Digital Learning Snapshot: Clark County, Nevada
This is the second in a series of blog posts about digital learning innovation in school districts. See our previous post introducing the series. Clark County School District (CCSD), the 5th largest school district in the U.S., is taking a multi-tiered approach to digital learning that includes both online and classroom-based elements:
- The district’s Nevada Learning Academy at CCSD (NVLA) offers a full-time online school, as well as supplemental online courses including 78 high school courses and 27 middle school courses. In SY 2013–14 NVLA served 700 full-time students and 12,096 part-time students with 29,829 supplemental online courses. Of the nearly 13,000 total students that NVLA serves, 200 never visit a CCSD school, and the rest either take proctored exams at the NVLA building, or take courses from computer labs in various schools and take proctored exams at those schools. This latter approach is most common among high school students. NVLA started in 2004 as the Clark County School District Virtual High School, later merged with the independent studies program, and now offers a middle school program. NVLA is available to students across the district (in the fully online or partly online format), as well as to students across Nevada. NVLA has one principal and two associate principals, one for middle school students and one for high school students.
- High schools and middle schools use digital content and tools from five different vendors. They total about 21,500 course enrollments at the high school level and 11,000 at the middle school level.
- Twelve middle schools are participating in the e3 project (Engage, Empower, Explore), which provides one-to-one mobile learning to students in Title I schools. Schools participating in this program were selected from a competitive application process with a goal of ensuring that the entire school team is ready to make the change to blended learning. The focus of e3 is on devices and the learning management system, and not on specific content.
- CCSD adopted a district-wide Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy that gives principals and teachers autonomy over allowing student devices for learning in the classroom. This effort has been most widely implemented at the secondary level, but ongoing support and communication is helping to advance BYOD across the district.
All of the online and blended initiatives at CCSD are focused on ensuring increased student success and graduation. For example, recent changes to Nevada graduation requirements meant that several hundred students would not be able to graduate on time. CCSD responded by implementing a summer program that allowed over 300 students to earn their high school diploma over the summer through digital learning options. The summer graduation program allows students who need more time to finish course work, or who are credit deficient, the opportunity to earn credits and graduate just a few months behind their classmates.
Digital content and tools
Middle and high schools across the district use digital content in physical classrooms and computer labs extensively. The district uses five different vendors to provide digital content, as well as in-house district-developed courses. The ways in which digital content is being used varies depending on the vendor and school, although all fall under one of two basic categories. In one approach, students use digital content in computer labs with an adult coach (not necessarily a teacher licensed in the content area) who assists students with their online learning as needed. The other approach is a content lab, where students who are taking a course in the same content area are scheduled in the same lab and a teacher from that content area is available for support. The two most highly used content products are used across the district, with schools being given the option to use them. The other three products are site-specific and used in several schools. In addition, in four high schools, all freshmen are taking a virtual lab course for health and 9th grade computers. In SY 2013–14 some of the 9th grade students used the vendor-provided health course while over 1,000 others piloted the health course developed in-house by CCSD teachers and NVLA staff
NVLA began its program with building select courses and filling in purchased content. Today, much of the NVLA catalog consists of teacher-created courses. CCSD is transitioning to building its own in-house developed content because it believes that curriculum that supports the district’s values and mission is key, and that can only be achieved by building its own content. CCSD develops courses based on their demand across the district, for example prioritizing the development of an online health course over a new world language course. Course development takes 12–18 months.
The district believes that an enterprise level learning management system (LMS) that provides a seamless interface for teachers and students is a requirement for a large-scale digital learning implementation. In April 2013, CCSD adopted a district-wide LMS to standardize the teacher and student online learning experience. Prior to this adoption teachers were using a variety of free LMS options in the classrooms. To speed LMS classroom adoption, CCSD provided course templates and customized district icons to teachers that made course building easier for traditional teachers.
Teaching and staffing
NVLA uses 34 full-time faculty, 10 of whom are off-site, and a handful of part-time faculty for specialty courses with low enrollments. There are a number of additional CCSD teachers who have expressed interest in joining the NVLA staff and teaching online. The Academy maintains a list of district staff that are ready to make the transition to online teaching when a spot opens. Other courses using digital content use existing CCSD teachers and coaches. CCSD offers an online professional development program with courses in blended and online teaching. District staff can take these courses for a nominal fee and gain the skills that they need to be successful in reaching students with technology. CCSD credits its professional development course with the high demand for online teaching positions.
CCSD believes that deliberate and meaningful professional development is among the most important elements of implementing digital learning. CCSD started its own in-house professional development program in SY 2011–12. The program has a tiered approach, starting with foundational background and pedagogy within online and blended learning; additional courses are grounded in the tools to deploy and create online and blended classrooms. Teachers can take one of twelve different CCSD blended professional development courses to learn how to become or improve as a blended or online teacher. Course enrollment has increased each year and more than doubled in the past few years. Seven hundred teachers completed the course in SY 2011–12, and 1,500 teachers completed the course in SY 2013–14.
Clark County School District is an example of a large district that has implemented multiple digital learning initiatives. It has built on the success and knowledge gained from the online school that has operated for a decade, and is now creating extensive classroom-based digital learning. Unlike some other districts (both large and small), it is prioritizing creating its own online content, starting with its highest enrollment courses.