SM: At this point, do you have full coverage of the entire basic high school curriculum?
CV: We do. We cover the requirements across subject areas of math, science, social studies, and English in order to graduate.
SM: What about variations from state to state?
CV: When we design a new course, we begin with a review of national and state standards. We then develop a course curriculum outline that aligns with those standards. We then develop our instructional and assessment tools based on those standards. We have found there is a significant amount of overlap across all states. We then work with a third-party organization that correlates our courses to the state standards. We then go back and review how our course review aligns to the states’ standards. Our goal is to be well above 90% of state standards, which is challenging as state standards are constantly changing.
SM: How does online course instructional design differ from brick-and-mortar course design?
CV: In our approach, there are some differences and some areas which offer consistencies. Our curriculum development team would tell you that we start with proven principles and build upon what has been proven to work for secondary students. It starts by creating an anticipatory set for students. We provide direct instruction in a certain area by giving the students the opportunity to be proactive based on formative and summative assessments. That allows us to assess student progress so that we can remediate where necessary and give students the opportunity to practice and demonstrate their knowledge.
In online learning, we start with the same principles that any good classroom would start with. We then take advantage of what you can do in an online world more easily than you can if you are a classroom teacher with limited resources. Some of the things we are able to do extremely well in the online world is address different learning styles by integrating images, graphics, audio, video, and hands-on activities into the environment. It is easy to provide multiple representations of concepts.
We have developed our own set of guiding principles regarding content delivery in an online world. We talk about chunking text, trying to keep pages short and keeping the amount of text short. We want to keep students alert and engaged. One of the most powerful things about online learning is that students are able to move at their own pace. That is powerful.
SM: Is there any interaction between your online learning design and tools such as smartboards that are being used in classrooms?
CV: It varies and really depends based on the situation. When online courses are used in an online environment, it is a very different model of instruction. In a traditional classroom model, it is the role of the teacher to stand up and deliver the content and work with the entire class. When our courses are used the classroom is set up very differently because it is computer-centric. In the most extreme cases students are working on completely different courses. Even when they are working on the same courses, they are working at their own pace. The teacher is working one-on-one with small groups or individual students. They are becoming facilitators of learning. They are moving from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side.’