The Transformative Power of Technology to Stem the Dropout Rate

Jody Goeler, David Meyer, and Terry M. Moe took questions on the promise online learning holds to help students who are in danger of dropping out or not meeting graduation requirements regain their academic foothold through online-credit recovery.

February 17, 2009

The Transformative Power of Technology to Stem the Dropout Rate

  • David Meyer, director of learning support for the SIATech School for Integrated Academics & Technologies, a public charter high school with campuses nationwide that uses technology to re-engage students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
  • Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.
  • Terry M. Moe, professor of political science at Stanford University.

  • Michelle Davis (Moderator):

    Good afternoon and welcome to Digital Directions’ live chat, sponsored by Plato Learning. Joining us are David Meyer, the director of learning support for the SIA Tech School for Integrated Academics & Technologies, a public charter high school with campuses nationwide that uses technology to re-engage students at risk of dropping out; Susan Patrick, the president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning; and Terry M. Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford University. In this live chat, the guests will discuss and answer your questions about online credit recovery programs, virtual schools and courses and the future of policy surrounding online education. For more information see Education Week’s recent story “Online Options for ‘Credit Recovery’ Widen”.

    I’m Michelle Davis, senior writer for Digital Directions, and I’ll be moderating this discussion with our three guests. Each of our guests has a unique background and perspective on these topics, which were also the subject of a recent story in Education Week about online credit recovery. We’re already getting a tremendous number of questions for this chat, so let’s get right to them.

    Question from Jody Goeler, Assistant Superintendent, Avon CT:

    We are in the process of drafting an online learning policy for our district. What are the key considerations for developing an effective policy that promotes greater opportunities for students and ensures high standards?

    Susan Patrick:

    It is wonderful you are working on online learning policies for your school district. There are several reports that have been published that will help you develop effective policies for online learning while ensuring high standards. First, our organization released National Standards of Quality for Online Teaching and Online Courses (available for free download, The second publication, NACOL National Primer for K-12 Online Learning, has a list of recommended policies as an appendix and a case study. Third, E-Learning Frameworks for NCLB is a white paper that suggests supportive policies for districts and states for offering online learning and courses to students. If we can help you, please let us know. In 2008, Sloan-C reported that 70% of K-12 school districts offer online courses for students. These innovative online learning programs in K-12 education are our members waiting to help others in the field.

    Question from Doug Levin, Deputy Director, National Association of State Boards of Education:

    In your opinion and based on your experiences, what types of state-level education policies or regulations are either hindering and/or are key to fostering high-quality approaches to online learning at the K-12 level?

    Terry Moe:

    Many states have policies--regarding, for instance, student “seat time,” the role of certified teachers, formulas for school funding--that are rooted in the traditional ways education has been delivered. If distance learning is to be expanded and used to the greatest benefit of kids, the laws need to be revised to recognize its legitimacy and value, to accommodate its distinctive features, and to ensure accountability in both student performance and in how the money is spent. Also, even though charter schools are allowed in some 40 states, the laws are often too restrictive and don’t explicitly allow for the emergence of cyber charters--a key source of innovation and dynamism in moving distance learning forward. The states should liberalize their charter laws so that cyber charters can flourish and grow--and so that districts have the strongest possible incentives to put distance learning to innovative use.

    Question from Marianne Cibulas, Career Coordinator, Quaker Valley Schol District:

    How do students with academic deficiencies handle the course work along with meeting deadlines. As a former learning support teacher, I have dealt with students who would like the individual pace of online learning, but do not have the self-discipline to be successful in this area. How is the monitoring of student completed?

    Dave Meyer:

    Thanks for this question Marianne. Effective individual paced programs will provide methods that will allow students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and/or other adults involved in a students schooling to monitor student progress. Many online courses have internal student data systems that can provide high levels of monitoring student progress. A teacher will have a dashboard where they can see when students have last submitted an assignment, what their current grade is in the course, and many other data inputs that can impact the student progress. This can be available in real time. The same thing is available to parents and students. I am also a strong advocate for blended (or hybrid) online learning. Blended online learning offers online learning with some live face to face learning opportunities for students. It is important to have an adult (teacher, mentor, or parent) frequently connect with struggling students to monitor progress as well as assist in finding resources to increase learning. The relationships built with a caring adult is priceless for struggling students to succeed.

    Question from C. Langeneckert--Naperville North High School:

    Can a student “hire” a friend to take the class for him, avoiding the educational experience entirely? What checks are in place, if any?

    Susan Patrick:

    No, school districts have strict policies in place for online learning, including registration, oversight and management. Just as 25% of all college students (3.9 million enrollments) take at least one online course today, and there were 1,030,000 enrollments in K-12 online learning, issues such as truancy, competency, and ethical considerations are addressed in district and state policies, including (but not limited to) the oversight of mentors, test monitors, and facilitators by responsible adults for students’ work.

