Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Lessons learned from high school students enrolled in the Texas Virtual School

These are my notes from Jose E. Losoya’s presentation at the ESC 1 Tech Conference in South Padre Island, Texas, on May 16, 2007, titled “Problems Solved, Lessons Learned and What Else Can Go Wrong?” Father Losoya gave me permission to record and share his presentation as a podcast, which I will subsequently post here. MY THOUGHTS OR COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Required high school students to take a social studies class using the Texas Virtual School based out of Region 4 in Houston

We might assume all students are tech-literate, but when they start working in an online course you really get surprised by what students do NOT know

When we first announced this initiative, a majority were for it but about a quarter were NOT happy with this idea (they wanted a REAL teacher in the classroom)

Do students need to take an online course? Should high schools include an online course in their curriculum?
– students will probably have to take an online course in college at one stage or another (either blended course, or purely online)

Miami ISD has about 120 students enrolled

Online classes provide
– flexible scheduling
– choices to students
– difficulty in finding certified teachers
– preparing students for “the new literacy” – online learning
— College/university experiences will include online learning
— professional development in the future will use online learning
— job training uses online learning

When most people think of distance learning today, they think of videoconferencing and blended learning
– a 100% online course hasn’t caught on as much, but it is reality
– the state of Michigan passed a low this year requiring all students in the state to have “an online experience” before graduating from high school
– Maryland has also passed a similar initiative

Problems Solved

– hardback version or online version
— online version of the history textbook cost $15 per student per year, but we couldn’t get access to the online version (the publisher also required us to buy the teacher’s version that was hardback. No one told us that. The publisher didn’t understand that our teacher was located at a distance in Victoria. This was an incredible problem: these online textbook publishers hadn’t apparently ever thought of having students and teachers in different locations.)
– vendor recommended: aligned with course
– problem with publisher

We were able to get this settled by putting pressure on the vendor, but eventually buying the hardback version of the textbook for our local teacher (who did NOT need it)

We learned that eTextbooks are NOT that great
– we learned that students prefer printed textbooks for reading, compared to reading on the screen
– next time, we are going to go with the hardback version of the book

Issues on computers
– Mac vs. PC
– we are 100% Mac
– our teacher at a distance used PCs
– Region 4 which housed Blackboard also used PCs
– Blackboard’s upgrade had a glitch that didn’t allow the Safari web browser to be used for the course

students need to take charge of their own learning

Kids now how to surf the web, send email and text message
Teachers and students had to be taught:
– development of online discussions
– time management
– motivational strategies for distance learners
– effective use of checklists (or similar organizational tools)

instructors have to go back and ask probing questions to promote lively discussions
– can’t just stay at the fact level

motivational strategies for distance learners
– how can teachers establish a repoire with students the teacher has never met?
– have to establish some sort of relationship with students
– I communicate individually and frequently with students
– letting students know I am interested in them as a person in these messages, that really opens up the student to communication

Many people think of online learning as impersonal
– there was an incident one year when I was teaching online, when a student developed enough of a trust relationship with me that he disclosed he had a drug problem
– as a result, the student was able to get help from counselors and others
– establishing these types of relationships with students requires WORK

My syllabus requires that students go to the discussion board and post a reaction to any new topics, and must visit the “snack bar” at least two times in 1 week. They can choose the days they want to participate. The online week goes from Monday to Sunday.
– students check things off as they go through the course
– this communicates very clearly to students exactly what they have to do each week
– if you don’t give students that type of structure, then kids put things off, get behind, and end up failing the course or just really struggling to catch up

Teachers must be taught course content management, effective work with leason in the Triad: email, phone, communication in the course itself
– liason must keep the teacher informed if the students are having trouble accessing the online course material

What else can go wrong?
– we thought things were going great by February, but then our world history teacher (online) got pneumonia and was in the hospital for 1 month
– we tried to go to 1:1 computing, we purchased laptops, we had 3 of our carts stolen from the school (60 computers)
– that is a BIG problem when we have a 100% online course and students don’t have
– we were able to replace those computers

We had resistant students
– we still have 5 of 100 students who just refuse to participate or go forward with an online course
– they don’t like it, they don’t want to do the work, we have to make these students do the work each day
– I’m not sure what the solution to that is

– another problem online
– we take care of it with
– that serves as a deterrent

sometimes, however, kids don’t know what plagiarizing is
– we’ve had students turn in documents with 3/4 of the text in quotations

