Sharing Lessons Learned in Rhode Island’s First Virtual Learning Report

Today's post was written by one of our Keeping Pace researchers, Lauren Vashaw. Comprehensive state-level reporting is hard to find for online learning, and nearly impossible to find for blended learning. We develop Keeping Pace state profiles through many hours of Internet research, emails, and phone calls; few states can provide us with total numbers of virtual schools, students, and course enrollments. In January 2013, Rhode Island became a very good example of what the online and blended learning world can do when the state released its first annual report called for by the legislature in S2276 (2012). This annual report shares how the state is beginning to collect online enrollment data for the first time. While systems are still being put into place to collect the information from all schools statewide, data are now available from some schools. The new Teacher/Course/Student (TCS) data system identified:

  • 1 enrollment in AP Statistics.
  • 12 enrollments in online Science courses.
  • 3 enrollments in Social Studies / History courses.
  • 67 enrollments in miscellaneous courses (foreign languages and other electives).

Most of these enrollments were through courses from The VHS Collaborative and Virtual Learning Academy in New Hampshire.

In addition, three LEAs reported about 300 enrollments in 12 hybrid (blended) course offerings and four LEAS offering hybrid programs that are not currently part of the TCS data collected. Although the data collected show low participation rates in online courses across the state, there is a significant blended learning presence in the Rhode Island education system. With in-progress improvements to the TCS data system, Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) will be able to offer a more comprehensive online and blended learning picture in FY2013.

The annual report also closely examines Pleasant View Elementary School (PVES), which was selected in 2012 to serve as a pilot school that would transform into a technology rich learning environment over two years. As PVES took on the role of pioneering a blended learning school, the institution had many changes to make and challenges to face. To prepare for this, administrators were heavily involved in the implementation process, teachers attended hours of intensive trainings, and students participated in a two-week student engagement activity to give them a voice in the school redesign. Along with the participation of administration, teachers, and students in this school renovation, a great deal of detailed thought went into the daily classroom schedule down to the classroom layout, offering different layouts for different learning methods.

PVES and its partners created a list of goals to achieve by the full implementation year of 2014. Most of the goals presented revolve around personalized learning, flexibility for the teachers and students, and integrating technology and multimedia into the students’ learning experience. PVES will continue by offering more professional development and allowing students the choice to dig deeper into three of the four content providers they are currently using (Compass Learning, Dreambox, and RAZ Kids). Although PVES has seen some bumps in the road, including issues with the use of iPad systems, they are continuing on, offering detailed documentation of the path they are taking to help other schools in the near future.

We believe the state annual report will prove to be a valuable resource to online and blended learning program leaders across the country. As we see more and more new programs launching every year we can learn from the different paths taken, but only if each step along the way is documented clearly and made easily available to the public. Online and blended learning can transform our education system and offer new paths to learning, but the path to supporting successful students in high-quality programs requires transparency in both our successes and our failures.