Saturday, August 10, 2013

Work Life: Passing the Torch for ARDL

(Screenshot circa Aug 2012)

In late 2006/early 2007, I had just begun working for the Southwest Arkansas Education Co-op as their Distance Learning Coordinator. The Tech Coordinator at the time, John King, and I were invited to a meeting headed up by the major players in Arkansas distance learning at the time. The main issue at hand: Could there be a central hub where anyone in the state could get information about distance learning in K12? John and I looked at each other for a split second, and answered, "Yes. We can do that."

We had nearly no idea how we would do that. We had been playing with software called "Sharepoint" and figured we could leverage that software to do what was needed.

So, we bought the unlimited version of Sharepoint with a grant in 2006. We bought MOSS 2007 before it was officially released, which made for interesting set up and configuration issues. Once the official version was released, we got it up and going. We were so far ahead of the curve at the time, we spent days on the phone with Microsoft as we worked together to solve various issues they hadn't encountered before.

Thus the ARDL (ARkansas Distance Learning) portal was born. We initially used one master list for all the courses being offered in the state. Providers would email me the Excel template and I would import the courses. It was crazy. But, it worked. As I learned how to use the system more, we added features like filtered searches, text searching, sorting, and more. We expanded the course listing feature and offered free classroom space on he server to any public K12 distance learning teacher in the state. We held various trainings to help get instructors on board. We created forums for providers, instructors, tech personnel, distance learning coordinators, and more. Each group had a private place they could feel free to discuss issues related to their functions. We also had general discussion areas where folks could ask questions to anyone. As time went on, it became easier for the providers to add their own courses and the portal began reaching more and more people involved with distance learning in the state and beyond.

In October 2007, Southwest Arkansas Education Co-op and the key players in running the ARDL Portal were awarded the K12 Distance Learning Service Award from ARDLA (the Arkansas chapter of the US Distance Learning Association). That award was specifically created because of the impact the Portal already had in its short life.

For the next 6 years, Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative hosted the Distance Learning Portal at no charge to the state nor to any of the participating districts or providers. This included maintenance, updates, content changes, teaching new users how to use it, backups, etc.

In 2011, the DL program was growing, maturing, changing. A year later, all the information contained in the ARDL Sharepoint database was sent to the next host. In August 2013, the ARDL Portal found a new permanent home.

I am very proud to have been a part of something so new and as far-reaching as the ARDL Portal. I feel as though I have taken it, raised it, and now it is time to let it go. In a lot of ways, it is much like my personal life: this year, my son goes to college.

Thank you to everyone in Arkansas K12 who took a chance on a couple guys who had almost no idea what they were doing. Sometimes, you just have to say, "Yes. We can do that." And then do it.

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