    Question from Barbara-Ann Kaidy, Masters degree candidate, Alliant International University:

    I hear all this talk about how “technology” is going to somehow grow legs and save students (of all ages) who are having problems with school. Since each student is an individual, with individual problems, how are we going to integrate technology with other people solutions, like counseling, mentoring and tutoring , and from where will the funding come? And, to follow-up, how are we going to show parents how to work with students in K-12 so that they can monitor the progress of their children and help them to become more socially astute human beings when schools become less involved with this role?

    Terry Moe:

    The whole point is that each student is indeed an individual. And far more than traditional schooling, which standardizes education for large groups of kids, the new technology allows the schools for the first time to truly customize education to the learning styles, needs, interests, and problems of each kid. Counseling, mentoring, and tutoring can be carried out online in essentially the same highly customized ways that academics are--and cyber schools are already doing these things. The implication that all these functions have to be carried out face to face is mistaken, and rooted in the past. We needn’t give up face to face interactions entirely. We just need to take greatest advantage of the whole realm of virtual interaction--which is new, and potentially of huge benefit.

    Question from Aleathia Muhammad, Mohammed Schools of Atlanta, Elementary Instructor:

    When students attempting to use online learning to meet graduation requirements from high school use this system what type of diploma will they receive? And have you noticed that they are usually more inspired to attend college after using online learning if they were not inspired before?

    Susan Patrick:

    Thank you for your question. It depends on whether a student is only taking one or two classes online (part-time/supplemental), or whether they are enrolled full-time in a virtual school that has accreditation and authority to offer high school diplomas. Students taking online learning to meet high school graduation requirements may do so in some states full-time and in other states either full-time or part-time . . .and depending on how many online courses they take and the programs they are enrolled in - students may receive a high school diploma from the local, brick and mortar high school they attend for the majority of their credits, or from their accredited full-time virtual school, if it is a diploma granting institution. Since one in five college students (20%) enrolls in an online course. In surveys, many high school students who have taken online courses in high school and matriculate into college express that their online courses helped provide them with experiences that helped them develop a higher level of self-direction in managing their course work and learning, build organization skills using technology, and develop 21st century skills that they needed to prepare for college (and . . . the workforce).

    Question from John Stallcup APREMAT/USA:

    Online learning has already had substantial impact in countries outside the US. As an example is now used by the majority of students in Singapore. The US has an extremely fragmented education system with limited online access and too many decision makers who are not tech savvy. Why is there no national program to provide parents with information about the existing proven online programs and which ones have the widest acceptance? In any given year 80% of a students waking hours are not spent at school. It will take at least a decade to have online tools adopted in schools.

    Terry Moe:

    The tech revolution in education is in its early stages, and most policy makers, it’s true, don’t really understand it. More than than, however, there is a power imbalance at work: the tech forces are diffuse, unorganized, and just getting going, whereas the forces representing traditional education--led by the teachers unions--are supremely well organized, do not want to unleash the innovative potential of technology, and are keen to undermine or weaken distance learning. So there is little power behind the “demand” for something like a national program to provide parents with information about distance learning, and lots of power to prevent it. I suspect that the solution, in the near term, will be that nonprofits and other nongovernmental organizations will fill the gap and provide citizens with the information they need.

    Question from Shawn Whitt, System Administrator, Peoples Education:

    What are some of the biggest motivators inherent to educational technology for struggling students?

    Dave Meyer:

    The biggest motivators we have found are threefold. First of all, many students are drawn to new, unique and creative ways of learning. Many struggling students were unsuccessful in a traditional model. We have found that educational technology, when effectively incorporated into the learning environment, can help in re-engaging struggling students. The key, however, is effectively incorporating it into the learning activities. Our goal at SIATech is not to teach the technology, but to have our teachers use the technology to reinforce, better illustrate, or even allow the students to self discover the learning objectives. For example, our teachers have infused industry standard software applications into the core content subject areas. Students may be self discovering some geometric relationships while participating in a computer assisted drafting (CAD) activity - followed by an assignment where they can then acquire the mathematical terminology behind the relationships that they have already learned. Secondly, when using technology-based instructional tools, students can receive frequent and timely feedback about their performance. This timely feedback serves as a huge motivator for struggling students. These tools can often be prescriptive and interactive. They can automate the process of steering the student into the appropriate level of learning activities, as well as provide immediate assistance into skills with which they may be struggling. Lastly, inherent to using instructional technologies for struggling students is the ability to allow students to learn at their own maximal pace. Many online courses offer students this advantage.

    Question from Kimberly Dupree@ College of The Rockies:

    Hello. I am so happy to see this topic being discussed. There really are children that do not do well in " brick and mortar schools.” I am happy that people are beginning to realize this. Can you tell me if there are any online high schools where kids can learn at their own pace, that have financial assistance to take the online courses when the kids come from low income families? Thank you.

