Tag Archives: online learning

Capital Resources

Virtual School Capital Resources

by Mark Sivy

One constant, whether for a virtual school or traditional school, are the concerns associated with acquiring and maintaining capital resources. In a recent study I performed, leaders indicated that budgeting and planning for virtual school capital resources and growth is more challenging than that for a traditional school. This was largely due to variable changes in enrollment and having operating funds that were either static or unpredictable. Some schools have received per-student funds, which lessens a few of their concerns.

Communication resources

social mediaTo facilitate the assortment of external and internal communications, the study participants had an array of available options. For external communication, phones and email systems were most often used. Internally, the virtual school leaders reported using a greater diversity of resources types that were purpose specific. Online messaging and chat were the common choice for informal exchanges, online meetings for group discussions, online collaboration tools for team projects, and emails for formal communications. For surveys and feedback, online tools were used.

Many of the tools and systems were licensed from vendors or were school owned and managed. These types were closed systems that were restricted to use by the virtual school. Other product types were online consumer communication systems and social media that are publicly used.

Learning systems

learning management systemAt the core of the virtual school’s mission are the resources that host the course content and enable the management of student learning and related data. The leaders expressed using a variety of systems for this. The larger virtual schools hosted their systems in-house and had staff to install and maintain them. The smaller schools elected to use systems that were hosted by vendors. The common reason for electing vendor hosting was the inability to amortize the costs that would be required for internal infrastructure, maintenance, and staff. Two of the leaders who were using externally hosted systems were in the process of reconsidering their choice of vendors and learning management systems.

Enterprise systems

Registration systems, student information systems, and financial systems are other technologies that leaders employed in the operation of their virtual school. Half of the leaders reported using systems that had been custom developed for their school from the onset of operations. These leaders were nearing a point where they would retire their aging systems and replace them with commercial options. The other leaders who were already using off-the-shelf systems seemed to be overall satisfied with their choices and the having the systems supported and updated by the vendor.

Technology infrastructure

data centerBased upon leader decisions, state mandates, and the resources that were available, the technology infrastructure varied from school to school. For instance in one school, the only significant technology infrastructure expenses that they had were the central office computers, peripheral equipment, a self-contained server for the state registration system and Internet connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum was a school that, in addition to standard office technologies, had a server room with emergency power, multiple servers, failover systems, firewalls, a data center, backup systems, and a network backbone to support the technologies. Regardless of the technology, infrastructure, and where it was located, the leaders’ primary concern was for the systems to perform consistently and reliably.

Reflection Point – “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.” ~Henry Miller

Virtual School Work Environment

Virtual Schools Have Unique Work Environments

by Mark Sivy

virtual schoolThis post content was taken from my dissertation study and findings surrounding virtual school leadership. What I found was that interview responses concerning the work environment were generally similar from one leader to the next. Differences in the findings were usually due to the number and type of staff and their geographic proximity to one another.

External Work Processes

There were multiple discussions of the leaders interacting with individuals outside their virtual school for the purpose of assuring the school’s operation and success. The most frequent reference was dealing with the school districts that the virtual school served. The leaders often found themselves in role of working with school principals or district administrators to set the foundation for smooth interactions between the schools. Occasionally a virtual school leader was involved with negotiating special arrangements being made with a specific school district in terms of course content or instruction.

Beyond this, there was a mix of external involvement. Many of the leaders worked with online service vendors and course content providers to ensure cost-effective, dependable, and user-friendly services and systems for the school. The leaders also mentioned their participation in a variety of committees and professional groups where they worked on behalf of their virtual school on common topics and solutions to issues and challenges.

virtual school leader

Internal Work Processes

The requirements for and purposes of these processes are similar to those within a traditional school, but how they are carried out can vary widely due to the virtual setting. Even though many processes have been touched upon throughout the other themes, the leaders did directly discuss others that are included in this section.

One ongoing responsibility for the leaders was to position the organization to be capable of dealing with problems, changes, and new trends. This involved establishing flexible strategic plans and adaptable school goals and objectives. The leaders commonly accomplished this through teamwork and other collaborative efforts within the school.

To facilitate internal school operations, the leaders used an assortment of online, face-to-face, and hybrid gatherings to bring the stakeholders or project teams together. Some of these were strictly planning meetings, certain ones served as progress checkpoints, and others were interactive work sessions. Unless an executive decision was needed, the leaders tended to let project managers, team leaders, and the teams organize themselves and lead the progress.

virtual team

Internal Work Structure

Each school had their unique organizational pattern and hierarchy, distribution of work responsibilities, and employee work locations. This was often determined by funding, state-level directives, and the leader’s discretion. The first two created limitations, but the latter gave the leader latitude in making organizational decisions and assignments.

The individual styles, characteristics, and choices of the leaders are what gave the schools their personality and culture. The sense of trust and confidence that the leaders had to place upon their staff, mainly as a result of having so many working at-a-distance, enabled the organizational structures to remain functional and intact.

Reflection Point – “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein

Digital Libraries for Virtual Schools

A Digital Library for Virtual Education – What is it and why should it be part of the virtual school?

by Mark Sivy

john-work-garrett-library-211375_1280There are many aspects of a traditional school that are taken for granted, but require special consideration and measures to be able to offer them within the realm and culture of a virtual school. One such piece that many consider to be the hub of education in a school is the library. The library has been a place where students learn about performing research, gain specialized in-depth knowledge, are self-motivated to learn and reflect, and can find momentary solitude or solace from many of life’s stresses and pressures. Some of the time-honored benefits of a conventional library can be extended to virtual schools through adaptation, other uses may not apply, and new practices and advantages are possible. This also involves more that using e-books through services such as OverDrive or Follett’s Enlight.

Given the increasing enrollments and social acceptance of virtual schools, having access to electronic versions of library materials and services can facilitate the learning process and addresses the mobile needs and schedules of learners. A digital library provides a central access point for those resources that are similar to ones found in a traditional library such as books, papers, journals, magazines, audio sources, video productions, and web-based materials. The concept has been around for a while, as seen in an article, Roles for Digital Libraries in K-12 Education, written by Miriam Masullo and Robert Mack in 1996. With the variety and volume of content, the digital resources are often locally managed through a common interface such as a custom website, but are delivered from an assortment of cloud-based services. Because these are available through the Internet, the electronic resources are available through devices such as personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

e-reader

With this occurring within the realm of electronic networks, new approaches beyond the traditional library can be integrated into the fabric of the virtual school environment. Connections can be created between digital libraries, other digital repositories, and learning management systems. This online storehouse is capable of distributing educational information to a great number of primary and secondary students across geographic, economic, and cultural boundaries.

For the virtual learner, social media can be tied in with the library to create an engaging and enriching social aspect. This and other educational technologies can be used to create sharing and collaborative efforts between students, which is one of the cornerstones of 21st Century Learning. It also enables the teacher to have multiple students simultaneously using resources or to work as a team through common access to projects and materials.

On the logistical front, digital libraries can allow content and services to be made available to a greater number of individuals at a lower per student cost than traditional libraries. The preservation and storage of existing and future acquisitions becomes less of an issue as do the needs for large physical structures and furnishings. Digital libraries also remove the concerns and expense of non-returned materials, damaged books, checking-out /checking-in, theft, and following up with students.

A Digital Library for Education, Part II will outline what is involved in creating a digital library.

Reflection Point: The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man. ~T.S. Eliot