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Friday, November 02, 2007

Virtual School Symposium 2007

So, in two days I'm heading off to the 2007 Virtual School Symposium in Louisville, Kentucky. I have attended this event each year for the past three years (i.e., Louisville will be my fourth), largely because of its focuson virtual schooling. I will be honest and say that the vast majority of people in attendance are practitioners of virtual schooling, there is a growing group of researchers that attend each year. In all honesty, it is one of the few conferences I attend where I get to see most of my colleagues at the same time.

This year there are a couple of sessions that I am really looking forward to attending. While I probably won't arrive in time to take it all in, one of the pre-conference sessions is of great interest to me.
Research on K-12 Online Learning - Cathy Cavanaugh

Virtual schools improve learning outcomes for students when program managers look deeply and reflectively at their practice and act proactively in implementing promising practices. This preconference session brings evaluators, researchers, and practitioners together for a conversation about decision-making based on qualitative and qualitative program data. Researchers and evaluators for this session are Robert Blomeyer and Cathy Cavanaugh (Organizers) with Tom Clark, Kristie Clements, Niki Davis, Rick Ferdig, Julia Parra, Kerry Rice, Saul Rockman, Ray Rose, Jamie Sachs, Bill Tucker, Jenna Vega & John Watson.
This is one of the few sessions that has a strict focus upon research. Actually, it is usually difficult to tell before you arrive what most of the sessions will be able as beyond the pre-conference sessions all you get is the session title (see Break-out Sessions at http://www.virtualschoolsymposium.org/agenda.php).

Ones that appear to be able research, at least based on the titles, include:
  • Applying Education Theory for Online Curriculum Development and Delivery that Engages Learners (first break-out session)
  • Informing Policy & Practice: Research on the Best Practices of Virtual School Teachers (first break-out session)
  • Improving Virtual Schools: A Collaborative Research Partnership (third break-out session)
  • Debunking the Top Myths About Online Learning with Research (third break-out session)
  • What Does It REALLY Take to Teach Online? New Research and Emerging Strategies for Effective Professional Development (fourth break-out session)
  • Recent Research on Online Teaching and Learning: Implications for Practice (sixth break-out session)
  • Special Education in Today‚Äôs Virtual Schools: Research and Best Practice (sixth break-out session)
  • What Are They Doing and How Are They Doing It? (sixth break-out session - this is my presentation on my dissertation research)
  • Preparing Teachers to Teach Online (seventh break-out session)
Again, this isn't an exhaustive list nor is it an accurate one. It is simply based upon the titles, which largely means seeing the word research in the title or based upon my knowledge of current virtual school research projects. For example, I believe that the last session (i.e., Preparing Teachers to Teach Online) is probably going to be delivered by Nikki Davis and her colleagues that are working on that teacher preparation for virtual schooling program.

I should also note that thr presence of the word research in the title does not necessarily guarantee that the session will include actual research or reliable and valid research. One of the things that I have learned about the Virual School Symposium is that many practitioners are found of saying "According to the research..." or "There's research to support..." I like to think that I am fairly well up on recent research in virtual schooling and in the vast majority of instances when I hear these statements I am aware of no research that says anything about what they are claiming. So, just a little warning to take some of the things that you hear with a grain of salt if you will also be in attendance.

Having said this, I don't want to come across as an intellectual snob or anything but I do think that one of the problems that we run into as a new and growing field is over-extending what we actually do know about the field. To date there have been very few research projects that have been conducted in such as way that they could be replicated in another place or time and achieve consistent results. In fact I can probably only think of about two or three dozen projects that I would put into this category - granted there are a large number of dissertations that I know are out there (all you have to do is conduct a simple search on ProQuest to find them) that I haven't read or am not familiar with. But a caveat about those as well, what passes as a technology-focused Master's thesis or Ph.D. dissertation at some universities (particularly in disciplines that are farther removed from educational or instructional technology) is not at the same level as those that come from technology-focused fields. The reason for this is simple, those faculty in a technology-related field have a much better sense of what has and hasn't been done and how the particular work builds on or contradicts something else because they just know the field better than faculty in non-technology-related fields. What this means is that in some cases a dissertation that is accepted in a non-technology-related field would never have made it past the prospectus stage in a technology-related field.

Anyway, not sure how much more activity I'll have this week (as this is the third or fourth or fifth post in as many days). Saturday I'll have the regular "Virtual Schooling in the News" feature and then Sunday I'll start blogging about the 2007 Virtual School Symposium. So until then, if not before...

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Blogger Ben Wilkoff said...

I am headed toward the NACOL VSS today as well. I didn't see anything on hitchhickr. Do you want to add it or would you like to simply keep the same tags: NACOL? VSS2007?

My blog is over at http://yongesonne.edublogs.org

1:52 PM  
Blogger MKB said...


I've never used hitchhickr. I've always used the Technoratic tags, I got into that habit with AECT - as that's what they always use. If you've going to be blogging about the Virtual School Symposium I'd suggest that you do use the VSS2007 tag, as that is the on I'll be using.


2:01 PM  

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