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XYZ School Districts Virtual School Proposal John Freundel EDTC 650 8/11/13

Introduction: Virtual schooling is quickly becoming a mainstream means of education that not only applies to adults seeking college credit, but to students in primary and secondary schools as well. Students in the latter group have in the past been resigned to the nature of the brick and mortar education system. This means that students born in a certain geographic region of the country were predestined to go to one of very few possible schools that served that area. Today; however, this paradigm is shifting as a result of the emergence of online virtual schools. Parents and students no longer have to accept the fact that they must make use of the failing school that is down the road. Now these families have the ability to choose for themselves the kind of education that they want and not settle for the kind of education available in their neighborhood. It is for this reason that XYZ County Maryland needs to begin investing in and developing online course content for its students. Maryland has, for several years, been pushing for more of its counties to take the lead in developing these online virtual schools. The Maryland Education Technology Plans (2007) first objective which is to Improve student learning through technology has at its core the realization that developing online courses will help Maryland students to succeed in education and in the world of the 21st century. To this end, the state of Maryland has been investing significant amount of time and funds to make sure that Maryland can remain among the top states in implementing such online content, below are some numbers from The Maryland Education Technology Plan (2007) to demonstrate the growth of online education in Maryland as of 2007: - Enrollment: 2003-31 2007-1234 - AP Classes taken online: 2005-103 2007-178 - Courses offered online: 2005-5 2007-57 As these numbers show, Maryland is rapidly expanding its online courses available and the number of students taking the courses has grown accordingly to take advantage of these offerings. XYZ County must therefore make sure to be a part of this development towards online education in Maryland in order to better serve our student body and to not be left behind by the other counties. What is a Virtual School? At this point, it is necessary to briefly describe the history of virtual schooling in the US along with what a virtual school offers that traditional schools do not. To begin with, the modern day virtual school can trace its roots back to the days of correspondence education in the 19th and 20th centuries. In these courses students were expected to learn in environments that were separated from their teachers while remaining in contact with these educators from time to time through written compositions (Simonson, 2009). As technologies advanced, so too did the options that distance learners could choose from: - Telecourses were developed to make use of televisions and VHS tapes - Teleconferences made use of video equipment and two way audio to make real time communication possible - Computer conferences were next and involved the use of preformatted floppy disks for coursework along with early online databases and email correspondence (Moore, 1995) Once communication technologies and, especially, the internet came into the world of education, distance education became a means of primarily allowing adults to get higher level degrees by attending schools online to fit in with their career and family responsibilities. Now; however,

with the affordability of fast and reliable internet along with the omnipresence in our society of smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. online courses have become the domain of primary and secondary schools alike. A simple graphic that summarizes this discussion of distance education/virtual schooling was created by Simonson (2009) and can be seen below.

What does a Virtual School look like? Flexibility is one of the greatest strengths of virtual schools when comparing them to traditional brick and mortar schools and this makes describing exactly what a virtual school is a difficult task. Virtual schools can be made to fulfill any role that a state/county/student needs it to be. Classes may be held completely online with no physical face to face interaction with teachers, students. Classes can also be organized around a hybrid principle in which classes, assignments, assessments, etc. will be held online and in the classroom at given times in order to get the benefits of the flexible nature of an online classroom with the community that is created through a classroom experience. When describing what virtual schools look like, one must take into account the demographics of the students that it is educating in order to understand why the school was designed the way that it was. For our purposes in the XYZ school district, we have a particular problem with students who are dropping out of our high schools and as a result are not receiving a high school diploma. Our district would be well advised to look to other areas of Maryland and the country who have developed online programs to help these students recover lost credits or take classes on a flexible schedule that might allow the student to work or intern at the same time. To this end, we could pattern ourselves off of Frederick County and its Flexible Evening High School course offerings which have drawn a great deal of support from the student body over the past several years (Gemin & Watson, 2010). The courses are organized around a hybrid principle where students perform their work when they can during the week, all asynchronously, yet these students still have face to face contact if necessary for assistance two nights out of the week. The most significant question parents and students tend to have about online education is how are the assignments designed to encourage students to learn. There are many different competing models for how to effectively develop online education but the one that XYZ School District should pursue in the development of its own online program is that of the social constructivist (Anderson & Dron, 2011). What is meant by this title is simply that students are primarily responsible for the creation and integration of their new knowledge as opposed to