    Susan Patrick:

    Thanks for your question, which points to the complexity of educational policies in America. To answer your question, in some states and school districts the answer is “yes” -- your child (student) would have access to online courses at no cost to your family because your district or state has a virtual school program. If you are in one of 32 states that has a state virtual school (such as Florida, Michigan, Idaho, Georgia, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, etc.) - the answer is “yes”. However, if you are in a state that doesn’t have a state virtual school (such as New York, California, Oklahoma, etc.) -- then the answer is “no”. There isn’t a “Pell Grant” or scholarship model for K-12 public education in the U.S., like there is for higher education financial assistance, so depending on where you live -- whether you live in the zip code of one of the 70% of public school districts that offer online courses to students, or one of the 18 states that allows for full-time virtual charter schools, or one of the 30 states that allows for supplemental online education programs, then you will have different options for online learning. To remedy this, iNACOL is advocating for “Every Students’ Right to Online Learning Opportunities”, regardless of where they live . . . Online learning policies in the US (like education policy in the US), is local control - that is - it depends on your local school district and state options . . . We are working to expand access for all students to high quality online education.

    Question from Paul Odham,Transition Services, Orange Co. Public Schools:

    This may be an answer for students that need to work at their own schedule however,if an important outcome for graduation is successful employment, how will it address the development and mastery of “Soft Skills” that are so vital for social intelligence in a global workplace?

    Terry Moe:

    Face to face interaction, and the people skills that underpin its being done successfully, are important in life and employment. But these are skills that students develop every day, in many different modes of activity, not just at school. Moreover, the interactions students have that are not face to face--via cell phones, email, instant messaging, FaceBook or MySpace, blogs, wikis, as well as in all sorts of virtual “classroom” settings--contribute just as much, if not more, to their skills in communicating with others, expressing themselves, making connections, and all the rest. Indeed, it may well be that today’s kids are doing more communicating and interacting than kids ever have done in recorded history. These skills will be enormously beneficial in the workplace--and may increasingly be just the kinds of skills that are especially beneficial.

    Question from Barbara Andrepont, Consultant, ESP Solutions Group:

    When a student is concurrently enrolled, which school is responsible for determining that the student has met graduation requirements? How do online learning institutions communicate student enrollment, attendance, and grades to the “home institution”? (electronic file, paper, fax, other format?)

    Dave Meyer:

    The school who will be granting the actual diploma is ultimately responsible for determining that the student has met graduation requirements. There are many different relationships and partnerships built between online schools and a “home institution”. What I have frequently seen is the home institution will request this information to be sent to them via fax or paper file in the form of an official transcript

    Question from Patrick J. Simon, CEO Beehive Technology Solutions LLC:

    For Susan: The issue for many schools/districts is a robust network and access to broadband at home to facilitate online learning for those who truly need it. Tim Magner Dir, Dep of Ed Tech (after you), started Schools 2.0 to address some of that. There has never been a consolidated national effort to marry Ed Tech with IT Infrastucture why? The fights are between IT and Student Services and nothing gets done!

    Susan Patrick:

    There is an enormous need for a National Broadband Policy in the U.S. to address the last mile, high speed Internet access issues. One of the problems exacerbating the issue is that the infrastructure funded by e-rate is coming from a different federal agency (the Federal Communications Commission) than the U.S. Department of Education’s educational technology funding . . .and this needs to be coordinated - and continues to grow the need for an overall National Broadband Strategy. The US is the only developed nation without a national broadband strategy. We are falling behind the other nations. For ed tech, the bigger issue is the need to marry the educational reform goals of providing a world-class education to every student (college-ready, work-ready), align the bigger learning goals with the hardware/software and infrastructure needed in schools, find ways to innovate solutions using online learning to meet the needs of students, and then drive the bigger solution using expanded broadband Internet access to the home (and Internet access throughout the community). The overall student learning goals should drive the need for effective IT in the school and access to the home for all students.

    Question from Sonya T, Technology Associate, Education Development Center:

    What kind of policies would need to be in place for online learning to benefit high schools with limited resources and lower overall achievement, in order to bring them up to par with higher achieving schools?

    Terry Moe:

    Used wisely, online learning can be a great equalizer in public education. Schools and districts with limited resources can use online providers for a vast array of courses--from the remedial to the advanced, covering a broad terrain of special interests--that they could never offer on their own, bringing the best thinkers and lecturers in the world (literally) right into their own classrooms. All this can be done, moreover, for much less money than if the districts had to hire their own teachers and provide the courses on their own. States can facilitate this kind of outsourcing--and equalization--by actively and aggressively funding online options for disadvantaged districts.

    Question from Joyce LaTulippe, Director of e-Learning Agents:

    I work with at-risk students in an urban environment near Boston. These students have significant barriers to online education: limited technology access & skill, poor time management and low literacy rates. These are significant barriers that are seemingly impossible to overcome.

