The Extent to which the Policy Addresses the Educational Issue across Student Populations and Develops Ways to Maximize Learning Outcomes

The proposed measures extensively address the issues surrounding accountability in online education; however, it should be noted that this policy does not address larger issues in the future of online education such as the increasing digital divide, in which certain students have access to electronic devices while others do not – especially at home, the policy does thoroughly examine measures to improve the accountability of virtual classrooms by formatting assessments differently, suggesting methods to alter teaching techniques for instructors of virtual classrooms, as well as provide strategies to verify student identification in virtual classrooms to prevent academic dishonesty.

In regards to assessing students differently for the virtual learning environment, Kerton and Cervato (2014) recommend setting time limitation on formative and summative assessments as well as format questions to encourage mastery of content area, skill sets, and curriculum so that students would not be as likely to spend time searching through web browsers for answers because exams are going to be inevitably open note. In order to combat the unavoidable reality of open notes, virtual classrooms need to make use of virtual proctoring software such as VProctor to prevent dishonest academic activity such as “opening another browser window, talking on a phone, talking to someone else in the room, or using a book (Venable, 2013).”

Furthermore, to ensure that the student receiving credit for the virtual course is in fact the same student that is doing the work for the virtual course, online programs need to take advantage of strategies to verify student identity such as Strayer University’s random multiple choice challenge questions such as “prior street address or zip code” to verify student identities , Proctor University’s live proctor system which checks on students via web camera and photo identification, and even eduKan’s biometric recognition program that utilizes fingerprinting, voice recognition, retinal scans, keystroke patterns, etc. (Venable, 2013).

The proposed measures also include progress models to hold students accountable for their attendance and truancy by modeling the the attendance system used by MVHS schools, which divided progress towards credit completion through the completion of various assignments (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender).

In order to maximize learning outcomes, the proposed methods encourage teachers, researchers, educators, and administrators involved in online education to collaborate their research, findings, and strategies through open licensed software as well as to undergo preparation programs that would ensure teachers meet the standards set out in the iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching (2011).

Archambault, L., K. Kennedy, and S. Bender. 2013. Cyber-truancy: Addressing issues of attendance in the digital age. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 46 (1): 1–28

International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011, October 1). National Standards for Quality Online Teaching (Rep. No. 2). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from International Association for K-12 Online Learning website: http://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2.pdf

Kerton, C., & Cervato, C. (2014). Assessment in Online Learning–It’s a Matter of Time. Journal Of College Science Teaching, 43(4), 20-25.

Venable, M. (2013, August 16). Online Student Verification: Is that you? Are you there? – OnlineCollege.org. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.onlinecollege.org/2013/08/16/online-student-verification-is-that-you-are-you-there/

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Supports To Help With Successful Implementation of the Proposal

In order to successfully implement the proposed measures to improve accountability in online education, a number of organizations, researchers, and educators are developing a number of strategies, programs, and techniques to support the facilitation of online courses which have been developing at meteoric rates. Unfortunately, there is currently a dearth of literature on what measures are most effective in online learning. In Education Week, Cathy Cavanaugh (2011) reported “We don’t really know at this point which [methods] tend to be most effective. … We need to get to a much more fine-grained level of understanding.” Because of a scarcity in research material that validates certain methods of instruction for virtual settings as more effective than other methods of instruction for virtual settings, proctors, administrators, educators, and researchers should pool their resources, findings, and materials together to facilitate the spread of knowledge in regards to what techniques and strategies would be most effective in educating students enrolled in online courses.

The National Educational Technology Plan (2016) lists a number of services that allow educational actors to participate in finding which methods work best to successfully implement the proposed policy of improving accountability in online education. The Creative Commons have created open licenses for learning resources, the GNU General Public License has developed software that makes a number of open licenses available for use, as well as has the Open Source Initiative and the Free Software Foundation.

Currently, “virtual schools are left to interpret existing attendance laws, many of which originated in the later part of the 19th century. The concept of attendance in K-12 online education needs to be redesigned to meet the needs of a growing number of online students (Archambault, Kennedy, Bender, 2013).” Lawmakers will have to institute standards such as those laid out in the iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching in order ensure effective education in the nation’s virtual classrooms and address accreditation and accountability issues in online learning.

