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Establishing Overall Program
Integrating online learning into an existing education system is a worthwhile, but complex endeavor that requires focused management of a range of detailed activities, as well as ongoing, effective communication between a district or school and its online provider. For these reasons, any district or school planning to offer online courses will profit from identifying a site coordinator, at either the district level or at each school. This is the individual who will have primary responsibility for implementing the online program, including ensuring adequate student support. The coordinator is the primary link between district or school and provider, as well as being the primary program contact for online students and their parents. This individual usually recruits, counsels, and enrolls students in online learning and, in many cases, provides support for students over the course of their online studies. In the long run, whether the site coordinator is full time or part time depends on how many students are enrolled in an online program. For example, at a smaller school with only a handful of students taking online courses, a staff member may split his or her time between serving as a site coordinator for the online program and serving as a guidance counselor. A district or school may identify a coordinator before even choosing a partner provider. In such cases, the coordinator may lead the research effort. A coordinator also may be appointed after a partner has been chosen. Either way, some providers have found it useful to develop a list of key coordinator responsibilities, which they share with districts and schools. Figure 1 is an excerpt from the site coordinator manual for Colorado Online Learning (COL); it lists typical roles for a site coordinator working with COL. Providers write up such descriptions to help districts and schools identify the most appropriate person for the coordinator position.
Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA), based at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, specifies that its partners must designate both a site coordinator and a technical coordinator. While the site coordinator manages the district's or school's overall implementation of online learning, the technical coordinator ensures that online students have the necessary technology and does initial troubleshooting of any technology- related problems. As with the site coordinator position, a technology coordinator's time commitment depends to some degree on how many students are taking online courses, and, in the case of a district-based coordinator, how many schools have students studying online.
Table 2. Suggested Practices for the School- or District-Provider Partnership
|Suggested Practice||Role of Schools and Districts||Role of Online Provider|
|Establish Overall Responsibility for the Effort||Identify a site coordinator who will take charge of the district's or school's online program, serving as key link between site and provider and primary contact for students and their parents||Provide partners with a list of job responsibilities
for the site coordinator
Offer training or other support for site coordinator
Evaluate site coordinator support and draw on coordinators' knowledge to improve the program
|Ensure Quality of Advanced Courses||Inquire about and compare statewide or national
online course providers
Look for appropriate design and review, and alignment to standards
Consider teacher-student interaction and course pacing
Offer students a rigid, yet flexible, learning environment in which they must meet assignment and exam deadlines, but can do their work at anytime during the day and week
|Create an engaging array of high-quality, standards-
based courses, using well-documented
design and review processes
Increase accessibility and interactivity by creating low-tech, high-touch courses—low-tech meaning they are available via a Web site and high-touch meaning they involve frequent student-teacher interactions
Evaluate course quality
|Seek and Support High-quality Instruction||Consider instructor selection and support
Consider how instructors are monitored and evaluated
Ensure that instructors are prepared—online
providers often present initial professional development
for online instructors and always require
that their instructors have content expertise
|Recruit, Counsel, and Support Students||Assign a site coordinator to assume overall
site-based program responsibility
Utilize teachers, counselors, and others to recruit beyond the standard pool of highperforming students
Prior to course enrollment, use student selfassessments and other tools supplied by online provider as conversation starters for counselors to use with students to help them understand and prepare for the demands of online learning
Assign a site-based mentor or counselor to provide online learners with encouragement and, if possible, content support
Provide site-based technology support
|Offer tools and training to prepare school leaders
to identify and enroll students in appropriate
Generate awareness within the school or district community about the availability and benefit of online learning
Actively recruit students from beyond the standard pool of high-performers
Provide training for site coordinators and mentors
Implement a simple system for regular reporting of student progress in each course, to aid students, parents, and teachers in monitoring student success
Provide technical support to help students, districts, and school sites with technical issues
Use survey responses and other data to improve student support
|Evaluate and Plan How to Reach More Students||Track student progress in online courses to
