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Monday, November 05, 2007

VSS2007 - Improving Virtual Schools: A Collaborative Research Partnership

This was a session delivered by the research team at the University of Florida involved in the AT&T/Bell South grant that they have been working on down there.

This is a very large and comprehensive research initiative looking at virtual school data. This work began with the NCES data that was collected a few years ago and have been playing with that data using 160 variables based upon the following categories:
  • Student
  • Teacher
  • Course & Course Instance
  • Entity
  • Other
To date, the vast majority of virtual schools are able to input about 40% of the variables.

The presentation itself largely discussed the model that they are using, describing the complexity of variables that they are using. I was puzzled during the presentation when one of the presenters made the comment, “This is fascinating!” It puzzled me because while I was interested in some of the way in which they

Their first year findings were focused upon the following categories (i.e., the points on their PowerPoint slide):
  • understanding for the unique context
  • understanding of the big picture
  • recommendations
One of the main things that they have gotten from this first year is an understanding of unique situations of each of the virtual schools, what data they collect, and how they operate in terms of their data management. “Every virtual school is an entity on itself.”

Another was an understanding that in order to see the bigger questions they needed to stop asking “what? questions, and began to ask “why?” questions. This has allowed them to focus upon what information is useful for the individual stakeholders (i.e., virtual schools).

For those of you who haven’t taken a look at their system, it is entitled the Virtual School Clearinghouse and can be accessed at http://vs.education.ufl.edu. One of the interesting things that any user can access is the resources section, which contains many useful readings focused on K-12 online learning (and a lot that is just focused on online learning in general). Apparently they have some publications coming out of their first year of study that will eventually be posted to their site.

When they look to the future, the slide read:
  • A deeper level of analysis
    • formation of thoughtful deliberate questions with our partners
  • Investigation of practices that advance both the virtual school and the field
  • Creation of new partnerships with additional states
  • Innovative analysis
When they began to show some of the graphs that they are able to generate, that was quite nice as it gave a real visual as to what this data could be used for and how useful it could be for some forms of analysis.

There is eighteen months left in the grant, so it will be interesting to see where they end up when they are done.

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