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Data-Driven Decision-Maker Learning Designer

Virtual Academy Considerations: Course Providers, Data, and Roles of Stakeholders

Introduction

I was recently assigned to a project to support my district in designing a virtual academy. Although teaching and learning has been excruciatingly challenging for both staff and students, there is a need to provide an online learning option for students. Feedback from families and students show that some have really thrived from this environment. It is our responsibility, especially considering equity, that as a district we provide that option for students. I personally don’t have much experience with virtual academies. My understanding is limited to having taken a handful of online only courses in my undergraduate; my graduate program is all online. I taught social studies remotely at the start of the pandemic and continued into a summer learning program. 

My district is strongly considering using an online course provider (OCP) to deliver curriculum in some capacity. Many virtual academies across the country do use online course providers, but they are limited to ones that have been approved by their state. In WA where I work, for example, there is a short list of online course providers that are approved by OSPI.  I have never taught with nor been a student who has used online course providers. My student experience with online only courses has been that the instructor builds and delivers their own curriculum through the learning management system. It was never self-paced or adaptive. For this module, I chose to focus my research on OCPs and how they inform the roles of educators, students, and families who are enrolled in online academies. 

My Question:

What type of data do online course providers offer? How does this data inform the roles of educators, students, and families to support student achievement?

ISTE Educator:

Designer (5): Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability. Educators:

5a – Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.

Analyst (7): Educators understand and use data to drive their instruction and support students in achieving their learning goals. Educators:

7a – Provide alternative ways for students to demonstrate competency and reflect on their learning using technology.

7b – Use technology to design and implement a variety of formative and summative assessments that accommodate learner needs, provide timely feedback to students and inform instruction.

7c – Use assessment data to guide progress and communicate with students, parents and education stakeholders to build student self-direction.

Solution:

The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has approved 23 online course providers (OSPI). I decided to focus my initial research for this blog post on 3 that are popular among neighboring public school virtual academies. This includes Pearson’s Connexus, K12 Inc., and Edgenuity. Some of the most helpful sources for my research were the product’s support website, FAQ videos either produced by the product or from a school district, and the product’s very own website. Each of the OCPs websites were quite general as it was intended to showcase the product’s flexibility, so it was challenging for me at times to get a detailed picture of the data they produced and user experience for both educators and students. To my surprise, each of these three OCP’s offer roughly the same flexibility and customization to fit the needs of the virtual programs that schools/districts are trying to offer. This can range from fully online instruction to blended learning options with some sort of brick and mortar support consideration. Each provides an expansive course catalog and also offers virtual teachers should there be staffing challenges. I did uncover some differences that would be worth consideration for developing a new virtual academy.

Pearson highlighted a feature for educators to create student groups in order to differentiate content across different courses their students were taking. This allows teachers to more easily insert Pearson created resources into the curriculum or create and upload their own lessons/resources to fit student needs as they are progressing through their course. Furthermore, teachers could create “multi-outcome” scoring that allows assignments and assessments to be designated to additional categories that identified 21st century skills. One of the categories shown on their support page was “Grit”, though it was unclear as to how the student was assessed for grit based on the assignment/assessment. 

While Pearson promoted teachers modifying courses to address student learning needs, K12 Inc and Edgenuity both emphasized adaptive learning built into their products. Adaptive learning is an education technology that can respond to a student’s interactions in real-time by automatically providing the student with individual support. K12 Inc offers a digital library that includes rewards-based adaptive learning tool through games. Similarly, Edgenuity offers adaptive learning through assessment and instruction that responds to students in real time. 

What types of data are available in these OCPs?

In a virtual academic environment, students can self-select courses or be assigned courses for reaching graduation requirements from the OCP course catalogue. As they work through the lessons/units, OCPs record assessment data that tracks student’s progress on specific standards, course completion, and grades. They also show an activity log that shows when students are logging in, how much time they spend on an assignment or question, and when they start/turn-in assignments. Pearson’s Connexus provides the opportunity for students to give feedback to the instructor about the course. They can self-assess at the end of each unit giving a rating of their own understanding of the content/skills, their interest level, and effort. 

