These are my notes from Jason Neiffer’s presentation, “Online Learning with Montana Digital Academy” at at the 2011 Educational Technology Conference, “Building Human Connections in a Digital World.” MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. An audio podcast version of this preso is also available!
twitter: @montdigacad and @TechSavvyTech (shared with Mike in Helena PS)

Handouts today:

I’m a big fan of paperless presentations

Montana Digital Academy
– created by 2009 legislature
– we were the 3rd or 4th attempt at an online digital academy
– took us over a decade of failures to come up with a model that works, but that has now worked to our advantage
– online statewide virtual school (this is very unique in the online world)

we don’t have a charter school law in Montana
– we exist/serve through local districts
– we don’t exist minus the local school
– ‘original credit’ and ‘credit recovery’
– enrollment has to happen through your local school
– certified teachers with Association with MOntana Public School District
– State STandards Based
– Moodle and Other Learning Environments

We don’t independent students unaffiliated with local school districts

Program Timeline
– HB459 passed and funded
– Initial board named, chair and vice chair elected
– Director hired (from Michigan)

– additional hires: curriculum director, 76 teachers, Instructional manager
– initial summer pilot project
– Fall 2010: Full program begins

– February: MTDA Connect credit recovery rolls out
– Summer: Full, two tiered summer program
– Fall: Expanded program begins

Our numbers exceeded our wildest imagination by a factor of 4

Major unique thing: we have “partners” who are critical advisors
– Montana School Boards Association
– School Administrators of Montana
– Montana Rural Education Association
– Montana University System
– Office of Public Instruction
– Board of Public Education
– Montana High School Association

Critical piece of our program and EVERY successful online program: the TEACHER’S roles

We have thousands of students around Montana that wouldn’t have access to education without our online learning program
– questions and debates should go beyond “online learning good or bad”
– it’s really an issue of access to kids

Good report: Online Learning in Context – 2010

Our slate of courses
– we have 7 AP courses
– it’s very challenging to teach to College Board standards online, we’ve had good success with this, however
– we are the only program in MT that teaches Mandarin Chinese
– we are the only Latin option for most MT high schools
– we have full spectrum of science courses, science courses are our most popular
– have some electives like oceanography that are wildly popular in our landlocked state
– we taught 7 sections of digital photography in MT, Spanish and Pscyhology were #2 and #3

Geographic distribution of our students and teachers (slide 10)

Montana Virtual Teachers and Students: 2011-2012

Successes of 2009-2011
– successful recruitment of administrative and program staff
– rollout of two distinct programs: original credit and connect credit recovery
– adoption of cutting edge tools to enhance online learning
– passage rates on par with other statewide virtual schools
– developed working relationships with 160 schools across the state of Montana
– Offered dual credit / dual enrollment courses from three unit of the MUS

We have lots of young moms in our program
– lots of them would have been without ANY educational alternative without online school options
– had many students in unique medical circumstances: Being in an out-of-state hospital for cancer, burn unit, etc.
– many needed an extra half credit to graduate this year, and were able to graduate because of online courses

These numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they do show our need, viability, and impact

Adding some exciting new courses this year:
– Spanish III
– Irish Studies (first in the nation in online environment for HS)
– Art History
– Personal Finance
– Pre-Algebra
– French III
– Health Occupations
– Music Appreciation

Our requests for new courses was three times this number
– we didn’t cut courses that weren’t as popular with students, because we think online courses should include unique offerings that meet special kids

Expanded Credit Recovery
– we are still stuck in a model of “seat time” by law
– we have a fair number of kids
– we do use a vendor for this, we think the vendor name is less important than our model
– key elements:
1- open entry, open exit
2- self-paced
3- pre-test module exemptions
4- available 24/7

Self-paced means you can really work hard on 1 course intensively, and decide how to change your course focus
– when this is sold by a vendor, it is usually a teacher less option (I’ll talk later why I don’t think that is a good option)
– we assign an academic coach to each student in this program (lots of cheerleading, keeping a mindful eye when a student is having struggles our program can’t address – we need to help you get assistance outside our online program)
– this is a unique opportunity for kids
– we don’t want kids just dropped into these courses and then asked 4 months later: How did it go?
– We want local schools to built support capacity and assistant for kids in these programs

This year we’re offering MLS: Middle School Multi-Language Sampler
– Aimed at the Middle School Learner
– Seven week program
– Programs in French, Spanish, Latin, German and Mandarin
– Innovative, Game-BAsed PowerSpeak Curriculum

Using PowerSpeak program, out of Utah, the company has been teaching distance language courses for over 50 years
– program is very game-based
– not unlimited enrollments, we will have 700 slots this year

Things we’re very proud of
– you have to have a platform for online learning: we use Moodle (we pay for this as a serviced, entrprise-level Moodle service)
– we are one of the first statewide virtual schools to use Moodle (this may surprise you)
– because of timing and being the new kid on the block, we could choose Moodle
– most statewide virtual academies are using Blackboard or WebCT / Angel (which are now both owned by Blackboard)
– we wanted to use Moodle since the Univ of Montana is going with Moodle

We give a Montana Digital Academy Google Apps account (Gmail, docs, etc)
– we do pay about $10,000 a year for extra archiving and storage
– that is basement bargain priced when you compare that to running an Exchange server
– we don’t really have a tech staff, so outsourcing this to Google Apps is very scalable for us

You are doing your students a dis-service if you don’t provide email to them
– many kids don’t use email, however

We use a lot of Open Educational Resources
National Repository of Online Courses
Open High School of Utah

We are working to figure out questions about things for science labs, hands-on learning

Smart Science Labs is an example of virtual science labs
– is a hands-on / mouse-on model

Mobile Learning
– adults are more excited about mobile learning than kids are
– sometimes we frame this in the wrong way
– wrong way to frame this: “Kids can learn 24 hours a day” (I’ve been on plenty of debate bases, at 2 am there isn’t any chemistry study going on them)
– right context: use powerful elements of mobile learning platforms

Example is an App MockUp
– real power of this is reminders that can be sent directly through the device
– it’s hard in an online environment to grab someone through the screen
– you can design notifications on a phone: something is due, something just got graded, instant message from

Smartphones are amazing measurers of data
– example is a walk app that is 99 cents
– imagine if we tell kids: you have to run a mile, so turn on your app
– the app tracks where, when, how fast, heart rate, etc
– we don’t even this in face-to-face classes now

I have a scale now that reports my weight to my iPhone and online that my wife can see if she wants

I think this is the future of a number of online courses
– I don’t think doing chemistry online at 2 am in the bus is what kids will do, I think this app is more like what the future looks like

MDA is cooking up lots of online PD

We are also working on creating lots of support for blended learning
– this scares a lot of people because there are schedule changes involved in many of these courses
– some districts do “Moodle Monday,” that’s the day they do assignments online and don’t come to school
– Moodle Snow Days
– states are working out how this still follows contact hour requirements

We are not a competitor to schools, we are a partner
– we may be able to provide curriculum to you, help you develop courses
– we are a partner to schools to help schools offer the most flexible learning environment

Tangent: Who is the “ideal online student?”
– we believe organizationally that any kid can be an online learner
– independent, smart, tech-saavy, motivated
– kids that have these skills typically don’t have all these skills

Problem with online learning: we can’t login for kids, we can’t reach through the monitor to touch them

Magical key to this: YOU (the teacher in the room)
– this is why I don’t think online learning will every replace the role of the teacher in the classroom

I had to leave the session at this point 🙁

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