, J. (2013). Thinking outside the school yard. Bacons Rebellion. Retrieved from
http://www.baconsrebellion.com/2013/01/thinking-outside-the-school-yard.html
Fernandes, D. (2011). System for virtual Virginia academy flawed, critics say. Hampton Roads.
Retrieved from http://hamptonroads.com/2011/02/system-virtual-virginia-academyflawed-critics-say.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS). (2014). Retrieved 29 March 2014 from
http://www.virtualvirginia.org/faqs/index.html.
Rekkedal, T. (2004). Internet based e-learning, pedagogy and support systems. In J. E. Brindley,
C. Walti, & O. Zawacki-Richter (Eds.), Learner support in open, distance and online
learning environments (pp. 71-93). Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der
Universitt Oldenburg.
VDOE (2014). Instruction: Virtual learning. Virginia Department of Education. Retrieved from
http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/virtual_learning/
Virtual Virginia (2014). Virtual Virginia student and parent handbook. Retrieved from
http://www.virtualvirginia.org/students/handbook/downloads/student_handbook.pdf
Welcome to Virtual Virginia. (2014). Retrieved 29 March 2014 from
https://d2l.virtualvirginia.org/.