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Articles: Virtual

Whether a student has just moved into town with his military family or is finding her way after a misstep in school, Aventa Learning by K12 products are easing the way in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

It’s not unusual for parents to call Laura Belnap in tears over the Utah-based virtual school she oversees. And that’s a good thing.

“Parents are constantly emailing or calling us crying, thanking us for the support, and sharing stories of their children’s educational growth,” said Belnap, director of Washington Online School Utah.

Distance learning has come a long way from sending coursework back and forth through the mail. Leading the way is K12, Inc., whose innovative online learning programs are helping school districts meet the challenges of 21st-century education with 21st-century tools.

For instance, home-schooled students at Washington Online School Utah use K12 products to attend elementary, middle and high school classes without interrupting their sports training or other responsibilities.

Netbooks Replace Smartphones
Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Central School District

Back in December 2009, Watkins Glen Central School District in Garnerville, N.Y., gave smartphones to 200 fifth- and seventh-graders and 20 teachers in three schools. Two years later, this small pilot program has transitioned away from mobile phones to a one-to-one netbook program for all 850 pupils in grades 5-12. According to Superintendent Tom Philips, the HP Pavilion netbook is more educationally appropriate for Watkins Glen than tablets or mobile phones.  

Of American teens, 78 percent have broadband Internet at home, while 62 percent of all Americans have broadband at home.
—Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project

The increasing incorporation of digital materials and resources into school and district portals and repositories has given rise in recent years to a new focus on the issue of identity management in K12 education.

Clintondale (Mich.) Community Schools’ high school has turned the traditional school day upside-down by asking teachers to assign short video lectures as homework and have students do activities, participate in discussions and complete assignments in class, with their teacher at hand to answer questions.

Blended learning, which incorporates the best elements of online and face-to-face instruction, allows educators to personalize learning for every student. Determining the best mix of online and face-to-face instruction is the key to building a successful program, but the same mix isn’t appropriate for all students. Panelists Gregg Levin, vice president of school solutions for K12, and Heather Hiebsch, principal/director, PSD Global Academy, Fort Collins, CO, offer ideas on how to use blended learning models to meet students’ needs.

Readers spoke out in the largest numbers yet for District Administration’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Top 100 Products awards. The DA editorial staff spent days sifting through hundreds of submissions and learning about new and innovative education products nominated by readers. Nominations were accepted via the DA Web site from March through Sept. 15, 2011. Each nomination required a testimonial from a school administrator to allow us to understand how the product specifically impacted a school or district. Some products received more than 70 unique nominations.

Over 150 school districts in Illinois have teamed up to share software and technology through IlliniCloud, a one-of-its-kind nonprofit cloud-computing consortium for schools. Jim Peterson, IlliniCloud's chief technology officer and Bloomington (Ill.) Public Schools' technology director, started IlliniCloud in 2009 with the help of technology company CDW. Three data centers, located in Belleville, Bloomington and DeKalb, house computer systems, backup power supplies and security devices.

Are you an "unlearner?" If not, you need to become one—fast. Of the many important messages articulated by Duke professor Cathy Davidson in her newest book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, that may be the one that is most relevant for educational leaders at this moment.

Online learning has seen a STEEP upward growth trajectory over the past decade. In the 2011 report "The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning," authors Michael Horn and Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute say the number of students taking online courses has leapt from 45,000 in 2000 to more than 3 million today, and that by 2019, 50 percent of high school courses will be delivered online.

In August, as the back-to-school clothing and supplies were hitting the stores, Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools launched its own new "product line of services" to its student clientele, including additional magnet schools, a conservatory for the arts, salad bars, and new technology and online digital tools for students. This "ritual of reinvention" is a signature program of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, as he's unveiled similar plans each year since joining the district in fall 2008.

Online social networking includes much more than Facebook and Twitter. It is any online use of technology to connect people, enable them to collaborate with each other, and form virtual communities, says the Young Adult Library Services Association. Social networking sites may allow visitors to send e-mails, post comments, build web content, and/ or take part in live chats.

The 700 students that attend Mississinawa Valley (Ohio) Schools now have some work to do on their snow days. Only three "calamity days" are allowed, instead of the usual five, and two days will become "eDays," in which all K12 students will spend their time working on online lessons created by their teachers. This was made possible after the Ohio Department of Education in September allowed the district to adopt this change. On the fourth and fifth calamity days, students will log on to the district's Web site and follow their class's eDay lesson plans and assessments.

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