How does that data inform the roles of educators, students, and families in a virtual academy?

Educators in a virtual academy are no longer primarily responsible planning and delivery of content. Their role instead focuses more on managing students and providing them the necessary support they need to be successful largely informed by the data. Teachers should be conferencing with students at least once a week where the OCP data can inform the conversation. Weekly conferences can be used to go over a struggling skill, review learning to check for understanding, or alert teachers to ask questions about what supports a student needs who is falling behind. It would also be wise to determine a threshold, based on activity data, that informs additional communication and intervention between education staff and family for students who are falling behind the pacing of their course. In addition, this data can help inform differentiation appropriate to different student groups. Likewise, families get access to their student’s assessment and progress data. Families can support their students by monitoring course progression, due dates, and use assessment data and teacher feedback to help their learners. Students get access to both assessment and instructional adaptive feedback from the OCP. This data would be helpful to inform office hour opportunities to drop in and meet with their teacher or tutoring support. 

What is Enriched Virtual learning and why should virtual academies offer this option? 

Enriched Virtual school models are built upon students receiving instruction and content online. These students are then only required to attend the brick-and-mortar school on designated days if at all. This model of school is great for students where the traditional style and seat time of school do not work for them. The physical face-to-face time of this model serves to enrich students’ learning experiences through social learning, teacher-led instruction, or as-needed support for students to check-in with teachers and advisors. Many early adopters of this model emerged from fully virtual schools who shifted to blended learning to provide stronger support for students who otherwise struggle to stay on track in the online only model. Enriched Virtual models of school provide learning opportunities where students control time, path, pace, and the place of their learning to a degree. The Enriched Virtual model can also help to support social learning opportunities for students. Educators can facilitate small group discussion so that students have an opportunity to present their stance and hear from the perspectives of their peers. This is a very compelling option to consider for my district’s first ever virtual academy. We know we have to design a highly flexible school that can meet the wide diversity of needs of our students. For some students, this may very well mean a fully online experience while others may need the flexibility of online learning, but desire in-person learning and support to a degree. We should consider the following when considering an enriched virtual environment: 

  • Are the online, offline, and off-campus learning connected and mutually reinforcing? 
  • Are students staying on track to earn core academic credits and demonstrating authentic mastery of learning to their teachers, mentors, and peers? 
  • Is the required face-to-face time used to intentionally engage students, helping them grow both academic and social-emotional skills?

(White, 2019).

Conclusion:

My initial research into a few common OCPs approved in my state was helpful in gaining a general understanding for how these products work and what kind of data they provide stakeholders. The data generated from OCPs shift the roles of educators from primarily responsible for delivering curriculum to more of an interventionist and coach. The time gained from not having to plan curriculum allows for teachers to focus on relationship building and analyzing assessment data to provide personalized and targeted support for their students. I am still left with some lingering questions that I may pose to the design group of my district’s virtual academy and/or representatives of the OCPs:

  • How do we support our educators in providing culturally responsive pedagogy for a virtual school?
  • How do we build in social learning and collaborative opportunities for our students? 
  • What opportunity is there for inquiry-based learning with use of an online course provider?
  • How do we support our students furthest from educational justice to ensure they have reliable access to their courses and their teachers? 

I also recognize that a virtual academy isn’t appropriate for all of our students. Some have really struggled with remote learning. Technology issues, self-discipline, lack of social interaction, and communicating and collaborating online are just some challenges that have negatively impacted student learning over the last year (Klein, 2021). However, it would be inequitable for my district to not offer this option for the students who really thrived with online learning. These students want more control over the time, pace, and place of their learning. The push to create a virtual academy isn’t a temporary solution to address challenges caused by the pandemic. This is an option we must always provide our students moving forward. After learning more about OCPs and Enriched Virtual learning, I am convinced that part of this option must involve a brick and mortar school to some degree. 

 

References

Approved Online Course Providers. OSPI. (n.d.). https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/learning-alternatives/online-learning/approved-online-course-providers.