    Dave Meyer:

    The best place to start with these issues is to explore what we already know works in a face-to-face learning environment. When we’ve zeroed in on the best practices for a given situation, we can start finding the best ways to “translate” those to the online environment. You’ve asked 3 big ones…they are definitely hurdles (and will require lots of your best thinking and attention), but just as they wouldn’t be impossible to overcome in a traditional classroom, we think they can be tackled in the virtual setting, too. As an example, let’s take a very preliminary swipe at the “poor time management” challenge. Any student struggling with this one would need several things, including, but not limited to careful mentoring, goal-setting conversations, structure for accountability, incentive, and engaging/relevant content. Consider attaching every online student to a mentor to meet with regularly (individually or in a group). Use a method for setting short and long term goals that can be tracked either on paper (assignment sheet), or digitally (shared document or live pace chart). “Chunk” learning activities into manageable pieces…always assume that time spent in front of a computer screen is more difficult to maintain than face-to-face time. Text on a screen is not effective unless it’s surrounded by rich activities that challenge students to do something meaningful with their learning. At the very least, tap into the tremendous interactive potential available online (discussion boards, blogs, twitters, etc.)

    Question from Lora Stout, Director of Secondary Instruction, Walled Lake (MI) Schools:

    We are interested in what is known about what kind of coaching (if any) that high school students need to have to increase their opportunity to be successful. We know that having a teacher/coach is better than not having anyone, but what a specific coach DOES would be of interest to our district. Thank you.

    Susan Patrick:

    Mentoring and coaching models for online teaching is an important strategy in online learning programs. There are a number of models for training online instructional mentors/coaches, the use of online tutors, the role of an online coach. We just did a webinar on this topic and have a number of reports on online teaching, as well as virtual mentoring and coaching models, on our website. For me to describe the various models on this “chat” would be quite long, so I will point you to the resources on our website -- (the archived webinars and reports are available for free). Please email me if you need more information at

    Question from annawylie, literacy facilitator, Rose creek elementary:

    What do you consider the most effective way to get teachers to value assessment, realize it’s their job, and get them excited about using assessment to guide their instruction?

    Terry Moe:

    Technology now makes it possible to assess student progress in fine detail, do it on an ongoing basis, and provide ongoing feedback--to both the student and the teacher--about what skills need attention. Such assessment has not traditionally been part of the teacher’s job, however, so many teachers resist doing what is new and different. They may also be offended by it, seeing it as interfering with their professional judgment. But clearly, it has much to offer, and there are several keys to getting teachers to buy in. One, they can be fully trained in its use, and made fully aware of its value--for most teachers want to be better at what they do. Two, administrators can try to hire teachers who already see assessment as a key to student progress. Three, administrators can structure incentives--e.g., bonuses for student performance--to give teachers a stake in improving how much their students learn, and in taking assessment seriously.

    Question from Eric L. Waters, Assistant Principal, Harrisburg School District, PA:

    Clayton Christensen has grounded ‘Credit Recovery’ in disruptive innovation theory. With this, what is the capacity for Credit Recovery programs to serve the needs of the non-traditional urban African American female?

    Terry Moe:

    Credit recovery programs can take various forms, of course. But when online options are available, the important thing is that these programs can be customized to the needs of individual students. Urban African-American females are but one of many groups of students who could be well served in this way. In their case, they may come from very deprived backgrounds, have serious educational deficits that need to be overcome, have economic and family hardships to deal with in addition to school, and much more--so they will need coursework that is specialized to their learning needs and specialized as well to their schedules. A program that allows them to study from home (or anywhere that is convenient), at any hour of the day or night, and to get the specialized help they need in ways that conform to their own learning styles, strikes me as extraordinarily well suited for getting them through their coursework--and to graduation.

    Question from Rosanne Markham, Instructional Specialist, Granite School District:

    We are developing credit recovery courses using Moodle. However, students will be taking the course asynchronously. Is there a way to involve discussion groups on-line when students enter and exit courses at different times?

    Dave Meyer:

    One of the nice things about discussion boards it that they do not need to be asynchronous. You can effectively engage students in discussions that may have begun with students in an open entry open type of program. You can try requiring a student to post an item and in addition require them to responds to 2-3 previously posted items or discussion threads. The previous posts can remain available as long as the instructor believes they are still relevant.

    Question from Latonya McDowell, Student, Western Governors University:

    Is online learning being considered for primary schools in addition to using it to transform student learning and academic sucess in secondary and high schools? Have we considered how we will prepare Primary grade students for this type of learning environment in the future? Also how effective will online learning be for the teacher in regards to how technologically savy or trained they are?

    Susan Patrick:

    Online learning programs have existed in primary grade levels for the past decade and now are offered full-time in 18 states, as well as a number of school districts across the country. According to the Pew Internet Study, the largest new users of the Internet are ages 2-5. Nearly 70% of kindergarteners have used the Internet. The question is not necessarily whether they are using an online learning environment, but whether the learning environment they are using is fully meeting students’ needs for customized, individualized instruction that helps provide support and instructional strategies that work. The Going Virtual Report shows that the average online teacher has 7+ years of traditional teaching experience before getting significant training to teach online. The online teachers are often more experienced, more motivated and seek the challenge of customization of instruction and meeting students needs -- and online learning environments can create unmatched collaborative, customized, and personalized learning for every child to move at their own pace. iNACOL released National Standards for Quality Online Teaching last year, and this is a good guide for seeing how effective online teachers need to be trained.

