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Shifting Instructional Practices and Digital Program Design to Meet the Needs of Today's K-12 Students

Amy Garrett Dikkers (University of North Carolina at Wilmington, USA)
Aimee Whiteside (University of Tampa, USA)
Additional Authors
Somer Lewis (University of North Carolina at Wilmington, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 11:15am
Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Discovery Session
Atlantic Hall
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Discovery Session 2

Our presentation examines how three K-12 case studies adapted their online and blended initiatives and approaches to meet learners' diverse needs

Extended Abstract

Context and Problem

K-12 online and blended learning initiatives must be adaptive to their learners' needs. In this presentation, we focus on three case studies of K-12 online environments (Yin, 2013). These organizations strive to meet the diverse needs of the students they serve by partnering with other organizations, shifting instructional practices, adapting curricula, and regularly engaging stakeholders. This presentation involves interactive Q&A through Padlet, examining how schools and organizations can be more adaptive to meet the needs of a diverse group of K-12 students.

Case 1: North Carolina Virtual Public School
Since 2007, the NCVPS has served 175,000 middle and high school students (North Carolina Virtual Public School, 2013). The state virtual school is the second largest in the country with 104,799 course enrollments in the 2013-2014 academic year (Watson, Pape, Murin, Gemin, & Vashaw, 2014).

Since its inception, NCVPS has continually adapted based on the needs of its students and teachers. For example, teachers take part in professional development around the Pillars of Instruction: Meaningful Feedback, Communication, Daily Announcements, and Individualized Learning. These pillars prompt teachers to communicate often, both synchronously and asynchronously, individualize instruction according to the needs of their students and provide personalized feedback.

NCVPS instructors utilize Moodle and Blackboard to deliver course content. The majority of student-teacher interaction is asynchronous, which provides students with flexible, continuous access to their courses and the opportunity to work at their own pace (Garrett Dikkers, Whiteside, & Lewis, 2013).

Recognizing the need for additional student support outside teacher instruction, NCVPS developed a multi-faceted virtual tutoring support system where students have access to instructors other than their own as well as to students who have mastered the content. Students can decide to access the tutoring center or be recommended by their teacher for collaboration with a virtual buddy for support.

Finally, NCVPS Technical Support has adapted to support student needs. Tech issues often get in the way of students starting the course; in response, the tech team provides support directly related to the soft skills of online learning. This support allows teachers to focus on individualized content and learning needs, rather than on the technology.

Case 2: District Summer School
The second case is a medium-sized school district in southeastern North Carolina. The district size is above average for the state, serving 12,000 middle and high school students in a county with a population of 200,000. District middle and high schools are using blended and online learning for a variety of purposes: remediation, acceleration, enrichment, credit recovery, intervention with Exceptional Children, and early intervention for at-risk students.

One adaptive shift at the district level involves using the state virtual school for summer school credit recovery. Students in the Credit Recovery (CR) Program need to "recover" their high school credit. The CR Program gives students who have either missed too many high classes and/or failed one or more of their high school courses an alternative pathway to recover these credits online and graduate. Some of these students who struggle academically may have juvenile records, challenging addictions, and learning disabilities or challenges; additionally, they may have children themselves and/or other familial responsibilities (Lewis, Whiteside, & Garrett Dikkers, 2014).

To adapt and better serve this diverse body of students, the district:
- Moved to a lab model with a Virtual Academy Coordinator (VAC) at each of the high schools
- Required CR students to attend the lab for several hours every day
- Hired a math tutor to work virtually with students at all sites
- Extended VAC positions through the academic year to provide support and a consistent presence for online learners

As a result, the pass rate for CR students increased from 48 to 57 percent. This district recognizes the need for stable support for students and created additional mechanisms to meet individual student needs and help them be successful.

Case 3: Huntley High School Blended Learning Initiative
Huntley High School (HHS) is a large, suburban high school, 45 minutes from Chicago. Consolidated School District 158 serves 9,300 students in Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12. The high school has grown in population from about 400 students in the mid-1990s to about 2,500 students with the most significant growth occurring in the last few years. HHS started with three blended classes in the 2011-2012 school year and increase offerings to 17 classes with 21 teachers with a total of 835 seats in the 2013-2014 school year (Garrett Dikkers, Whiteside, & Lewis, 2014).

Huntley's Blended Learning Initiative is a response to growth as well as the need to prepare their students for 21st century digital skills and collegiate studies. The district values a strong student-teacher relationship as well as consensus from a close, interactive group of teachers and administrators. As such, teachers at HHS develop their own blended learning content and often teach the same content in a blended class section alongside a traditional class section.

The blended learning environment adapts to student needs by providing them with a balance of independent and supported activities. Student support is individualized and course content is based on mastery. Students work at their own pace with or without the help of teachers. This built-in flex time for students is truly a unique aspect of Huntley. Students can meet with their teacher individually for further enrichment, meet with other content area instructors, utilize online resources, or work collaboratively with peers (Garrett Dikkers, Whiteside, & Lewis, 2014).

The blended learning initiative at Huntley HS provides a variety of learning opportunities for students within one traditional brick and mortar building.

Results - Emerging Themes
Schools, districts, and educational organizations are in a powerful position to systematically design online learning opportunities to meet learners' needs. Across these diverse cases, the following three themes emerge:
? Capitalize on the expertise of teachers
? Reflect on practice to adapt and better meet the needs of stakeholders
? Provide structures to support learning and build self-efficacy

These blended and online learning initiatives help guide students to developing critical thinking skills, learning independence, and self-efficacy.

Lead Presenter

Amy Garrett Dikkers, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Formerly a secondary school English teacher domestically and abroad, she earned a Ph.D. in Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota in 2006. She has taught face-to-face, hybrid, and online courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in educational reform, school technology leadership and vision, comparative education, human rights education, research design, and the foundations of education. Her professional interests include the preparation of educational leaders and the use of technology-enhanced and online learning in K-12 and higher education. Current research centers on reflective practice, maximizing online learning, incorporating community professionals into courses through technology, and the use of video to provide authentic voice in the classroom.