Step 3: Evaluate and Build the Infrastructure

Step 3: Evaluate and Build the Infrastructure

A. Eliminating Policy Barriers


B. Developing Supportive Policies
             i. Governance
             ii. Instruction
             iii. Instructional Materials
             iv. Student Use and Engagement
             v. Outreach
             vi. Enrollment
             vii. Evaluation

 

A. Eliminating Policy Barriers
There have been two reports recently published addressing the policy barriers to digital learning. The Digital Learning Now report published in December 2010 by the Foundation for Excellence in Education was a collaborative effort between 100 leaders in education, government, business, technology, philanthropy and think tanks to outline the reforms necessary to move digital learning forward. The Digital Learning Council agreed upon 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning and listed the policy barriers for each element. To learn more about the Digital Learning Now report go to:
http://www.excelined.org/Pages/Programs/Excellence_in_Action/Digital_Learning_Now.aspx
.


The Rise of K-12 Learning was published in May 2010 by Innosight Insititute. The report profiles 40 Blended Model programs across the country and provides pertinent information about digital learning. Below is the list of policy barriers that need to be eliminated according to the paper:
• Eliminating the cap on the enrollment of students in online or blended-learning programs or courses
• Eradication rules about class-size and student-teacher ratios
• Abolishing geographic barriers as to what online courses students may take
• Removing “school site” definitions that limit blended-learning models where a portion of student learning occurs in traditional school buildings and the rest occurs offsite
• Moving to a system where students progress based on their mastery of academic standards or competencies as opposed to seat time or the traditional school calendar
• Lifting the rules around certification and licensure to let schools slot paraprofessionals or capable but not state-certified teachers into appropriate assistive or instructional roles and enable schools to extend the reach of great teachers across multiple, geographically disparate locations
• Allowing schools to adopt staffing arrangements and redefine teacher roles according to teacher effectiveness and student needs
• Enabling operators to design staffing, pay, curriculum, scheduling, budgets, student discipline, and school culture to meet the needs of their students
• Facilitating assessments that can be taken at any time
• Creating funding models that allow fractional per-pupil funds to follow students down to the individual course, not just the full-time program
• Tying a portion of the per-pupil funds to an individual student mastery, whereby states pay bonuses when students achieve mastery at an academic level or students realize the biggest gains between pre-and post-assessment (so as to incentivize programs to serve students who have historically struggled the most)
• Holding operators to strict accountability measure that allow state and district officials to identify and intervene rapidly in struggling schools an close those that fail repeatedly to meet achievement targets


There are several policy barriers of greatest concern for those considering the implementation of a Blended Model program in California. Independent Study regulations is the first barrier that can pose regulatory and operational challenges. Make sure that you understand the regulations, limitations and application to your program before you begin. More information can be found on the California Department of Education website ( http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/is/).


The second policy barrier that needs to be eliminated is funding based on seat time. Students receive state funds for the amount of time spent at school. This may work in a traditional class, but for those students engaged in fully online and/or blended learning, a more equitable policy would be to base funding on course completion.


A third barrier In the state of California, is the A-G designation for some online course adoptions. For students who want to attend the CSU or UC system schools, all courses on their transcript must be A-G approved to meet admittance requirements. New schools, including charter schools must apply as a provider for A-G submission, and then submit their courses for approval. Complete information on this process can be found at: ( http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/is/).


B. Developing Supportive Policies
Schools are no stranger to policies. They are governed by federal laws or policies; they are governed by state laws or policies, they are governed by county laws or policies, and they are governed by district policies. What is interesting to note is that what might be a policy in one district may merely be a procedure in another. The term policy will vary depending on where the school is located. It is important to be aware of the federal, state and district policies in your area.


Individual schools need to create their own policies so they run effectively and efficiently. School-wide policies tend to be very specific and cover more of the operational day-to-day issues like attendance. Whatever policies you establish be sure to let your attorney review them to be certain they comply with federal, state and district law. Ensure that your school policies are properly adopted by the district Board of Trustees and clearly communicated with your staff, students and parents.

 

School policies should include:

School Policies

i. Governance
The governance structure established for your school needs to be part of your school policy. These are a few of the possible governance structures:
• Charter school managed by an independent, 501 (C)(3) Board
• Traditional school district program serving students from multiple sites
• Traditional school district program serving students from a single site


Each school needs to have a decision-making group. This may be a school board or an advisory team. Policies related to the election of officers, their role in the organization, their authority in terms of the budget and decisions need to be written. In addition, once the group has convened they will need to decide the process for adopting future policies.


ii. Instruction
Teachers in a Blended Model program are living in two worlds – the brick-and-mortar world and the online world. One issue that is a nonnegotiable in both worlds is the need for the teacher to hold a valid teaching license in the subject matter they are teaching
and in the state they are teaching.


Teachers need to have a clear understanding of their job expectations. A detailed job description outlining both their face-to-face and virtually responsibilities will give teachers the direction they need to be successful.


