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Sunday, November 04, 2007

VSS2007 - Research on K-12 Online Learning

Well, I made it to the 2007 Virtual School Symposium in Louisville, Kentucky. I left Windsor this morning around 8:00am, after a 6:30am rise, and arrived in Louisville around 1:00pm. Once I found the location and registered, it was 1:30pm - so I missed the first thirty minutes of Cathy's session.
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.
Bill Tucker was just finishing up when I arrived, but I got to see over half of the sessions which concluded around 3:15pm. They broke then and were going to do some small group stuff which I didn't stick around for (but I do thank Cathy for letting me sit in on her session for the presentation portion).

Most of the sessions were based upon evaluation studies, some that I was already familiar with and others that I wasn't (I'd love for the Georgia Virtual High School to post the one that they had done).

One of the interesting comments that I found coming out of the session was made by John Watson, who was describing an evaluation that he conducted with the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (see Results of 2006 Independent Program Evaluation). He said that one of the factors that they found in their evaluation that affected students success was the size of the cohort of students taking IDLA courses at a particular school. John said that he believe it was due to the role of the site coordinator, that once a school got so many students they appointed a site coordinator and this individual actually improved the students chances of success in their IDLA course - that is until the number of students increased past a certain size and then the site coordinator was no longer effective. He wasn't sure of the numbers off the top of his head, but used the example of once a school gets 5-10 IDLA students they seem to appoint this site coordinator which seems to help the students up until the school gets to a point where they have 20-25 students, and then the what the site coordinator is able to do becomes limited because there are simply too many students.

I found this interesting because in my own dissertation I found that the number of students registered in a particular class at the same local site affected how students did. In my research, where I was only focused upon a case study of one school, I was only able to focus upon the effects of local class size between courses. For me, I had some students who were the only ones enrolled in that course at their school, some students who had two to four classmates at their own school, and one course where there was seven students enrolled in the same course.

My own findings indicated that the students enrolled in the course by themselves at their own school were largely isolated, but seemed to turn to their online teacher for assistance more than any of the other students. The students that were enrolled in classes where there were three to five students locally, they tended to rely a great deal upon each other for content-based assistance - but the local groups were still small enough that they remained on-task during much of their scheduled virtual school time (keep in mind these students were part of a brick and mortar school, and took their virtual school course in the school in a distance education room as a part of their scheduled day). These classes of three to five also tended to rely upon their school-based teachers more than their virtual school teachers (even those who did not have the same level of content-based expertise as their online teacher).

However, the class that had seven students locally were the ones that were off-task the most, at least during their scheduled virtual school time. And while I know that virtual schooling allows for any place, any time learning, the vast majority of these students did not have access to home computers that was capable of handling most of their online content and even those that did had major bandwidth issues using their dial-up systems in these small rural communities. This larger group did rely upon each other more for assistance (like the middle size group), but the problem was they simply didn't get enough work completed during their scheduled time to be as successful as the middle size groups (and the class that had five students in it had instances where it resembled this pattern moreso than the middle group pattern).

So not being familiar with the types of students that the IDLA has or how the schools are set-up for the students to take these courses, only that IDLA is a supplemental program and the vast majority of these students take most of their courses in a brick and mortar school, I wonder if my findings might help to explain some of the things that John was seeing in terms of the number of students in a school and the chances of student success?

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