Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Virtual Learning Really Looks Like

Our Eighth Floor Advisory Committee met yesterday for lunch and some good ol’ fashioned learning and sharing. 

You may not (or may!) be aware that online learning has made its way into the K-12 world here in the Tulsa area. Yes it has, and good news – there are some schools out there that are doing it up right.

Yesterday we had a panel of brave virtual school pioneers from Broken Arrow PS and Union PS meet with our Advisory Committee.

The panel was as follows: 
Todd Borland IT Director for Union PS
Teresa Hudson Coordinator, Union Virtual Learning Academy
Debbie Renz, Director of Instructional Services
Steve Schwab, Principal of BA Virtual School
Linda Ricks, Digital Learning Coordinator
Tammy Strickland, Assistant Principal BAHS.

We asked each school to bring their key players and tell us a little about the who, what, when, where, and why of how they got started, where they are now, where are they hoping to go, and what challenges they met along the way.  Can I just say, WOW!  Impressive.  Both schools have done an amazing job of getting their virtual schools off the ground.

Chatting after the meeting, here are what Linda, Scott, and I found so impressive:
  • They didn't jump in with both feet, neck deep, first time out. They started small and are remaining flexible enough to grow with their programs. Fantastic.
  • They did their research.  Listening to them talk, it was clear they understood best practices in course instruction and design.
  • They do not subscribe to the one-size-fits all, self-paced models for their virtual schools.  The online programs currently used for credit recovery are not suitable for credit advancement. This is smart, and well researched.
  • Teaching online is not the same as teaching face-to-face.  They chose their instructors purposefully. They looked for teachers who are willing and able to teach in an uncertain environment and not jeopardize the integrity of the program. They looked for experience.
  • They know that virtual learning and teaching take longer, but that it is way, way worth it.
  • They did not let the bureaucracy wear them out.  Let’s face it; sometimes working with educational (any, really) bureaucracy can be like trying to run through a swamp.  It takes stamina.
  • They were creative in their design.  They took care in building a program that while striving for best practices, also met the needs and culture of their students.
  • They sent and are sending their instructors to The Eighth Floor to take the Online Learning Series for teaching and learning online. (Shameless plug, but . . . true!)
  • They were willing to take time out of their very, very busy days to come here and share what they know.

I can’t tell you how excited I am by what they are doing.  I know there are other schools in the area that are building virtual schools.  We would love to hear your story.

For me, these are success stories of great magnitude. These virtual schools are in their beginning iterations, and the potential is yet to be fully realized.   For K-12 students this means more personalized learning, more control, more choice.  Those benefits extend to higher education, but there is a retention bonus for higher ed institutions, as well.  These students will already know how to learn and be successful in online classes.  YAY!

We would like to thank the panel members for taking time to come talk to us, as well as our advisory committee for the great questions and stimulating discussion.

Just impressed,
Lee Anne

BTW – if you are a member of The Eighth Floor consortium and interested in taking the Online Learning Series ( , please do.  It runs Oct 2 – Nov 16, 2012.  This is a blended course.  If you have questions, just let me know.

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