Klein, A. (2021, May 3). How Virtual Learning Is Falling Short on Preparing Students for Future Careers. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/technology/how-virtual-learning-is-falling-short-on-preparing-students-for-future-careers/2021/03.

K–12 district partnerships. Pearson Connexus. (n.d.). https://www.pearson.com/us/prek-12/products-services-teaching/online-blended-learning-solutions/pearson-connexus.html#.

Online Curriculum & Coursework for K–12 Education: Edgenuity Inc. Edgenuity Inc. (2021, April 12). https://www.edgenuity.com/.

Online Public School Programs: Online Learning Programs. K12. (n.d.). https://www.k12.com/

 White, J. (2019, July 25). Is the Enriched Virtual blended-learning model the future of high school? Blended Learning Universe. https://www.blendedlearning.org/is-the-enriched-virtual-blended-learning-model-the-future-of-high-school/

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Collaborator Most Recent Post

Project Management and Collaboration with MS Teams

 

Project Management and Collaboration with MS Teams

When Microsoft (MS) Teams was first breaking ground in the spheres of education, a few colleagues and I had the opportunity to pilot the platform in use with students in a classroom setting. At the time, my district and school were not ready for a platform like this to be used with students in a classroom setting. Our students did not have their own devices forcing educators to reserve laptop carts or computer labs to provide students access to computers. I spoke with professionals who used Teams in the workplace and they were ecstatic about its collaboration and communicative functionality. We tried utilizing the platform for online discussions and collaboration, but it wasn’t the best tool to do that at the time. It is also quite possible that I and other staff members were not trained enough to get the most out of it. I do recall the students’ feedback about MS Teams was that it was unreliable and disorganized, which makes sense given how new it was and how our building and students were not equipped with the technology to leverage the platform to its full capabilities. 

Fast forward to present day, teaching and learning in my district looks a lot different. The pandemic forced an acceleration of investing in technology for staff and students. We are not a 1:1 student machine district, every educator is given a laptop, and we are obligated to almost exclusively use Microsoft products. MS Teams is the sole telecommunications platform that our district uses with staff and students, and although we have experienced significant issues and unreliability with the product at the cost of serving our students furthest from educational justice, MS Teams is here to stay for us. An emerging issue is the blurred line between using Teams more like a Learning Management System (LMS) when educators are being told that our existing LMS is not going away. With all that being said, MS Teams has come a long way since I first tested it in my classroom with students. 

Our school district has made a commitment to continue to use the platform moving forward as we work to figure out how to bring teaching and learning back into the classroom safely. MS Teams is still evolving with constant updates in features and  new apps. My department in our school district uses Teams in combination with Office 365 to plan, work and collaborate with each other. Additionally, Teams is also used by educators to host class meetings with students and foster peer to peer collaboration. MS Teams is still evolving with constant updates along with new features and apps. I haven’t necessarily had the time to explore all of these, so for this module I’d like to dig deeper into how to best leverage Teams for collaboration and project management. 

My Question:

How can specific features and apps in Microsoft Teams support the collaboration of resources and ideas between educators and students?

 

ISTE Educator Standard 4: Collaborator

Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems

Solution:

If you have never used MS Teams in an educational setting before, then I recommend checking out the Microsoft Education web page and/or Common Sense Education’s review. I decided to organize this solution into two separate categories: features and apps. Features include characteristics that are inherent to MS Teams that don’t require an additional add-in, app, etc. I want to consider ways educators can collaborate using the existing functionality of MS Teams. On the other hand, apps have to be manually added by the user and can be added to different locations within the Teams platform. Apps can help educators stay informed, simplify workflow, and find new ways to work together. Finally, my solution is tailored to my current role and what features and apps are available in my school district. I wanted to investigate ways that Teams could better support project management and collaboration for my colleagues and I. Our district leadership has decided to not make available the full functionality of MS Teams for Education. Your version of Teams may be different from our experience.  

