Are you looking for a no-cost/low-cost solution to offer online/blended learning programs for secondary schools? If you answered yes, this article is for you. Through the REMC Association of Michigan, K-12 public schools have access to 25 secondary courses that have been purchased through the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) and are available to Michigan public schools at no cost. REMC pays for the annual licensing for these courses as courses are updated annually. The courses are aligned to national standards, and contain interactive lessons and assessments. To maintain the no-cost/low-cost solution, the courses are available in the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS).
In this article, two Wayne County schools will be highlighted where these schools have been able to save money and focus more on meeting the needs of students through various online-blended learning options. The focus of both schools is to maintain a strong face-to-face environment for students utilizing educators employed by the district. The certified teachers are able to control the flow of the course, edit/modify assignments to meet the needs of their students, and enrich the course work through meaningful face-to-face interactions.
District A: An alternative school within a medium-size district in Wayne County decided to switch from a high cost vendor solution which offered limited flexibility to adapt content to using the FLVS courses within Moodle. The school was able to save tremendous money even after purchasing laptops for each student. Estimated savings were about $350,000 annually. Some of the funding was used for teacher professional development over the summer for teachers to do curriculum alignment, customize online course content, train other teachers, and hire a part time technician to support the blended school with technical needs.
District B: A high school from a small district was looking for a suitable replacement for their online Spanish 1 and 2 courses. The previous model allowed limited control of content, limited access to online instructor, and the mentor teacher had to manually enter grades from a vendor system to the MISTAR student information system. We were able to offer them the FLVS courses within a customized Moodle environment at no cost. During the summer, the district was able to hire their own online, certified Spanish instructor who received Moodle training virtually through Wayne RESA. All Spanish courses were launched successfully at the beginning of the school year and the students are off to a great start.
In both cases, Wayne RESA provided Moodle training, best practices for teaching in a blended-online environment, strategies for personalizing instruction, 5-O-D pupil accounting consultation, along with customizing their Moodle sites with district logo and colors, and LDAP connections to connect local ids to their Moodle sites. Most REMCs/ISDs have staff that can support their locals with this work. Check out www.remc.org to locate your REMC director and ask about this great opportunity.
Wayne RESA is able to do this at no cost through local and statewide collaborations. Chris Kenniburg from Dearborn Public Schools has been able to create a visually pleasing Moodle theme that has changed the traditional blank interface. The new Fordson theme can be downloaded for free at https://moodle.org/plugins/theme_fordson. As mentioned above, the FLVS online courses are available through your REMC.
The REMC Association has been dedicated and committed to providing no cost professional development and resources for schools to be able to create their own online-blended learning environments. To meet the needs of schools with online-blended learning, the REMC Association trained every ISD on effective blended learning strategies through a three-year Blended Learning in the Classroom Project (2013-2016) and acquired various online courses though the Michigan Learns Online Project. To learn more about the MLO and other REMC programs, please visit www.remc.org.
As you explore options for online-blended learning opportunities for your school, here are some strategies for successful implementation:
• Start with your need.
• Assess your school and staff readiness factors. You may want to connect with your local ISD/REMC for consultation services.
• Think about what type of learning experience you want to create for your students that will prepare them college and career.
• Initiate the planning process early with interested staff and coordinate a study team to learn from various models across the state and across the nation.
• Have certified staff review the online course options (similar to that of an book adoption process) to check for alignment, usability, flexibility, cost, etc. You can review the FLVS through your REMC directors who maintain access to the licensed materials.
• Once you decide on a learning management system and course options, provide teachers with adequate time and professional development to add/edit the learning environment.
• Add personal videos to introduce each lesson if lessons are being delivered virtually. Remember, the teacher plays a critical role in the students’ success so having the personalized videos for your students will help with the human connection.
• Be consistent with format and layout.
• Create meaningful discussion forums.
• Increase student voice and choice through projects and how students show mastery of learning.
• Ask students for feedback for ongoing improvements.
• Celebrate success inside and outside virtual environment.
• Just as you would in a traditional class setting, reflect regularly on what went well and what needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of ALL learners.
• Think about Universal Design for Learning to design learning environments that are accessible to all which include multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression (see cast.org for more on UDL).
Online-Blended learning options should be coordinated with district leaders so that educators have the appropriate support and guidance needed to be successful. Start the planning process early enough so that classes can be scheduled accordingly and teachers have adequate time for training of the learning management system, as well as time to review and adjust content for students. Always review the course from end user perspective (i.e., your students) and how they will navigate the system to access content easily. Keep in mind that you will need be more explicit in your instructions for each activity in an online environment and think of more create strategies to engage students in the learning process. In addition, set clear course expectations along with details on how students will be graded for each assignment and overall course completion. You may want to ask a few students or others to preview your course prior to the official rollout to give you feedback on what’s working well, as well as adjustments that may be necessary to maximize student success. To learn more about rolling out effective online-blended courses for K-12 students, check out iNACOL’s website at https://www.inacol.org/resources (look under Topics for Blended Learning and Online Learning resources).
(@AnupaminMI): Anupam Chugh is an instructional technology manager at Wayne RESA and REMC 20 director. She has been leading online-blended work in the county and across the state for 15 years.