There are many issues that need to be addressed in order to establish a fair and equitable working environment for teachers. Will you attempt to replicate the brick and mortar model or will you allow for greater flexibility? Another decision that needs to written into policy is how you will address scheduled work hours for your teachers. Of course, they will need to be present whenever they are teaching face-to-face, but will they be expected to keep office hours when they work virtually or will they be able to make their own schedule? Depending on your target group, it may make sense to have teachers available for students evenings and weekends, which means they may need to be given a flexible schedule during the 8-4 work day.


If you are integrating a virtual component, where will teachers work on their virtual days? Will they be able to work remotely? If so, can they set their own schedule? Are they expected to be available online during the typical school day or are they free to schedule work hours outside of the traditional school day? How will schedules and work time be reported to their supervisor? Smart use of the learning management system will support communication and teacher interaction.


Teacher evaluations are important to address in your policies related to teaching staff. For most administrators evaluating a teacher’s face-to-face instruction is relatively easy. They have had experience evaluating teachers and the classroom experience in a Blended Model program will be similar. The lesson plans and the actual instruction can be different than the brick-and-mortar lesson. Administrators will need to understand the nuances, challenges and opportunities of online instruction methods before they step into the virtual world to evaluate teachers. A good resource to help create a rubric for evaluation is iNACOLS’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching. In addition to evaluating the virtual instruction, you will need to decide what role, if any, communication such as phone logs or emails will play in the evaluation process. A teacher’s evaluation of their own teaching can be useful as a component of the evaluation. You will need to determine if that should be written into your policies.


One issue for which a policy is necessary is that of class size. It would be easy to default to the class sizes in a traditional brick-and-mortar school, but in the interest and fairness of teachers and students it might be best to determine class size based on the amount of 1:1 teaching necessary for the successful completion of the class. Be sure to check state regulations for your program. For instance, in California, if you govern your program under the Independent Study regulations, then you might be subject to a 25:1 maximum class size ratio. The better question might be how many students can a teacher successfully lead through a particular course?


Policies related to expectations for course completion and adding and dropping courses need to be in place. In some schools a course may actually be considered complete when it is 80% done. For others it is when all lessons are attempted. What constitutes completion in your program? Some schools may allow for a two week “trial” period in which students may drop classes without having it affect their record, but what if they drop mid semester? How does that affect their transcript? How will it affect the payment for the course if it is purchased commercially? What about adding classes? Will students be given a window in which they can add a class? Will there be rolling enrollment? You will also need to define when a student actually begins the course. Is it when they sign up? When they complete the first lesson? Or is it when the course appears on their LMS? Finally, what if a student is not engaged in the course? At what point can s/he be dropped from the class? What is the process to remove a student from a class? The clearer these issues are outlined in your policies the more confusion
you will avoid later.


In a Blended Model program students are expected to have face time at a school setting, learning center or with an instructor in an academic environment. You will need to decide how much time you expect students to be engaged in this non-virtual academic environment. What policies are in place to enforce your face time requirements? What happens when the face time requirements are not met? Will you allow web conferencing as a substitute for face time? If students are expected to be on site, are there any provisions for transportation? Once students are onsite, what activities or subjects are teachers expected to cover? Is this something you allow teachers to decide or is there a school-wide subject covered onsite? Can students simply complete their online assignments with the guidance and supervision of the teacher while they are onsite? How you structure students onsite time needs to be clarified in your school policies.

 

Another instructional policy to consider writing is related to student-teacher interaction. How often are teachers to communicate with their students? Can students expect a quicker response time during the school day if the teacher is working virtually? How quickly can a student expect to hear from their teacher during non-traditional hours?


iii. Instructional Materials
The biggest question most educators have when starting a Blended Model program is whether to build their own courses or to buy them from a commercial vendor. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. In either case there needs to be high course quality standards. One resource that can be used to evaluate curriculum is iNACOL National Standards of Quality Online Courses.


If you decide to build your own, you will need to develop policies to address the assembling of an instructional design team, the necessary training of the team, the timeline required to build the course, and the process to evaluate the completed curriculum.


If you decide to buy commercially produced curriculum from a vendor you will need to develop policies to address how the courses will be reviewed, who will review them, and how often will they be reviewed.


Selecting a commercially produced curriculum may seem like a daunting task. The decision is often based on the vision and purpose of your Blended Model program. If you are targeting AP students for a STEM program that narrows your choices to curriculum providers that offer those classes. If you are targeting students who are in need of a credit recovery program than select a curriculum that is designed for credit recovery. The selection of a curriculum would be best made by a team comprised of
administrators, teachers and curriculum specialists who have the ability to “test drive” the curriculum and evaluate it in light of their needs. You may discover a curriculum that is strong in one subject area and weaker in another. At that point, it may be possible to use two different providers, but you will need to be sure both curriculums can be supported on the LMS you’ve chosen. If that cannot be done it will be important to prioritize your needs in order to make the best decision possible.


The LMS is the technology tool that houses the course content and allows for communication between student and teacher. It is a necessity for a Blended Model program. Selecting an LMS is not unlike selecting an automobile. The functions are the same, but the features may vary from one provider to the next. You want to be sure to get the features in an LMS that best meet the needs of your program.