 

Features:

One of the toughest challenges for new users, whether they be students or staff, is navigating new digital platforms, especially one as robust as MS Teams. A common critique of Microsoft tools is that novice users may find it busy and daunting to learn how to use them (Common Sense Education Review). With thoughtful planning, thorough training and onboarding resources, and practice, MS Teams can be a powerful collaboration tool. It is also critical for an institution to develop consistency in how they organize their online spaces and their workflow. To get started, I love these pre-generated templates from Bind Tuning (Griffin, 2021). They also work with existing Teams that you may have already created. Here is an description of what a K-12 template starts with:

Teams, Channels, Files, Tabs and Chats:

Teams are online hubs that can facilitate collaboration and sharing of information more efficiently. It is my belief that how your Teams are organized is critical for effective collaboration. Teams can be generated for classrooms and used with students, but it is also a helpful tool in supporting staff collaboration. Teams can be created for classrooms, PLCs, all staff, or clubs and other interests groups. Various channels can be created inside of a team, and this is a great way that the tool can facilitate focused collaboration around projects, activities, committees, and processes as needed (Microsoft Teams for Education). They also recommend best practice for channel creation should be based on the Team’s different needs like topic, discipline, or subject (Microsoft Teams for Education). Each channel can then house files that are specific to the intention of that Team. Instead of attaching files to email threads, collaborators can now access every document that they need within their Team and specific channels. Each channel also includes a General channel where OneNote Notebook are accessible within the Teams platform  or you can add them as tabs in other channels as you wish(if you’re curious about how to leverage OneNote for collaboration, check this resource out as a starting point). Here are some ideas for using channels with staff and/or students:

  • Private channels for small-group work
  • Channels themed into units, topics, or projects
  • Q&A or resources channels
  • Channels for collaborative study spaces for students
  • Channels organized around support topics: software, devices, trainings
  • Social channels for networking or building community

(Miller & Clark, 2021)

Tabs are built-in pages that can be customized within each channel. Tabs support collaboration by allowing team members to access services and content in a dedicated space inside of a channel. This allows the team to work directly with tools and data, and have conversations with each other, all inside of the channel or chat (Microsoft Tabs page). For quick access to any Office 365 collaborative doc, web page, or app, tabs help streamline access to important documents instead of sharing them through email or hunting down files in large Sharepoint spaces. 

Another valuable feature of the Teams platform is Teams Chats. They ways in which we communicate has evolved alongside the evolution of communication technology. Similar to current texting and messaging on mobile devices, Teams Chat provides a quick, less formal space to communicate and collaborate with individuals or in groups. A user can create a Chat from scratch and a chat is generated for all Teams meetings and channels. Chats are great for informal and quick communication for collaboration with students or colleagues. A strategy that works well for me is pinning the chats I frequently interact with the most. Chats don’t get deleted, so you may start to have your chats pile up and this can be challenging to manage and find the chat you’re looking for (there is a search feature that you can use to find buried chats as well). For example, I pin the chats of all of my 8 team members that I communicate and collaborate with on a daily basis. I also pin chats with educators that I am in frequent coaching practice with as well as the chats from channels that I am collaborating on projects in (Microsoft Teams). 

The inherent features of the MS Teams platform offers a wide range of flexibility and customization. The challenge then becomes organizing those online collaborative spaces in a way that is organized and promotes an easy and efficient workflow. Here are just a few examples of how education staff can work together that transfers well to Teams:

  • School Improvement Advisory Committees: effective school improvement programs and initiatives require staff access to rich data analytics and easy collaboration among diverse stakeholders that include administrators, faculty, and others across the district.
  • Incident Response Plans: when an incident occurs, fast and accurate communication helps to ensure an effective response. Using TEams, incident response teams can easily draft and share timely and appropriate information with students, parents, the community, and coordinate additional resources.
  • Social and Emotional Learning programs: SEL programs can promote academic success and positive behavior while reducing emotional distress and general misconduct. Channels in Teams can be organized, for example, around the five key SEL competencies: self=awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. 
  • Teacher evaluations: evaluating teacher performance is a time-consuming, but important regular activity. Using Teams, administrators can share professional development resources with all teachers in the General channel, and manage private communications (in Conversations) and content (for example, using OneNote Staff Notebooks) with individual teachers in separate channels. 

