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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Virtual School Course Development

Recently, an entry at Online Learning Update provided us with the opinions of Bill Olsen from the Island Packet (a newspaper in Hilton Head, South Carolina). The article was in support of a bill in the South Carolina legislature to create a virtual school. Olsen feels that with a 30 percent drop-out rate in South Carolina, even if virtual schools are not a panacea, they need all of the help they can get.

Keeping in this theme, the impression that Olsen would put out there with his call to action is that virtual schooling is somehow better (at least for a certain segment of our students) than regular schooling. I was remindered of a line that I heard at the Virtual School Symposium this past November, where one speaker said something to the effect that all online learning allows us to do is provide mediocre instruction to a wider audience. This speaker then went on to talk about how like in the classroom, there is good instruction and bad instruction, and that we need to ensure that there is good instruction available. I personally believe that good instruction begins with a well designed online course.

Some time ago, it was actually back in April and was one of the first five or six posts that I ever made, I posted an entry about online course development in virtual schooling (see How to Develop an Online Course?). I guess like the questions I asked about virtual teaching, this one seems to have caught on a bit as well.

All of these entries address some aspect of what constitutes good web-based design for the purposes of online learning.

In my original post on the topic, I outlined seve guidelines that I had found as a part of a research project where I interviewed six course developers involved in creating web-based courses for secondary school students. The themes from those interviews were:

Course developers should:

  1. prior to beginning development of any of the web-based material, plan out the course with ideas for the individual lessons and specific items that they would like to include;
  2. keep the navigation simple and to a minimum, but don’t present the material the same way in every lesson;
  3. provide a summary of the content from the required readings or the synchronous lesson and include examples that are personalized to the students’ own context;
  4. ensure students are given clear instructions and model expectations of the style and level that will be required for student work;
  5. refrain from using too much text and consider the use of visuals to replace or supplement text when applicable;
  6. only use multimedia that will enhances the content and not simply because it is available; and
  7. develop their content for the average or below average student.

As a follow-up to that student, I interviewed and conducted focus groups with six students from the virtual high school that the above developers designed their courses for. At present I have those sessions transcribed and am currently looking over the data to see if there is a connection or a mismatch between what the course developers found important and what the students felt was important. As I get the results of that study available, they will be posted here.

In the meantime, in your experience as a virtual school student, parent of a child who is engaged in virtual schooling, a teacher in or administrator of a virtual school, a course developer for a virtual school, a researcher of virtual schooling, or just an interested party... What constitutes good web-based design for secondary school students? What should be included? What should be avoided?

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