Professional Development for the Virtual School Setting: Aligning and Designing

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1 Professional Development for the Virtual School Setting: Aligning and Designing Katherine Hayden, Ed.D. Associate Professor of Educational Technology California State University San Marcos Stacey Campo Technology Integration Specialist Andrew Shean, Ed.D. Technology Integration Specialist Virtual schools are becoming common in K-12 education as leaders seek ways to meet the needs of today s students and families. In fact, 45 of the 50 US states, plus Washington DC, have some form of virtual education available to K-12 students (Watson, Gemin, Ryan & Wicks, 2009), and online programs run by a single district, for students in that district, represent an emerging category of online learning activity (p. 7). The National Education Technology Plan, released by the U. S. Department of Education in January 2005 recommended that all students have the opportunity to take online courses and all teachers should be provided with professional development to allow success in these endeavors (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Students indicate interest in taking online courses beyond what is available to them at their school site, according to 2008 Project Tomorrow survey results (2010). Schools now find themselves in the unique situation of competing with other schools and organizations seeking to attract students into their virtual schools. Boundaries created to keep students in neighborhood schools are no longer effective in keeping enrollment in tact. The world of education is changing! E-learning experiences prepare students to become lifelong learners while acquiring essential 21st century skills. Many researchers concur that these experiences provide skills that prepare students to lead productive lives in a global, digital, information-based society. Online course design, interactive content and carefully planned activities can engage K-12 students who participate in virtual school settings. However, teachers who completed their preparation for teaching in the twentieth century were not prepared for online instruction, pedagogy and lesson planning. Specially designed professional development is needed to transition teachers to teach in the virtual school setting. This paper will present the planning process used by a school district seeking to address 21 st century learning needs through a professional development model offered to prepare teachers to teach online, the lessons learned during the implementation of the first virtual school courses, and information for how courses were aligned with standards for quality online teaching and learning. Plan for Quality Course Delivery Prior to development of a virtual school initiative, the Poway School District s online courses had little in common in terms of instructional design, common collaborative activities, and overall navigation design of the course. In fact, some courses were developed as a Web page hosted on the district server while others were delivered in Blackboard. Some teachers continually updated curriculum, while others were still using the original content designed over 10 years ago. An instrument was needed (rubric) to align the online courses with the intent to build common expectations and clear elements of quality course design while allowing teachers the autonomy and flexibility for their personal teaching pedagogy. The Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1

2 development of an alignment rubric could not be completed in isolation. Many of the district s current online teachers, administration, and even union leaders needed to be part of the process. The rubric created to align these courses now serves as a foundational document to guide online course development. It is not uncommon for online courses within one program or district to differ greatly with regard to design quality, rigor and / or the elements of online student engagement. To ensure a quality learning experience for students, it was critical that, as a team, an instrument for evaluation was identified, adopted and valued by the key stakeholders. Utilizing inacol as a foundational reference provided a source that was accepted by the district experts for online learning. Once an evaluation tool (rubric) was created, adopted and implemented, it was expected to be easier to bring on new teachers and coursework in alignment with the standards. This process was used to evaluate and improve upon existing online coursework and support learners as well as prepare them for future higher-educational experiences. Professional Development Model A task force met in May of 2009 for a Summit Meeting to discuss next steps for preparation of district teachers to teach in new courses developed for the district s virtual high school. Two district technology integration specialists teamed with a university professor skilled in online teaching and learning to develop a professional development course that received endorsement from the district as a Teaching and Learning Course (TLC). The university professor had experience teaching online courses targeting pedagogy and effective practices for effective online instruction. Professional development is one of the most critical components to implementing any change in the educational setting. K-12 teacher preparation targets face-to-face instructional pedagogy and practice. How could teachers successful practices and training be applied in designing engaging online activities for students that would meet their needs in the 21 st century? Another issue identified in planning for the virtual school professional development, was aligning existing practice and coursework, that had built on early design features for online courses, with current best practices and standards available today. It was decided that the professional development would model current best practices through use of inacol standards for quality online Teaching and Learning, and Essential Elements from the Concord Consortium model for online courses. Existing courses in the district would be aligned to this new model. The Promising Practices for Virtual Education course learning outcomes related to best practices for quality online teaching. The course objectives stated that teachers would: participate in online learning experiences that provide an opportunity to reflect and understanding learning needs from the perspective of a student in an online environment, plan, design and incorporate strategies to encourage active learning, interaction, participation and collaboration among students in the online environment. develop appropriate pedagogies and instructional strategies to support student success in an online environment (i.e., clear expectations, prompt response, and regular feedback), collaborate with colleagues to build an online community using communication skills that reflect an awareness of self and others, along with an ability to convey ideas in a variety of contexts, utilize a variety of media and content to ensure success for students to achieve learning goals in the online environment, advocate, model and teach safe, legal and ethical use of digital information and technology including respect for copyright, intellectual property and documentation of resources, meet the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies and incorporating access to digital resources, and design and deliver assessments, projects, and assignments that meet standards-based learning Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 2

