It’s the Power of the Network
On occasion we may use this space to feature a unique online or blended learning program that either serves as an exemplary model or pushes our thinking about online learning in a new and different direction. The Wisconsin eSchool Network (WEN) is classified as a “Consortium” program in Keeping Pace 2010. This is a classification that consists of online programs that don’t fit neatly into our traditional categories of state virtual schools, full-time online schools and single-district online programs. The WEN is a growing network of nine (soon to be ten) school districts across Wisconsin that was formed to “share high quality online learning resources and best practices while maintaining maximum autonomy for local schools and programs to best meet the needs of their community.” The centralized role of the WEN is designed to be limited. Three staff members support the learning management system, the student information system, much of the technical support and unified content purchasing or licensing agreements between suppliers and all WEN partner districts. The WEN is also engaged in creating professional development to support the network teachers.
What makes this model significantly different is that all the online teachers are employed by the local partner schools districts, and each district uses the Wisconsin eSchool Network to support its local goals for online and blended learning. While one district may target mostly credit recovery students, using the WEN resources in a blended learning model with teachers and students in the same classroom, another WEN district may access the classes as a supplemental learning option for advanced students seeking a course not taught locally, but available through the WEN with a teacher from another partner district. In most cases, having the local teachers engaged in the online program helps build local expertise and capacity to offer online and blended learning to support instruction.
While the decentralized nature of the Wisconsin eSchool Network does present some organizational challenges, especially as the number of partner school districts increases and enrollment grows, we find the evolving model interesting as school districts look for cost-effective ways to offer more online options for students, while maintaining their desired local focus.