There are two basic types of Learning Management Systems to choose from. The first is a commercial vendor. Schools purchase the licensing software and the company provides training and support. The commercial vendor generally spent a considerable amount of investment capital to design the best management system. They also have the experience in onboarding the LMS and can make the initial start-up quite simple for new users. In addition, they can provide the technical support needed when the inevitable glitches occur. However, cost, ongoing licensing fees and lack of flexibility in changing the course content are concerns others have raised in using commercial vendors for their LMS.


A second type of LMS is using an open source like Moodle. The biggest advantage to this system is the cost. They are free to inexpensive to users. However, your personnel time will not be free. This cost must be carefully considered before venturing out on your own. The software reflects the common needs of those that use it and can be modified or customized to meet your needs. The disadvantage to this type of LMS is that there is not built in technical support although there may be vendors willing to provide tech support at a cost. Does your staff have the technical abilities to maintain and update the system as needed? Do they have the time to spare to keep it current? Other districts have discovered that this can be a larger time drain on staff members than originally estimated.

 

iv. Student Use, Engagement & Safety
Most brick-and-mortar schools have students sign an Acceptable Use Policy for Technology to ensure they are using the technology at school appropriately. While this policy is necessary in a Blended Model program, there are additional issues to address. One important issue is that of privacy. Is course related communication such as submitted work, email, chats, blog postings discussion threads considered private? Who can access a student’s account and under what circumstances? Can a teacher not involved in a student’s course view their work? Can a parent? Can the school open the student’s account to show prospective students what a course looks like? What information are parents able to access?


Another issue is what other online tools and resources will a student have the ability to access and when will they be allowed to access it? Social networking sites, video streaming and communication tools can all be excellent resources to supplement student learning. Yet they can also be distractions that keep students from completing coursework and using their time appropriately. Your Blended Model program will need to put policies in place to ensure students are achieving their academic goals.


Internet safety and security policies should be firm and well understood for both faculty and students. You will need to decide which staff member(s) is responsible for distributing and maintaining school-issued computers, and which staff member(s) is responsible for monitoring student use of the computers.


All schools deal with the issue of academic integrity. In a Blended Model program teachers will have the challenge of monitoring both their face-to-face AND online work to be sure it is completed by the student. Teachers know how to look for less than stellar academic integrity in the face-to-face environment, and knowing their students and the quality of their online work will help them identify the same in the virtual world.


Online tools have been developed to assist teachers in identifying potential plagiarism. For instance, one school uses a service that evaluates all student produced writing samples. The teacher submits the sample to the service online and it is returned with a “hit” score. The score indicates how many phrases were lifted directly from Internet sites. The higher the score, the more the plagiarism. Students are educated on this process at the beginning of the semester so that they are aware that their work will be checked for authenticity. The teacher will then grade the paper for content, prose and grammatical correctness. These tools have been a great asset for teachers both in the traditional classroom settings and the Blended Model learning setting.


School policies will need to be specific when addressing academic integrity. For instance, what constitutes dishonesty? When does a parent cross the line between helping the student with their research paper, for example, doing it for them? Is it dishonest to find answer online rather than complete an assignment as given? When it comes to plagiarism, do students understand what it is and how to avoid it? Do they have the skills to summarize and put ideas in their own words? If they don’t, they may not even realize what they are doing. When students are fully aware of their plagiarizing you will want to have a disciplinary policy in place that explains the entire process as well as the consequences for their actions.


v. Outreach
Now that you have created the best, innovative program in your area – don’t you want to let others know that it exists? Word of mouth is always the best outreach tool you have, but you may consider other strategies to get the word out. Well-crafted outreach materials such as flyers, folders and video will help you “sell” your school. Open houses, preview days, info sessions and more will let people know that your new program is open, ready and eager to enroll students in your targeted demographic area.

 

vi. Enrollment Processes
If there is intent to enroll students outside of the school district it is important to include a policy stating your residency requirements. Generally, students wishing to transfer to a new district must have a completed and approved Interdistrict Transfer Form. To learn more about enrolling students beyond district boundaries check the California Department of Education website ( www.cde.ca.gov). Unless you have a state-wide waiver, charter schools in California are bound by the contiguous county enrollment limitation. Schools can enroll students within the county in which they are authorized and any county which touches the borders of the home district county.


Learning in a Blended Model program will mostly likely be a new experience for students and their families. In order to give them a clear understanding of the unique aspects of this type of education and to communicate expectations, a pre-enrollment session might be helpful. Families would have the opportunity to decide whether they would be a good fit for your school prior to enrollment. This would be a cost savings for the school as you would avoid the expense of enrolling them only to have them leave
the program prior to completing the course or school year.


Students cannot be enrolled in two programs simultaneously. However, many programs have established partnerships with local community colleges to allow students to take courses on their campus and then transfer the units back to the high school for graduation credit. When considering a supplemental virtual provider, ensure that the courses meet your local board standards and that the student will receive course credit for them.

 

An Example of the Enrollment Process:

Enrollment Process