3 goals and assess learning progress by measuring student achievement of learning goals. (Poway TLC Course Outline) Learning opportunities for teachers would provide interactive e-environments using audio, video, chats and online tools for assessment, communication and manipulation of objects such as shared documents posted on wiki pages and use of other Web 2.0 tools for collaboration. Facilitators would model effective practice for discussion board monitoring, feedback on progress and interaction with participants in the course. Teachers took their learning directly back to their classrooms through implementing learning in development of online activities for their current students. Reflection on the outcomes gave teachers the opportunity to refine their activities based on student feedback and performance. Teachers also gave each other feedback through use of a course model sandbox where they posted their newly developed modules and activities. Following the first semester course focusing on pedagogy and design, teachers then built their online courses with the assistance of instructional designers from the district. Teachers from the district were invited to sign up for the Promising Practices for Virtual Education Course. The implementation of professional development for teachers began in August Course Alignment The inacol Standards for Quality Course Design provides a rubric to align course design elements with best practices. The design team felt it was important to customize this rubric to include additional best practice elements from the Concord Consortium and other online course design best practices. The district design team developed a rubric that could be used to align existing online courses in the district with the guidelines being used for the new Virtual High School courses. Use of the rubric would assist reviewers in identifying where changes needed to be made in the existing courses, and are used by new curriculum developers who are creating or modifying virtual courses. After development of the rubric, teachers in the professional development course matched their online activities against the rubric and made modifications accordingly as they refined their courses for use in pilot courses offered in spring Recommendations The following list provides recommendations based on experiences in implementing professional development for teaching online at the high school level. The recommendations are further explained in detail in this section. Plan for quality course delivery Effective teaching strategies for online learning are different from face-to-face Teachers who teach online should have experience as an online learner Develop an online professional learning community Modeling is important! Recognize That Effective Teaching Strategies for Online Are Different From Face-to-Face Quality teaching leads to quality learning and in a face-to-face course, sharing, communicating, and generating high level discussions are critical elements for engaging learners. Even though these elements of good teaching do not change in an online setting, the method for how they are implemented is different on many levels in the online environment. Consequently, it is important to clearly define the expectations and/or requirements for the learner and teacher and to clearly communicate expectations. Policies and procedures should be reviewed and modified or amended to implement rules of engagement for staff and students. Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 3

4 Teachers Who Teach Online Should Have Experience as an Online Learner Having teachers put themselves in the shoes of the learner in the online world is paramount. Having actually experienced the environment as an online learner, teachers could relate and understand how to motivate their future online students. Furthermore, teachers found that having to navigate the online course for the first time could be overwhelming being able to ask questions like where will students turn in assignments? and how will they know what is due when? was helpful for teachers in the course. All classroom instructors have experienced the face-to-face environment and rely upon past knowledge to guide and influence their own classroom practice. Therefore, teachers desiring to teach an online course are going to be better prepared if they themselves have experienced an online course in the role of a student. As a student, they have a stronger appreciation and understanding of the necessity for collaboration activities and what will encourage engagement from an online student. One teacher who participated in the online professional development course stated after taking this class, I will rethink much of my classroom pedagogy. Develop a Professional Learning Community In today s schools, teachers no longer work in isolation. They are expected to participate in professional learning communities as they work toward common goals and assessments. In order to ensure quality and rigor in the virtual high school setting, it is as imperative that online teachers have the same ability and opportunity to be part of a professional online learning community for support, awareness and instructional development. The teachers decided on their own to implement regular meeting hours online in order to share ideas and experiences, thus expanding their community interaction beyond the course setting. Modeling Is Critical! It is imperative that online professional development models quality online learning strategies and practices so teachers are able to understand their importance. In order for teachers to value and implement instructional strategies and experience for the online learning environment, they must experience these activities and/or content in their own professional learning environments. When attending professional development opportunities, teachers should experience and participate in pedagogy that reflects the established elements of effective online learning activities. Practicing what is Preached holds meaning and value in the development of online course content and activities that engage students. References Hayden, K. L. & Hood, A. W. (2005). The e-environment: A 21st century approach to building community. In M. Orey, J. McClendon, & R. M. Branch, (Eds.). Educational media and technology yearbook (Vol 30). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. inacol. (2009). National standards of quality for online courses. Retrieved November 26, 2009, from Project Tomorrow. (2010). Speak up 2008 report: Learning in the 21 st Century. Retrieved January 5, 2010, from U. S. Department of Education. (2004). National education technology plan. Office of Educational Technology: U.S. Department of Education. Watson, J., Gemin, B., Ryan, J., & Wicks, M. (2009). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: A review of state-level policy and practice. Evergreen Consulting Associates. Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 4

5 About the Presenters Katherine Hayden is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology at California State University San Marcos. She has 21 years of experience teaching in K-12 schools and higher education. She serves on the Standards and Accreditation Committee for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Dr. Hayden has designed online curriculum and professional development through her work with more than 30 school districts over the past 10 years. Recently she has worked with Poway Unified School District to develop professional development for their virtual high school. Address: College of Education California State University San Marcos 333 So. Twin Oaks Valley Rd. San Marcos, CA Phone: Stacey Campo is an Instructional Technology Specialist for the. She has been an educator for 22 years, has a teaching credential, Master s degree, and Administrative Credential. Stacey is involved in policy-making for Internet safety, assessment, electronic report cards, and manages data systems. She is administrator for the Blackboard Learning Management System that supports 1300 teachers, serves on the District Strategic Planning Committee and the Virtual High School Task Force. Address: Office of Information Technology Twin Peaks Road Poway, CA Phone: Andrew Shean is a teacher on special assignment in the who has expertise in online learning and worked exclusively on the implementation and planning of the virtual high school initiative. Dr. Shean also has expertise in credit recovery. He previously was a teacher at the continuation high school in Poway. Address: Office of Information Technology Twin Peaks Road Poway, CA Phone: Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5

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