    Question from Eric L. Waters, Assistant Principal, Harrisburg School District, PA:

    How long will it take for urban school districts to recognize the positive implications of credit recovery and accept this program as a substantive aspect of progressive education practice instead of a threat to the traditional classroom setting?

    Susan Patrick:

    Thank you for your question. A number of urban districts are seeing the benefits of using online learning solutions to create new opportunities for students for credit recovery. Online learning for remediation and credit recovery is a rapidly growing area and is becoming very much of a solution in the mainstream for many school districts, including several urban districts in our membership. Our iNACOL Promising Practices in K-12 Online Learning series has a paper on “Using Online Learning for At-Risk Students and Credit Recovery” which provides case studies on programs showing effective results for diverse groups of students. You can download this for free on our website. We need to do more to raise the awareness for creating solutions through online learning to the leadership of urban school districts.

    Question from Chun Lai, faculty, Michigan State University:

    Would the high attrition rate in online courses challenge this statement?

    Terry Moe:

    It is true that online courses sometimes have high attrition rates. But this is not very surprising. Many students taking these courses were alienated or at-risk to begin with--which is why they are seeking out nontraditional options. They would have higher than normal attrition rates anyway. Also, some kids (and adults) who take online courses are just experimenting, find them harder or more demanding than they expected, and drop out. In general, the attrition rate is heavily influenced by the types of students who happen to enroll in these online courses--and they are not a cross-section of the student population.

    Question from Brian Bohrnstedt, Father of four:

    My son is currently taking a credit recovery course to make up an Algebra credit. The school has told us that the number of seats is limited and the Senior’s get top priority. Are there other sources for these courses besides through the school system? Thanks!

    Dave Meyer:

    Yes there are many institutions that provide different means to access their courses. Some like K-12 Online Learning, or Florida Virtual Schools, will allow parents to directly enroll their students into courses for a tuition fee. Some will even sell the content for the course; however, there is usually no teacher in this scenario. I strongly encourage you to double check with your student’s school to make certain that they will accept incoming credits from whichever online learning program you select.

    Question from Teacher, Region One CT:

    As a teacher in a low population, geographically large region,I think any online alternative to traditional education would be a life saver to many of our students. While we have all of the same issues as our larger more urban counterparts, we don’t have the staffing and facilities to deal with them. The devastating snowball effect of failing, doubling up, and doubly failing required courses has been the main reason for students to end up in “night school” or drop out completely. Yet our Regional Board of Ed has failed to move forward on our participation in even the on-line credit recovery program created and endorsed by the state (CT). With slim statistics, what ammo can we use to get the board’s attention and drag it into the 21st century?

    Susan Patrick:

    iNACOL released a Promising Practices report on Online Credit Recovery which has a series of case studies and statistics that may be helpful. This is a growing area and the effectiveness in online learning in helping struggling students is starting to show very promising results for helping to bring kids up to grade level and prepare them so that they may successfully complete school and graduate. Online learning is helping struggling students as well as expanding course offerings for gifted students - and serving a wide range of diverse students well.

    Question from Mary Sam, Retired Middle School Teacher, Denver Public Schools:

    Are there any statistics on online learning that support the efficacy of the methodolgy in improving graduation rates?

    Terry Moe:

    None that I know of, but we should be careful of such statistics at this point. The kids who “attend” cyber schools or otherwise rely on distance learning are not a cross-section of the student population. Many are alienated from regular school for various reasons, and are going this route because they have not done well on the traditional path. Also, many are kids that were previously home schooled. Without extensive statistical controls, including sophisticated attention to “selection effects,” simply comparing the graduation rates of kids in regular schools and cyber schools is likely to be quite misleading. This said, I would expect that, once appropriate research is done, it will show that distance learning opportunities significantly increase the graduation rate--because they allow for customization to the special styles, needs, interests, and schedules of each student, and gives each of them new opportunities to succeed.

    Question from Brandon Cohen, Assistant Principal, Helen Bernstein High School:

    Higher Ed research has shown that students successful in online courses are the same students successful in traditional classrooms -- what evidence is there that credit recovery students will have greater success in an online course than a traditional face-to-face course?

    Dave Meyer:

    I wouldn’t necessarily argue that all credit recovery students will have greater success in an online course than in a traditional face-to-face course. Just as all face to face classrooms are not equal in quality of education, not all online programs are equal as well. I do know that when an online course is created with these students in mind, many have reported to have more positive learning interactions with their teacher and classmates then they experienced in a face to face environment. For some they feel safer to interact due of some levels of anonymity. Others find they can better fit it into their life schedule. You can find various instutions that will show that their success for credit recovery course equal that of their counterparts. Is it better? Not certain, but I do know it provides a choice that can meet the needs of a population in our society that often gets overlooked.

