Thursday, April 10, 2008

Collaboration at Michigan Virtual School

Dr. Ferdig pointed me to a recently published article in which he, Meredith DiPietro, Erik Black, and Megan Preston discuss best practices at the Michigan Virtual School. I found it interesting that the state of Michigan requires all high school students to experience online learning prior to graduation. I'm assuming that this initiative significantly increased enrollment at the virtual school.

Putting students and learning first is a common theme at the Michigan Virtual School and likewise at the school I've been observing. Other similarities between virtual school teachers at both schools include a general interest in technological advances, the need for good organizational skills, extensive content knowledge, and alternative assessment strategies.

As I reviewed the list of best practices, I was most interested in collaboration and how this is facilitated at Michigan Virtual School (MV). "MV teachers encourage support and communication between students" (DiPeitro, Ferdig, Black, and Preston, 2008, p. 24). This appears to be accomplished via discussion boards. Discussion threads are not used in the courses I have observed. It's not clear how widely they are used in other courses. My supervising teacher explained that collaboration is difficult because individual pacing allows students to be at different places in the course at any given time.

"MV teachers understand the impact of course pacing on course design and the pedagogical strategies they use". The MV teacher quote continues, "in the Flex 90 courses we don't see the strong sense of community that we do in the AP classes" (DiPeitro, Ferdig, Black, and Preston, 2008, p. 19). The reason for this is not clear. Is it because the Flex students are working at a variable pace, or is it because the AP students are better organized and more participatory?

I wish I had a better understanding of the extent to which collaborative strategies are used in both of these virtual schools. At this point, I feel limited to my personal observations and those of my blogging classmates.

Dipietro, M., Ferdig, R., Black, E., & Preston, M. (2008). Best Practices in Teaching K12 Online: Lessons Learned from Michigan Virtual School Teachers. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 7(1). Retrieved Apr. 10, 2008, from


Jay Bennett said...

I teach classes for Michigan Virtual and from my experience the discussion baords do increase collaboration. It is difficult in the Flex classes because of the random start times. Most of the students post twice, once to answer the question and one response to someone elses post, and never look back. Some do come back and post more than once, but this is the exception, not the rule. I am looking at making some changes to my courses and moving toward more collaborative exercises related to blogging, podcasting, wikis, etc. I am hoping to increase the collaboartive aspect of my classes beyond the discussion board.

J-Lang said...


I think that the virtual schools are doing more to try and increase collaboration in their curriculum, as Jay mentions. I think mainly, however, it is currently limited to posting a response to something and then being required to respond to a certain number of classmates' responses. I think as more students take online courses for reasons other than working independently at one's own pace or for credit recovery, we will see collaboration increase. I know that in my own online graduate studies I have completed a few collaborative assignments that actually went quite well, but I am sure the logistics of doing so with children is much more difficult.

JeanneW said...

I think it's an excellent idea to require all high school students to experience online learning. As these students move through the stages of their lives, they'll remember this option and hopefully use it to improve their skills. If I had the opportunity to take online courses during the five year period I stayed at home with my babies, I would have returned to the workplace much better prepared for my job. I would have enjoyed the diversion too. Michigan students are very fortunate.

Clearly, random start times complicate collaboration in online courses. Perhaps students in such courses can collaborate through a mentoring relationship, those further along in the course can counsel those who are just beginning.

Great food for thought.