(Microsoft Teams)

Apps to Support Collaboration:

Users can also add apps to their Teams platform to further support collaboration and streamline workflow. Apps can be added to the app bar (located on the side of the Teams platform), to a tab within a channel, or as an option in a chat box. Not all of these apps are specifically designed for educational purposes, but they are still effective tools inside of the platform that you can add. These apps are organized into 4 categories:

  • Productivity apps – increase productivity with workflow and process automation
  • Project management apps – easily navigate complex projects using process automation apps and tools
  • Industry-specific apps – address industry-specific needs with custom-built apps
  • Business department apps – execute everyday responsibilities with job-specific apps

The apps that are designed for education are organized into 4 categories:

  • Student engagement apps – make learning and teaching more fun and interactive, stay on course and track class progress easily, and boost student morale and teamwork
  • Content aggregation apps – consolidate all learning resources in a single online library, and embed and share videos with others; this includes apps that set up LMS within a Channel
  • Virtual classroom solutions – set up meetings for your online classroom directly
  • Whiteboarding – brainstorm creative ideas together

Here is a slideshow that shows apps relevant to these categories.

(Microsoft Teams)

My district only uses Teams as a telecommunications platform with students, so for this solution, I will not be covering apps that help educators track and collaborate with students. However, this slideshow does a great job of categorizing and explaining apps that do just that should your district or school use Teams more like a Learning Management System. It is possible that your IT Admin may have blocked apps from being used like my district has, so this may explain why I may not cover an app that may seem obvious in supporting collaboration. 

Here are just a few education specific apps that I wish were available to my team and my district:

  • Freehand by Invision: draw, plan, and collaborate with your team on an infinite whiteboard in real time
  • Wakelet: save, organize, and present content. Great for resource gathering, newsletter sharing, and portfolio building. 
  • Stormboard: collaborative workspace to generate ideas, prioritize/vote, and organize. Includes templates to support more productive and effective collaboration of projects. 
  • Interested in apps that provide LMS kinds of services within Teams? Check out LMS365, go1, or Beedle. Note – Your existing LMS may also be integrated with MS Teams like Canvas, Blackboard, and Schoology to name a few. 

(Microsoft 365 & Security for Partners)

Apps that are currently available to my colleagues and I: 

  • Insights in Teams – provides analytical data about your students progress in your class that can be shared with colleagues. This app requires that you have some features like assignments and assessments available in your classroom Teams. 
  • Viva InsightsA project management, productivity, and workplace analytics tool. You can schedule focused work time to be undisturbed, schedule coaching time with your manager, and reflect on your social and emotional health. The stay connected experience of the app helps you maintain relationships with people in your network, follow up on communication, and track meetings. 
  • Roadmap: Microsoft Project – an app designed for project management, this app allows managers and their teams to keep track of multiple projects at once. You can share and collaborate on your roadmap, update the status of projects and provide timelines. 
  • Project Another Microsoft project management and workflow tool however, this is more comprehensive than the Roadmap app that focuses solely on timelines. This app does include a timeline feature, but it also allows for better management of tasks and personnel as well as different views to examine the progress of projects.
  • Tasks by Planner and to Do (Tasks app) – The Tasks app in MS Teams combines your individual tasks from the To Do and Outlook with your team’s tasks from Planner. This is basically an individual and collaborative to do list that is ideal for project management. This is one of the more straightforward collaborative apps produced by Microsoft for Teams.
  • Approvals – easily create, manage, and share approvals directly from a channel or in the Teams platform. My colleagues and I create staff and student facing projects frequently, and they must be approved by our supervisor before they can be published. Typically we do this through email, but I love to try and keep my Outlook inbox focused on formal communication with staff. Using this app would allow us to more effectively submit projects for approval within Teams and streamline our workflow.  
  • Employee Ideas – A Team’s app that allows managers to review, manage,and vote upon team’s ideas. Managers and employees can create categories for ideas around common themes. Employees can then submit ideas and attach images, notes, and files. These ideas can then be voted on. This particular app is advertised for manufacturing, retail, and hospitality, but I can see this app being applicable in any team collaborative setting. For educators, this could be a great app to pose problems of practice to generate ideas of solutions.