    Question from Kenni Alden, Curriculum Developer, Developmental Studies Center:

    Do you think it’s important for online learning to incorporate qualitative assessment, given that cheating is much easier in distance learning? If so, what effect might that have on the design and implementation of online curriculum?

    Susan Patrick:

    Assessment is an important component of education, both face-to-face and in online learning. Instructional design that incorporates effective assessment for the medium is also important. Online teachers report that the increased emphasis on writing in online courses helps a teacher understand the student voice and writing assignments, posting on discussion boards, e-portfolios, team projects with students collaborating online, as well as multiple choice and other assessment methods are all an important part of effective online courses. It may be helpful to reference the iNACOL National Standards of Quality for Online Courses on our website. As for your assumption that cheating is easier online, teachers respond that a well-designed course does require much more writing, and hence, teachers learn a “student voice” and their writing style early on . . . teachers trained to teach online also have tools (such as software and web-based programs) to help prevent or identify cheating. Teachers in both face-to-face and online settings have to be able to identify plagarism or falsification of student work, but interestingly . . . teachers who are teaching online report that when students are frequently writing about the subject by posting their work in discussion boards and in emails, it can actually be easier for the teacher to determine whether it is the students’ own work by a familiarity with their written “voice”.

    Question from Dino Sossi, Teachers College, Columbia University:

    How do we ensure that online learning opportunities meet curricular standards and do not become less rigorous than traditional face-to-face courses?

    Terry Moe:

    Online providers such as APEX Learning, K12, Connections Academy, and Provost are already offering extensive, sophisticated course curricula that are aligned to state standards--and thus vary somewhat from state to state. These are impressive curricula, and are not less rigorous than the courses currently offered in regular classrooms. The alignment to meet state standards, moreover, is generally required by state law, and is not simply left to the marketplace.

    Question from Beth Robertson, Teacher, Williams Elementary:

    How do we address the lack of technology accessability for urban youth?

    Susan Patrick:

    The gap between access to the Internet, having a home computer and familiarity with technology for the “haves” and “have nots” is becoming increasingly exacerbated. The latest studies from the National Center for Education Statistics and the federal government show that students from families with higher income levels (above $75,000) will have a home computer and high-speed, broadband access at home. In contrast, students from low-income families, where the combined family income is less than $25,000 -- these families do not have Internet access or a home computer. Providing access to urban youth, and all youth in need, is an important policy issue. Online learning can help level the playing field and many online learning programs are sending a computer home with students, or helping to subsidize monthly internet costs . . . these are important developments for these kids to close gaps in their learning and develop 21st century skills. The Americas Digital Schools reported that 10% of school districts were piloting one laptop per child programs (1:1 programs). Some districts are doing surveys to determine whether students have access at home and then leading programs to close gaps for the “have nots”. Finding ways to open accessibility for all students is critical for every student to have access to high-quality, and even world-class, educational options available in K-12 education.

    Question from Rosanne Markham, Instructional Specialist, Granite School District:

    If students have already failed a class, just assigning work and having it submitted on-line does little to remediate misunderstandings or to actually teach them new information. What are the most effective ways of using technology to teach these students?

    Dave Meyer:

    Let’s assume that failing is really an attempt at communicating. The student needs a different kind of help than we’re trying to give, and plunking them down by themselves in an online environment is a move in the wrong direction. The online setting may be part of a bigger solution that should really focus on finding more ways to get individual attention to the student. The best ways to do this in a brick-and-mortar involve identifying the student’s specific needs. Technology can be leveraged to sort some conceptual misunderstandings, prescribe remedial lessons, facilitate communication with mentors, coaches, and teachers.

    Question from Ernest:

    are the states that have taken the lead in modeling policies to facilitate digital learning more than others? and, how has policy affecting education investment in these same states/areas?

    Terry Moe:

    When it comes to online schooling, as in most areas of educational reform--choice, accountability--the most innovative state is Florida. By far. Its Florida Virtual School, started in 1997 with a mere 77 students, now serves roughly 100,000 students throughout the state (including some in other states), and offers about 100 different online courses, including AP courses--many of them unavailable to students in their home districts. The Florida Virtual school is a model for the nation. It is the largest, best established program of online learning by orders of magnitude--it enrolls more students than all other state-level virtual schools combined--and it is well known for its professionalism, the rigor of its courses, and the diversity of the students it serves. Other states are already following its lead--among the largest virtual schools are those in Alabama, North Carolina, and Utah--and the trajectory suggests dramatically increasing enrollments in the coming years.

    Question from Rosanne Markham, Instructional Specialist, Granite School District:

    We are a large (70,000)urban district with an equally large need for credit recovery. If we develop a Moodle classroom, how many students can a teacher monitor on-line effectively at one time? I assume it will be more than in a face-to-face classroom, but how much more?