simply summarizing information that is given to them by educators (Anderson & Dron, 2011). This method of lesson development fits well with the goals of an online program like the one our district is creating because this paradigm helps to create independent, critical thinkers. These are skills that are needed in the modern workforce and therefore are necessary when trying to assist a student finish school and move on to a career. If the XYZ School District is committed to developing a virtual school that will be able to serve the needs of its student body then the following must be kept in mind during the construction and implementation phases: 1. Funding 2. Administration 3. Tech Infrastructure 4. Flexibility/Demographic 5. Community engagement/support/buying in Funding It is no surprise to state that XYZ School District has had issues with funding over the last few years as a result of the decline in the US economy that has especially hit hard this rural county in Maryland. We are cutting budgets as much as possible to keep as many schools open and teachers employed so we will have to become creative in how to go about funding the development of our new virtual school system. To begin with, we must realize what kind of costs we are taking on through proceeding with this plan. Berge and Clark discuss both fixed and variable costs when it comes to online virtual schools (2005). Fixed costs are those that are standard per student and do not tend to increase or decrease based on numbers involved, generally these are costs that are associated with the startup capital necessary to develop the courses, infrastructure, etc. of the online course (Berge and Clark 2005). Variable costs on the other hand tend to increase/decrease based on the number of students participating in the online school. XYZ School District can save itself a great deal of money by trying to avoid the more expensive fixed costs of developing courses from scratch, a process that can range from $1500 to $100,000 per course (Berge and Clark 2005). There are several companies that exist-K12, Apex Learning, etc.-that have already developed courses and sell licensing agreements to counties in order to help counties with less funding benefit from virtual school education. It would be my recommendation that since we are focusing on dropout prevention, which is a small section of the student body, that we should purchase a license from one of these companies instead of sinking tens of thousands of dollars into development, training, etc. Personnel From administrators to teachers to guidance counselors, education through a virtual environment poses a whole set of new challenges that these personnel will have to deal with in order for the school to be successful. It is for this reason that when selecting those individuals who are working with these new virtual schools that we single out those staff members with track records of excellent communication abilities, organizational skills, and tech savvy. A virtual school, like any other school, is only as good as its staff and a fledgling program needs the strongest staff available to be able to survive. Technology Infrastructure

Having the proper technology and resources is extremely important to the successful implementation and completion of a virtual school. While it may be assumed that technology has become inexpensive enough for any/all users to purchase these goods, we cannot take it for granted that all those who enroll in our online courses will have a computer or internet access. For these reasons, it will be necessary for XYZ School District to list as a prerequisite to taking the class that the family/student have the required hardware and software to take the course. This being said, the district could also create a fund to help defray some of these costs for students who have qualified for the program. Demographics XYZ School District must have a clear understanding of the population(s) that they are intending to educate through the use of virtual schooling. The school must identify a small segment of the student population that could benefit the most from dramatic change in education delivery. Once the county has successfully implemented online course materials for this small demographic of students, we can then begin building the program to include other students. Community Buy In Parents and students will need to be educated on what virtual schooling looks like and how it can benefit them since it is such a new phenomenon. If these interest groups are not provided with this kind of information then the county will certainly struggle to get participants to join. The best virtual schools, while not needing a geographic location, still reach out to create a community to help support and nurture it. Final Vision for XYZ Virtual School The school district must start creating methods of funding the virtual school soon so that by the start of the 2014-15 school year we could have our first class of students enrolled in the program. Since the Maryland Board of Education has repeatedly stated over the last few years that it wants Maryland schools to offer more online content in order to catch up with other states, it should be possible to seek out grants to fund the program through the state. If funding is limited it will be a good plan to create a consortium with Frederick County in order to minimize the start-up expenses that would otherwise be required. Hopefully, with proper funding and a partnership with Frederick County, XYZs virtual school will be able to open its doors and start graduating students within the next few years. Once this has demonstrated a certain level of success-to be determined by the board of ed-the county will need to expand the courses offered and the number of students who can take them and in so doing develop an ever widening circle of students who are benefitting from this revolution in education. Within ten years it should be the goal of XYZ School District to be graduating several hundred students through the dropout prevention program and through a regular degree program.

References: Anderson T. and Dron, J.(2011) Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Athabasca, Alberta, Canada. Retrieved October 1, 2011 from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/890/1663 Berge, Z. and Clark, T. (2005). Virtual Schools: Planning for Success. Teachers College Press; New York. Retrieved July 30, 2013 from http://tychousa5.umuc.edu/EDTC650/1306/9020/class.nsf/0c1649e1ee334b2485256b990 04dd716/4e4033994f381f7185257b6a004b3cff/$FILE/Cavalluzo-Virtual-Ch4-pp46-60bh.pdf Gemin, B. & Watson, J. (2010). The State of Online Learning in Maryland 2010-2011. Maryland State Department of Education. Retrieved August 8, 2013 from: http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/NR/rdonlyres/D895AEF0-476A-46CF-86E5A77C87A4E129/27450/OnlineLearning_MD_2010_2011.pdf Maryland State Board of Education. (2007). The Maryland Educational Technology Plan for the New Millennium: Anytime, Anywhere Technology to Improve Teaching and Learning 2007-2012. Retrieved July 29, 2013 from: http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/NR/rdonlyres/C3BAD835-6100-484C-839785279EB95A34/13485/TechPlanFinalfromPrinter73007.pdf Moore, M. (1995). American distance education: A short literature review. In Open and Distance Learning Today, (pp. 32-41). London/New York: Routledge. Retrieved July 30, 2013 from: http://tychousa5.umuc.edu/EDTC650/1306/9020/class.nsf/0c1649e1ee334b2485256b990 04dd716/82f02409fb01675e85257b6a004b39c5/$FILE/mooreamerican_disteducation.pdf Simonson, M., Samldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Definitions, history, and theories of distance education. In teaching and learning at a distance, (pp. 31-63). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon/Pearson. Retrieved August 8, 2013 from: http://tychousa5.umuc.edu/EDTC650/1306/9020/class.nsf/0c1649e1ee334b2485256b990 04dd716/035bfa3905240a5285257b6a004b3d87/$FILE/Simonson-teaching-ch2-pp3163-mkc.pdf

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