guide local improvements and be ready to
offer data to course provider for evaluation
Seek alternative sources of funding to support online learning
|Evaluate outcomes and improve the program
Seek alternative sources of funding to support online learning
Plan how to accommodate growing demand
Figure 1. Colorado Online Learning Site Coordinator Responsibilities
|COL Site Coordinator Responsibilities|
Site Coordinator Responsibilities: Site coordinators are very important to the success a student has in an online course. Depending on the local school situation, responsibilities may include the following:
Some online providers offer training for site coordinators. Virtual High School (VHS), based in Maynard, Mass., has a four-week course designed to familiarize site coordinators with its policies and procedures. The course is taught using the same platform (i.e., the Web-based framework on which software applications operate and, in this case, courses are delivered) as VHS uses for its student courses; the intent is to give coordinators a good understanding of how students' online courses are delivered so they are better able to answer students' delivery-related questions. According to the 2004–06 VHS evaluation conducted by Learning Point Associates, approximately 90 percent of site coordinators who participated in satisfaction surveys during both of these school years indicated that the VHS training and orientation effectively prepared them to understand the program, use the technology, and recruit and register students. 25 In Michigan, MVS maintains a staff of regional ambassadors whose responsibilities include visiting schools in their territory and offering site coordinator training based on the school's needs. For example, an ambassador may train the coordinator in how to navigate the provider's Web site, enroll students, or generate student progress reports. An ambassador also can explain whom to contact for technical support or can provide answers to questions about courses and enrollment dates.
|Baseline Technology Requirements for School or District|
While an online course provider must design and deliver high-quality courses, school leaders must ensure that their site has the technological capacity to support course delivery. Despite the increasing integration of such high-tech interactive media as electronic whiteboards, chat rooms, and audio and video streaming, technology requirements for districts and schools are actually fairly simple: Students need a computer with high-speed, broadband Internet access and properly adjusted settings for the firewall, which is designed to control access (e.g., to certain Web sites). Most schools provide computer access through computer labs, which are open to students throughout the day and, in some cases, after regular school hours or on weekends. Because online courses are designed to operate with one or more, but usually not all Web browsers (i.e., the software that allows a computer to read and interact with Web text, images, and tools), districts or schools also must ensure that their computers are outfitted with a browser (e.g., Explorer, Safari, Firefox) compatible with the online courses it plans to offer.
The time commitment required for a site coordinator depends, in part, on the number of students interested in online learning. Some districts assign a district-level coordinator who works with multiple schools. In Chesterfield County Public Schools, Va., for instance, where several schools offer courses through VHS, one district-level coordinator supports all of them. In other instances, each school has its own coordinator, often a current teacher or counselor who has been asked to pick up additional responsibilities.
Evaluating Site Coordinators' Support and Drawing on Coordinators' Knowledge to Improve the Program
Because site coordinators play a critical linking role between programs and local schools, it is important to ensure that these coordinators receive the support they need to be successful. Several of the programs profiled in this guide conduct regular surveys of site coordinators and other key parties (e.g., principals and teachers) to monitor the effectiveness of their communication with and support of coordinators.
VHS contracts with a nonprofit education organization, Learning Point Associates, to conduct a biannual evaluation and measure VHS's progress toward meeting program goals. In the most recent evaluation, encompassing the 2004–05 and 2005–06 school years, 96 percent of the site coordinators responding to the evaluator's survey reported that they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with support services, including the technical and procedural aspects of course enrollment. However, they did suggest additional assistance in recruiting students. And both site coordinators and teachers wanted VHS to facilitate more communication between them and VHS.
Site coordinator surveys also can be used to improve the overall program. IOAPA uses its site coordinators as key resources for understanding the larger context of advanced course work in Iowa districts. Survey responses of 180 site coordinators painted a picture of varying district practices for labeling advanced courses and different grading policies. Overall, responses identified a trend toward more AP courses; however, they also identified several barriers to AP enrollment and success, including students' anxiety about the workload and lack of general study skills. 26 By understanding the district policies and contexts more fully, IOAPA can plan better student supports and encourage districts to establish or clarify policies to improve students' success in advanced courses, both in school and online.