    Dave Meyer:

    Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that online delivery means online teachers can take on larger student loads. That’s not always the case. Much of the answer to your question depends on several factors, including the nature of the content, the online learning experience of the students, the experience of the teacher, the quality of technical support, and the expectation for teacher-to-student & student-to-student interactions. Try something on a small scale, perhaps piloting one online course in two or three content areas and carefully evaluate the experience from the teachers’ and students’ perspectives

    Question from Liz Gelfand, Teacher, Palm Beach County:

    How are teachers being held accountable and what steps are being taken to support them in virtual schools?

    Susan Patrick:

    Online teachers have a high model of accountability, since in online learning environments - every action, every interaction with students, and every moment teaching is recorded in the learning management system. E-learning is a very transparent way to teach (when compared to teaching in a traditional classroom, with “doors shut” and sporadic classroom visits from administrators). There are a number of interesting online teaching support models, mentoring and coaching models that could be useful for both blended and traditional learning environments, as well. With that said, the big ideas is that effective training, support and evaluation models for online teaching are extremely important. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) has a number of excellent publications on these topics. Also, the iNACOL website lists a number of important research studies on this topic - and this is a topic that our Research Committee has been exploring. To start, there is a study titled, “Going Virtual! The Unique Needs and Challenges of Online Teachers” -- this is an excellent research study and paper that explores the topics of support, training and other needs for K-12 online teachers. If you need specifics on evaluation, accountability systems or support models for a particular online program model in K-12, please let me know.

    Question from Elizabeth Schwerdtle, parent:

    Do you worry that on-line classes will be used as a way to isolate at-risk students (viewed by many as “problem” students) from the general school population, or as a way to shut down alternative high schools that specialize in the needs of these students? It seems like some districts are welcoming on-line learning for this reason.

    Dave Meyer:

    I have not experienced that motivation for using online classes. Not many online course are built for the at-risk population in mind. There is a growing number. However, the vast majority are still heavy text based and were designed for a different population. I do not foresee a movement that is encouraging this as a means to shut down alternative schools. I see it as another choice being made available to this underserved population.

    Question from Larry Brayton, Student Services, Hope Street Academy:

    What kind of cost (startup and maintaining) is there for a district to incorporate online courses into their curriculum?

    Susan Patrick:

    This is a great question. If your state has a state virtual school, you can tap into those courses and start a program with very low costs. However, if your state does not have a state virtual school, then districts have a choice of online course providers to partner with to provide courses, or some districts choose to develop their own courses. There are pros and cons - and it doesn’t necessarily make sense for 15,000 school districts to “reinvent the wheel” by developing their own courses. Costs for online course development is expensive, and exploring options for providing online courses through a third party partner may be a better alternative. Likewise, whether to train your own teachers to teach online, you can partner with online providers to help you with highly qualified teachers, if you have teaching shortages and want to fill in the gaps through online learning -- building or outsourcing are some of the decisions you need to make. Some online course providers provide licensed teachers to school districts. I could write so much more on this - we have an entire 4 hour pre-conference panel on “How to Start an Online Program” at our annual Virtual School Symposium that covers the pros and cons, and the decisions that a district needs to make to offer courses online. You can also check out the iNACOL National Primer on K-12 Online Learning for guidance.

    Question from Linda Sampietro, Elementary Teacher, CT:

    What percentage of students stay in school due to online learning? Has research specifically identified online learning to be the cause for this?

    Susan Patrick:

    There are different models for online learning across K-12 (and higher education, too). How students enroll and what requirements they must meet vary from state to state and district to district - thus, the retention rates for online programs vary according to policies. For example, the Illinois Virtual High School enacted a mentor requirement for students taking courses in the public schools, so there would be an “onsite” mentor and facilitator to offer student services and support. When programs implement different policies, programs, such as the Illinois Virtual High School, have seen students stay in the program and help improve retention. In a similar vein, online learning programs, such as the online summer school program in Omaha Public Schools, saw a dramatic increase in successful credit recovery for students -- recovering credit that is helping the students stay on track, “catch up”, stay in school, and improve the high school graduation rates. This is a complex topic for research, and I cannot point to a definitive, large scale study (because there are none that have been done/funded on this relatively new innovation), however, the initial results of school programs using online learning to improve retention have shown positive possibilities and I believe there is a need for such research to look deeper into the connections between online learning, engagement and retention.

    Question from James Calantjis, Teacher, Grover Cleveland HS:

    Isn’t this online credit recovery system a disguise for reducing graduation standards and increasing graduation rates? If a student can not complete the work at schoolwith teacher support,how is he suppose to do so working independently?

    Dave Meyer:

    It should never be used to simply increase graduation rates. The motivation for any successful credit recovery system needs to provide a choice for students that are not successful in a tradition classroom. There are many resources that can be made available to students that often are not mad available in a traditional classroom.

    Question from Dino Sossi, Teachers College, Columbia University:

    Does wide-scale adoption of online learning threaten traditional face-to-face learning, especially in terms of decreasing support staff, etc. in an era of tight budgets? How do we placate unions who may view online learning as a threat to their members?

