Case Study USA: Illinois Virtual School (state) and Clovis Online School (local district)
Matthew Wicks, iNACOL, USA
Rob Darrow, iNACOL / Online Learning Visions, USA
Summary of presentation
Matthew, who has been with Illinois State Virtual School since the start, began his presentation by describing how and why the school was set up. He put this in the context of education generally in the US where there are many states where educational provision is very mixed, with students in rural regions often lacking access to courses and opportunities simply because of their location.
Illinois State Virtual School was set up to provide equity of access and to make sure that all students in the state were able to access as broad a range of opportunities as possible. Partnerships were important in getting started and the school evolved rapidly from the start according as students motivated by different driving factors became involved.
Matthew stressed that the biggest key to success was to focus on the importance of the online teacher, Illinois State Virtual School is very teacher led and an institution where the relationship between the teacher and the student is vital even if they never meet. Illinois State Virtual School has faced several policy challenges. In the US, local school districts are very important and so they have ultimate control over school enrolment and this has been quite challenging for them. Funding is also key - in Illinois there is a system of fixed appropriation and this limits the ultimate reach of the school in challenging fiscal times.
Finally the lack of explicit standards for teaching quality has been a problem in the past, however the existence of the iNACOL standards has now largely resolved this issue.
Rob began by describing his involvement in virtual schooling in California and then went on to describe Clovis Online School which began in 2009 and which now caters for 200 students.
Clovis is a full time programme and uses Moodle as its platform and course content is created by teachers who are paid for their work in content creation. Content began by being largely text based but this is changing, content is available on a wiki which is open to anyone. They use Elluminate for conferencing and are gradually changing to a more blended model with some face-to-face contact. Students are provided with computers, internet access, science lab kits and textbooks.
There are 3 people involved in administration and teachers work on a part-time basis, training is characterised as being ‘learn as you go’. One of the main lessons learned from the experience has been that you need either money or students to get started.