Non-Traditional Learning Environments
In a recent edWebinar, Julie Alspach, Program Administrator, Virtual Learning Academy Consortium (VLAC), and David E. Kanter, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer, Calvert Education, shined a light on a shift in education. Kanter said that “the goals of education have shifted to create the independent thinkers and creative problem solvers that our world needs, both now and for the future.”
Education Can Happen in Many Different Ways
The VLAC community prides itself on being an outreach for families that want home-based self-directed learning. The largest reason students want to attend this unique and innovative virtual school is its flexible learning schedule for situations that include medical and mental health conditions as well as for traveling athletes and students with religious obligations. This consortium is committed to ensuring that students have this alternate educational environment by purposefully developing the rigorous curriculum, maintaining high standards and being consistent with its school community expectations. This commitment is reflected in the educational opportunities for students that include project-based learning experiences, community interactions, connections with online experts and participation in teacher-driven live sessions. Alspach tells parents interested in participating in a virtual learning environment, “Your child is going to go out in the world and interact with 80% of students that are educated the traditional way. So no matter where your child is going—college, trade school, or trade apprenticeships—it is important that they have the same rigorous curriculum and opportunities as students in traditional school environments.”
Alspach and Kanter both emphasized that this type of virtual learning environment is flexibility paced, not self paced. VLAC believes that they build learners by building a village of parents and teachers. In non-traditional home-based learning environments, parents are considered the learning guide and teacher in the home. They create the schedules, set up the learning spaces, ensure students’ progress and deliver direct instruction to their children following the VLAC-provided curriculum. Alspach explained that “parents don’t have to be tech savvy, but they have to be willing and able to spend time with the students. Parents must have the desire to support and understand their part in their child’s education.”Alspach conveyed that it is important that the teachers in this village are highly qualified educators with traditional classroom experience. However, this non-traditional model takes teachers out of the direct instruction role and puts them in the role of experienced educational coaches. An example of this coaching model is when a parent of a kindergarten student is struggling with how to teach reading fluency or book handling or decoding and phonics, the educational coach would provide support and instructional strategies.
The Right Fit
Alspach and Kanter both offered advice that is important when developing a virtual home-based learning environment. Create socialization opportunities for students and teachers through frequent face-to-face meetings, collaborative events and project-based learning opportunities. Ensure that the virtual school is staffed with full time teachers who are assigned manageable student loads, have established daily office hours and are trained on how to provide timely feedback to their students and parents. Finally, Alspach underscored that it is extremely critical that school administrators know the target family groups by understanding all of their scheduling and curriculum needs. This non-traditional learning platform will only operate successfully if the home-based conditions are a good fit for the students, parents and the virtual learning environment.
This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Calvert Education.
About the Presenters
Julie Alspach is the program administrator of the Virtual Learning Academy Consortium (VLAC), which provides K-12 virtual learning in partnership with 60 school districts across six counties in Michigan. As an educator, she has taught elementary school, high school English, and special education. Julie was part of the original team at VLAC that piloted home-based learning when K-5 online education first began. Beyond the classroom, Julie presents at leading conferences in Michigan such as miGoogle and MACUL. Before teaching, Julie worked in I.T. as a network engineer, certified trainer, and client support analyst. Her educational background includes a masters in special education and an Education Specialist in educational leadership. She is currently finishing her doctorate at Oakland University in educational leadership. Julie’s family consists of a wonderful husband, three adult children, a dog, a cat, and four parrots. A geek at heart, Julie mentors FIRST robotics teams in her free time.
David Kanter is a learning scientist who has driven a body of design and research work over the past 18 years. While he began his career in biomedical engineering, he has followed his passion for education by focusing on using technology to build innovative K-12 curricula. David’s research has included “active learning” instructional approaches to improve K-12 student learning and new approaches to teacher preparation as necessary to prepare K-12 teachers to use new kinds of curricula in the classroom. In executing all this work, he has collaborated closely with district/school leadership and teachers in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City.
A previous university faculty member, David has directed UX research and impact research for Amplify Education on its K-12 classroom platform and products. He was senior UX researcher on Google’s “Play for Education” and “Classroom” K-12 products. He has consulted for clients such as Scholastic, Nick Jr., Pearson, littleBits, and the New York City Department of Education. He has been invited to present his work to national audiences of both practitioners and academics, and he has had his work published in peer-reviewed journals as well as in books intended for all audiences. David received his B.S. in engineering and his B.S. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
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Calvert helps schools elevate their K-8 virtual education with curriculum, tools and services that drive student success. With a mission-driven focus and over 100+ years of education experience in out-of-school settings, Calvert provides flexible solutions to districts and charters that are specifically optimized for K-8 virtual learning.