Oct 28, 2013

#iNacol13 Monday: Creating Your District's Virtual or Blended Learning Program

Please note: These are rough notes. Editing may be needed and clarification may be needed upon further review. I apologize for any typos and/or incomplete/inaccurate information. Information entered in this blog is replicated out to various online outlets automatically.

Why I chose this:
I thought a panel presentation about the good, bad, and ugly in starting a virtual/blended program would help me as I help the Distance Learning Coordinator work with our area schools. Some of our schools may wish to develop their own content, and we have to be ready with answers to the questions they will most likely generate.

What I learned/Am learning:

Panelists serve a variety of students, including autistic, downs, expelled students not allowed to set foot on campus, and others. Is a mix of public and private, fulltime and supplemental, large populations and smaller ones. A varied panel.

In order to adjust to the new methods of education, all personnel must be retrained and adjust their duties.

How to select a platform. What are some thoughts, ideas, questions?  No perfect way to do this. Personalizing the process is vital and different for each district, each rollout. Hire consultants for specific needs, not a bee-all-end-all. Bring in and send out as you need, when you need.

Sometimes, it is simply trial and error. That is the wrong approach, but sometimes that's what happens. It is not like textbooks: you dont get to see everything. You see the best. YOu must ask for access. Get your hands on it. You will learn what you need and what you don't. Look past the presentation, access the full package - not even a demo login. Have a team of people look, play, hunt and peck. Don't be afraid to have THE conversation. "Here is what I need." You must be willing to have those conversations. It's okay to step out of the box, do things differently. Allow the teachers navigate the courses and use students - have them look it over. Is it easy to navigate? Does it look interesting? Would you want to use this every class? "There is no Consumer Reports Guide for choosing." As administrators, you have to lead the teachers down the road. How much money do you have? Some are very expensive yet don't offer what you need to fit your school, your budget, your students, and your teachers. Families are an integral part of the transition. Be willing to call your provider and let them know what isn't working. Must be able to differentiate and individualize the instruction. Needs to be customizable - give ownership to the teaching staff. You don't want teaching to stop! Allow teachers to add their own touch. Bang for the buck. What are you getting for the money? What about user-friendliness - for teachers, for students. What about ongoing training for the teachers? Is creating your own coursework important? Make sure your chosen system has that, if you need it. One person cannot be the decision maker - admin, teachers, students...

How do you screen, recruit, hire, train, etc personnel? There is a method to hire based on student-centeredness.  Do they care about the individual student? "I can teach skill. I cannot teach heart." Passion and compassion is number one. Teachers tend to form support groups and tell other teachers about opportunities. Have a great support system. Recruit on social media - facebook, twitter, etc. Took away the teacher's safety nets (handouts, etc). Some teachers came along willingly. Other teachers left the program. It is important to know that eventually all k-12 education will be faced with blended learning environments. Training and retraining is key. Keep a very open mind - the ones you think will lead the charge are the ones who jump ship. Some sites hire teachers that are already teaching - adjunct teachers who do blended learning after their regular hours. There is a mandatory training - if they don't come, they don't teach online. In several cases, the teachers need to be problem-solvers and not problem-dwellers/creators.

Maintaining the program: Many times, it takes multiple vendors and implementations in order to reach goals. Need lots of training and education on the front end. Some sites have a student reorientation process - laws may have changed, etc. Teachers go through training. Twice a month there is a face-to-face for training. Students can come in face-to-face with the teachers to cover issues. Meet with teachers/students about what is working or not, then meet with the vendor(s) to address those issues. This is a hand-holding process from the vendors. If vendors will not be there, not provide the customer service, then that lack of support will result in schools dumping those vendors.

Program leaders must build a network of support. Let everyone know that you are there. Be open to the good, bad and ugly. Students groups, parent groups, facilitator groups, teacher groups. Each group needs a support mechanism outside of direct contact with the director/program leaders. By the same token, program leaders essentially adopt a 24/7/365 access.

Facilitate ongoing data points, reporting, etc. Look for built-in data collection and tracking. Still have regular staff meetings. Pull info about how long students were logged in, teachers logged in. Can see what is happening. Helps with parent communication. Teachers communicate with students, with parents, etc. Track communication within the various programs implemented.

Research and building process - dual enrollment, career and tech, industry certifications. How do you go about building process for building those kind of relationships.

How do you market and sell your own program? You must do this or else you won't survive - not enough bodies, no expansion. Get what you can for free. Social media. Local news articles. Teacher, parent, student referrals - offer incentives for giving referrals. Connect with your community and know your community. Find students to be your advocate. Find someone else to tell your story for you. "This saved my child." "This transformed my child."

Teacher evaluation: attendance, communication. Local district eval modified with approval. Virtual walkthrough - can you see the student work? can you see syllabus, gradebook, what about 'word walls' as resources, etc. Virtual portfolio for evaluation. Must be able to capture data digitally in order to share it out.

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