Conclusion:

My research for this module was focused on digging deeper into a digital tool that is used by every staff member and student in my district. Specifically, I set out to learn more about different ways to organize and leverage this tool for collaboration. Since my district has limited the accessibility of some of the features of Teams for educational purposes, we do not have access to many of the education specific apps that support collaboration. This also made it difficult to consult sources of how teachers were using the MS Teams platform. The restrictions limit the ways educators in my district can facilitate collaboration with students and they are challenged with using other collaborative tools that are approved for use. However, many of the corporate and professional apps that are designed to increase productivity, collaboration, and workflow are available. I believe that many of these apps are still useful for collaborative work amongst colleagues, administrators, and managers. Furthermore, the inherent features of MS Teams including channels, tabs, file storage/sharing, and chats are features that are widely leveraged to support collaboration with students and staff. In reviewing survey data and anecdotal experiences of staff and students, it is critical that these features are organized and simplified in a way that is most easily accessible and understood by all stakeholders. Teams are thorough and flexible, but can be extremely overwhelming for some. We must keep this in mind and be intentional about the ways in which we organize and interact with one another to build competency and effective collaboration. 

 

References:

Griffin, L. (2021, January 25). How to enhance an existing Microsoft team using a Template: Blog. BindTuning. https://bindtuning.com/resources/blog/how-to-enhance-an-existing-microsoft-team-using-a-template 

Hellerich, K. (2020, December 3). Using Microsoft Teams in a Hybrid Classroom. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/using-microsoft-teams-hybrid-classroom 

Microsoft 365 & Security for Partners. Microsoft 365 for Partners. (n.d.). https://cloudpartners.transform.microsoft.com/teams-apps-remote-learning?tab=student 

Microsoft Teams. (n.d.). Apps and Workflow Automation: Microsoft Teams. Apps and Workflow Automation | Microsoft Teams. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-teams/apps-and-workflows  

Microsoft Teams. (n.d.). First things to know about chat in Microsoft Teams. Office Support. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/first-things-to-know-about-chat-in-microsoft-teams-88ed0a06-6b59-43a3-8cf7-40c01f2f92f2 

Microsoft. (n.d.). Microsoft Teams: Online & Remote Classroom: Microsoft Education. Microsoft. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/products/teams?&ef_id=Cj0KCQjwse-DBhC7ARIsAI8YcWIqPFaVPRVOqN4690o4bwBPVBnRIj7I1quhHg9Nt4CLxbZyNKrs5FsaAjHeEALw_wcB%3AG%3As&s_kwcid=AL%2111608%213%21496816962231%21e%21%21g%21%21ms+teams+for+education%2112270472004%21123123765531&OCID=AID2100242_SEM_%3AG%3As&utm_source=google&gclid=Cj0KCQjwse-DBhC7ARIsAI8YcWIqPFaVPRVOqN4690o4bwBPVBnRIj7I1quhHg9Nt4CLxbZyNKrs5FsaAjHeEALw_wcB   

Microsoft Teams for Education. (n.d.). Best practices for school leaders creating teams and channels in Microsoft Teams for Education. Microsoft Support. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/topic/best-practices-for-school-leaders-creating-teams-and-channels-in-microsoft-teams-for-education-f3663ad9-a835-4971-9acb-6725a543c003  

Miller, M., & Clark, H. (2021, January 27). Microsoft Teams Education: How to manage it like a pro. Ditch That Textbook. https://ditchthattextbook.com/microsoft-teams/#tve-jump-171e1124ff4

Rogowski, M. (2020, August 25). Microsoft Teams Review for Teachers. Common Sense Education. https://www.commonsense.org/education/app/microsoft-teams.