STEPS to Online Education Implementation
Step Three: Establish Policy & Procedures
The scope of policy development in school districts depends to some extent on the national, state and regional frameworks within which they operate. For example, a school district in Texas may need to take into account the statewide network and services funded by the state and made available through the regional educational service center. An Idaho district, on the other hand, may need to establish its own broadband access and provide staff development services without benefit of a state or regional framework. Districts should ask themselves all the questions below, even if the answers to some of them are "the SEA does it" or "a regional coop provides it."
Administrators usually begin the policy development process by asking a series of questions, such as:
- What is the PURPOSE of your distance education program? Who will it serve? How far will the offerings reach?
- What is the current STATUS of regional, district, and school technology capacity?
- Currently, are there State policies that will govern the development of an online education program?
- What district policies will help in the development of a distance education program?
- Who are the key players in the development process?
- Who will be responsible for developing the content of the courses?
- Are there other distance education programs in your area or another part of the region that can serve as a model for what you want to develop?
SEE this Distance Education Policy Matrix [pdf] for areas of possible policy need and support for what you want to do.
Things to consider...
- Student needs (skill level requirements, attention needs, connecting technology, support services) and
- Teacher needs (preparation time, delivery time, connecting technology, and monitoring time)
Credible commercial online classes and programs offer standards-based classes that are taught by certificated, licensed teachers. The classes they offer are usually accredited, and you have some guarantee that each course has passed a quality inspection process for online classes. These classes and programs can be expensive, however.
Shopping For a Commercial Provider
Consider these tips and questions:
- Review quality standards for courses and then preview syllabi and courses
- How is the course material presented?
- Are assessments aligned with course materials?
- What levels of interaction exist between teacher and student (and student and student if appropriate)?
- Look at student success and teacher experience from other schools
- Is the school accredited and teachers highly qualified?
- Does the provider meet state standards?
- Ask for current clients and call schools and students who have used this provider
- What support does the provider offer (technical, counseling, registrar) and how responsive are they?
- Will they make a personal appearance?
- Review evaluations - particularly if done by a third party
- Evaluate your own counselors, mentors, and students after the first semester/year
If you want to develop your own program, with one, competent face-to-face teacher who also knows technology, you can begin to plan how you will develop and launch your own online program. First, that teacher needs to take an online class AND then find a place where they can teach one...or work with a simulation.
Support, Support, Support! That aspect of online teaching and learning cannot be emphasized enough. You need to provide Technical Support , Academic Support, and Professional Development Support.
Basic to any distance education endeavor using the Web is a strong technological presence. Infrastructure, bandwidth, connectivity, and peripheral hardware (printers, scanners, and digital cameras, etc.) are all important to making a complete learning "connection" online.
Often, schools will provide a computer lab for students to use. Home computers and other hardware and connectivity are usually the responsibility of the student.
Online teachers usually need to be provided the same for their online work, though some schools provide an office where daily online work can be conducted. Laptops and Internet connections will allow teachers (and students) to work from any place they choose.
Support for student and teacher online technology comes in the form of
- outright purchases of equipment for online work, and
- help-line and ongoing technical support for equipment and connections that fail.
Support for working computers is basic, and without it, programs do not survive. This basic support is essential for both student AND teacher. Support for new technologies and software will help in the natural expansion of online programs.
Students require ongoing contact and support for their work. Sometimes just having someone to hand homework to is enough. Often, however, a deeper relationship with an adult helper is important, especially for students who are challenged by any educational experience.
Research has shown that interactivity with a mentor or other adult helper measurably increases the success rate for online students.
Professional Development Support
Once a teacher or content developer has written a course and set of lessons, regular contact with the organizing educational agency is essential. Established calendars for work and grading periods are important. Tutorial sessions, special professional development seminars, and other "expanding" opportunities increase the chances for online teacher success.
The opportunity for FEEDBACK is a very important part of the ongoing professional relationship a teacher needs to be a successful online teacher. Working in isolation is convenient at times but can become professionally limiting. Conduct face-to-face meetings periodically and find ways to involve teachers in planning, development, and expansion activities.
Administration and Policy Issues
Students get lost in the face-to-face world; the chance for that is magnified in the online environment. What policies will you need to adapt and adopt to insure a quality online education AND equitable treatment of online teachers?
Consider SYSTEMS and POLICY issues related to providing DE programs.
- Scheduling and Use-of-Facilities issues
- FTE issues
- Student attendance and tuition issues
- Teacher preparation, compensation, and union issues
- Program support needs...secretarial and ongoing technical support.
Increasingly, a variety of distance education technologies are being used to improve and enhance the delivery of instruction to K-12 students across the nation. Some of these programs are established on well-set policy, while others are functioning in unknown territory, with a wide range of effectiveness for teachers and success for students.
Once beyond the considerations of infrastructure, bandwidth, and connectivity, educators want to concentrate on content development and delivery methodology. Needless to say, a strong professional development component is essential to the success of any developing distance education program. Sound policy is the basis for effective programs.
The policy "wheel" does not have to be re-invented. States and local agencies should look to using existing distance education policy, where applicable, as the basis for what is done using the wide variety of technology choices.
Student assessment and grading are important issues and are primary to students and parents. Effective utilization of online assessment by teachers will be an important component of overall program improvement and success. Ways to conduct assessments and evaluations must be developed that are not overly intrusive or objectionable. What policies and guidelines need to be in place to insure appropriate assessment of student work?
Marketing and Public Relations Issues
Who will let others know about the online program being offered by your district or school? Will counselors at local high schools be the primary information contact for students and parents? Who will be able to take your classes...students from other schools, other districts...other states? How will counselors become aware of online opportunities for students and be trained in helping students sign up for classes?
- What is the "reach" or your DE program?
- Will school counselors be the way you reach students?
- How will you deal with parent contact issues?
Development & Delivery Policies for Online Education
As distance education delivery technologies (web-based and interactive videoconferencing) become more common in the instructional world for K-12 teachers and students, specific policies need to be developed to insure quality programs that are fair and equitable for developer, teacher, and learner.
Increasingly, the online opportunity for grades 6-12 students is considered comparable to the face-to-face delivery of material. Online technology is providing ways to meet a greater range of student needs and to reach all learners regardless of need, geography, ability, or interest. The policy guidelines below are suggested as a starting point; LEA's, districts and schools will need to adapt these statements to local requirements.
FIRST, check local district and school policy and procedures to see if they might apply or be adaptable to your specific situation-No need to re-invent policy when it is not necessary. Often, local high schools take precedence in the application of policy in the area of grading periods, transfer of credit, and eligibility.
Policy Matrix (PDF)
STEPS to Online Education Implementation
- Step One: Conduct Needs Assessment
- Step Two: Establish Funding Base
- Step Three: Establish Policy & Procedures