    Susan Patrick:

    This is a good question. Online learning creates solutions that may be a better use of taxpayer dollars for public education -- and also opens new professional opportunities for licensed teachers. If I read between the lines of your question, I want to emphasize that these online courses are taught by highly qualified teachers (real human beings) and the increase in interactivity between the teachers and the students - as well as removal of social barriers that limit discussions in class (time, cliques, where you sit in a row in the classroom) is one of the areas that really opens up online discussions and teachers interacting with their students in ways they felt they never have been able to reach them before (so openly, with everyone participating, no judging based on looks). The teachers union has created two publications focused on quality online teaching and quality online courses -- and they support having all teachers trained to teach online in pre-service programs. For the first time in history, new professional teaching opportunities in online learning allow teachers to teach part-time (as adjunct faculty) and also telecommute (teach full-time from their home or anywhere else). This is in line with broader trends in the 21st century workforce, but usually teachers are limited to teaching “within driving distance” of a local school where there is an opening in the subject where they are licensed/hold certification. With online learning, teachers can teach at any distance in their field - and also part-time - opening important new options for the teaching profession. Online learning costs about the same as face-to-face/traditional learning because there are increased costs in providing student support, as well as paying for the instructors and administrative staff. The big idea is that you can do so much “more” with online learning in terms of customization, personalization and having better data on student competency - that it makes sense in the time of tight budgets to use every dollar very wisely to ensure student success.

    Question from Frank Della, Doctoral Student, Chicago State University:

    We all know that values drive educational decisions. What values and ohilosophies do you find successful practitioners hold? Do you find that they are reminiscent of Dewey’s ideas?

    Terry Moe:

    If there is one “value” that I think successful practitioners share, it is the belief that children should come first, and that education should be designed to give priority to the interests of children over the interests of the adults who run the system. The adults are there to serve children, not vice versa. Otherwise, I don’t think any one educational philosophy has a monopoly on good education, including some of the “progressive” ideas often associated with Dewey. The bottom line is that kids are unique individuals with different learning styles, needs, and interests--which means that different kids respond to different types of schooling experiences. What works for one kid won’t work for another. So thinking in terms of the “best” philosophical approach is somewhat dangerous, I would say. Better to provide families with a diversity of choice, and with as much customization as possible--which is just what distance learning does.

    Question from Frances D. Lee, Curriculum Specialist, Concordia Parish School System:

    How is this information distributed to high school counselors so they can help students access and use online credit recovery?

    Dave Meyer:

    Many online institutions have differnt ways of utilizing the assistance of counselors. If you have a few online programs that some of your students attend, I would recommend contacting them directly and let them know that your counsleors are available to assist and seek wasy to involve them with those online learning institutions.

    Question from Jeanne DiBenedetto, ESL Teacher, Newton Public Schools, NJ:

    What percentage of your students so far are English language learners? Can students who do not speak English take English as a Second Language courses online?

    Susan Patrick:

    There are programs for English Language Learners that utilize online courses. For example, the University of California College Prep program, which shared their courses with the Monterey Institute for Technology in Education (MITE) open educational resources -- developed courses in English and translated them into Spanish so ELL students could toggle back and forth in learning various subjects. There are also online learning resources designed for ELL students. Whether a particular program is offered in your district is determined by the school district - there are 15,000 school districts in the U.S., each determining how to set up their own ELL programs . . . some are using online learning and others do not.

    Question from Steve Skardon, Executive Director, The Palmetto Project in South Carolina:

    I run a non-profit organization that has had significant success in using online technology to teach kids as young as four-years-old. Are there any states that have an online learning program for their k-5 students? Are you aware of any organizations that might be interested in partnering with us in creating that?

    Susan Patrick:

    Yes, 18 states allow for full-time (including K-5) K-12 online learning programs. Our members are the online learning providers that offer programs for K-5 and other students. Please take a look at our members on our website (, or email me directly and we can help connect you to the organizations that are doing these innovative programs.

    Question from Brandon Cohen, Assistant Principal, Helen Bernstein High School:

    How are online credit recovery courses going to be different than regular online courses? For example, if an Algebra 1 online credit recovery course utilizes the same online pedagogy as a regular online Algebra 1 course, why would we expect the results to be any different?

    Dave Meyer:

    I don’t believe, they should be different. I think the strategies that make face to face learning, regular online learning and credit recovery online learning successful are all the same things. They all should provide students with ample opportunities to interact with the teacher, other classmates, and the content. If it is a well developed course, it should provide the students to learn activities that utilize different modalities. For the at risk student there they should not be heavy on text, they should be interactive and provide connections to real life applications.

    Michelle Davis (Moderator):

    Thanks for all the great questions. Because we were a bit late getting the chat started due to a technical glitch, we decided to keep the forum open for questions a bit longer. Thanks to David, Susan and Terry for their insightful answers, and thanks again to our sponsor, Plato Learning. See you next time, and don’t forget to check out our calendar of upcoming chats and webinars.

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