Proctors in the room also help address plagiarism

We have gotten rid of several writing assignments in a government class, and instead had an online debate
– our students have worked with other students in Brownwood ISD
– 2 teams with students from each location
– students had to do research, do videocast for opening statements, use PPT for their arguments, another videocast for closing argument
– the students LOVED this
– we had 3 judges, one from Alief ISD in Houston, a Blackboard representative

Cost of for us is about $700 for our school, that is for less than 500 students

With training and work, amount of student plagiarism really went down

All our teachers were certified in Texas
Our school paid $350 per student to the Texas Virtual School
– content is good, all aligned with the TEKS

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9 responses to “Lessons learned from high school students enrolled in the Texas Virtual School”

  1. Heather Voran Avatar

    Hi, Wes,

    I am an Instructional Technology Specialist with Region 16 ESC in Amarillo, and the Texas Virtual School contact for our service center. I follow your blog daily, and I was very excited to see Fr. Jose’s information about his experiences with Texas Virtual School, and in particular Miami ISD, which is Region 16’s first district to participate in TVS.

    I am curious…it sounds like the presentation was on TVS as a whole, not just Fr. Jose’s classes. Is that right? Because Miami students took Spanish from Fr. Jose, not Social Studies, and they probably have just over 120 students in their whole district, not in TVS. I know you posted your notes from the speech, and it’s hard to get it all in, but just wanted to clarify.

    Fr. Jose is an AMAZING teacher!! TVS and its students are so fortunate to have him.

    Thanks for your post!!
    Heather Voran

  2. Paul Hillsdon Avatar

    That sounds generally like my experience in online school. There are still big issues with the content being in transition from analog to digital, along with making sure students are mature and motivated enough to organize their time properly. There’s also the plagiarism issue, which could be slightly more hazardous as the whole experience is more digital than it would be in a standard classroom.

    I think what this does shows is that online learning is proving to be a whole new way of doing things. I would still say an in-class experience could be far more beneficial to the student in the long run than online learning. That is to say, brick and mortar schools aren’t going anywhere. I do not agree with legislation that would require students to take an online course, because there is something incredibly different between natural online learning (reading Wikipedia, watching a YouTube video, participating in a forum), and online learning as structured by a school district and/or company.

    In fact, if the districts are worried about students signing up, they really shouldn’t be. I was a pioneer in my district, during the program’s first year with 500 students. That was several years ago, and the program continues to see exponential growth, with many students retaking courses during the standard school year for improved grades, many choosing online learning during the summer over 6-week summer school, and a growing number of adults taking an online course versus continuing ed night classes.

  3. Geri Avatar

    There are a lot of things to be considered in an online course and we can’t just ignore those things. I think there are still other factors that needs to be anticipated and we shouldn’t lay low regarding this topic.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Heather: I was able to hear most of Fr. Jose’s presentation but not all of it, I’m looking forward to actually hearing the entire message uninterrupted when I get the podcast published. I think he did address issues relating to TVS overall as well as their school’s experiences, but he certainly did focus on the experiences of their students as well as his own teaching experiences online.

  5. Frank Avatar

    With a great number of benefits, I believe that it would be a good idea if the school would somehow be prepared to take care of the disadvantages which it might bring during the course of action.

  6. Olivia Morris Avatar
    Olivia Morris

    Many colleges are now offering courses online; even those students who are not going on to college should be taught how to complete employment applications online. I think online courses should be included in the high school curriculum in order to prepare students for college, the workforce and to cope with future technological developments. Corporations are now conducting staff training online, third and fourth graders are bloging, these reasons and more would definitely justify having a virtual high school as an option for some students. This would also encourage students to be more discipline, independent and take responsibility for their own learning at an earlier age. Most people do think of online learning as impersonal, however, if high school teachers could establish online trust with their students who feel comfortable disclosing drug problems and other personal issues that would provide greater support for virtual high schools. Sooner or later most schools, like Michigan and Maryland would have to pass a law requiring all students in the state to have “an online experience” before graduating from high school. Also, course management systems for high schools online courses, should have a plan for students who would like to share their personal problems with teachers online.

  7. […] May 27th, 2007 by deborahwrites Wesley Fryer’s Lessons learned from high school students enrolled in the Texas Virtual School is basically a set of notes from Jose Losoya’s presentation at an education conference in South Texas. Losoya talked about what everyone learned when a school district required high school students to take an on-line course. […]