Furthermore, teacher preparation programs designed specifically to train those intending to teach an online course need to become prerequisites in order to become a valid teacher of an online course because the nature of virtual classrooms are fundamentally different from the nature of physical classrooms, both in social interaction, communication, assessments, attendance, etc.

International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011, October 1). National Standards for Quality Online Teaching (Rep. No. 2). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from International Association for K-12 Online Learning website: http://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2.pdf

WHAT STUDIES SHOW. (2011). Education Week, 31(1), S19.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, Washington, D.C., 2016.

What Students, Teachers, Administrators, and other Actors Need to Know and Need to Know How To Do to Implement The Policy

In order to implement the suggested measures to improve accountability in online education, students, teachers, administrators, and proctors would need to learn a myriad of new techniques and methods. Students would have to learn to motivate themselves to learn in an unstructured and unsupervised learning environment. Teachers would have to learn to format online courses and assessments in a fundamentally different way from traditional classrooms. Administrators would have to learn to make use of tracking software to measure student progress through assignment completion in order to hold students accountable for their online education. Proctors would have to learn to verify students are the correctly registered students as well as ensure that students are not plagiarizing or cheating in any way. To implement a comprehensive policy that would effectively address the accountability issues in online education, multiple actors in multiple areas of the learning process will need to adapt their methodologies and strategies to succeed in the new era of education.

In order to receive a quality education from online courses, students will need to learn to foster “independent orientations towards learning,” become “highly motivated by intrinsic sources,” as well as develop “strong time management, literacy, and technology skills. (Cavanaugh & Clark, 2007).” Students need to be aware of the consequences that could result in plagiarizing, cheating, or hiring someone else to do coursework for them, and to take the steps necessary to ethically complete their assignments in a timely fashion. Students interested in online courses also need to determine whether or not they would perform best in traditional brick-and-mortar schools or in a virtual setting. Bird (2014) noted that discipline is essential to students of virtual classrooms. “Being an online student will work well for those who have the ability to self-motivate. Without a plan or some type of organization, [student] work will suffer in the online classroom, but if [students] set deadlines and prioritize [their] school schedules, [they] should see success.” Furthermore, students who find social interaction in physical classrooms distracting may find the streamlined online videos more easy to focus on without the disturbance of peers.

Teachers will have to bear the brunt of change in learning to accommodate students for online courses. Educators will need to understand the multitude of differences between teaching in a virtual classroom and a traditional classroom. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) (2011) has developed a set of standards after a thorough review of existing literature that touch upon online learning. The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching developed by the iNACOL is based upon the Southern Regional education Board’s (SREB) Standards for Quality Online Teaching and Online Teaching Evaluation for State Virtual Schools which had been in use in sixteen SREB states at the time of publication. The iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching helps ensure that educators are prepared to instruct students in virtual settings by including standards such as:

the online teacher knows and understand multiple strategies for ensuring the security of online assessments, academic integrity, and assessment data;

the online teacher knows and understand how the use of technology may lead to instances of academic dishonesty and is able to identify the risks and intervene in incidents of academic dishonesty for students;

the online teacher is able to select and use a variety of online tools for communication, productivity, collaboration, analysis, presentation, research, and online content delivery as appropriate to the content area and student needs;

the online teacher is able to apply online troubleshooting skills (e.g., change passwords, download plug-ins, etc.)

These are simply a handful of examples from the comprehensive 18 page of standards for online teaching established by the iNACOL. Clearly teachers, especially more senior educators who have not adapted well to the computer revolution, need to undergo extensive training and preparation programs in order to effectively teach students in a virtual environment. Fortunately, a number of services that provide “openly licensed educational resources,” which may be “used, modified, and shared without paying any licensing fees or requesting permission.” Organizations that provide such resources include the GNU General Public License, the Open Source Initiative, or the Free Software Foundation.

Administrators will need to learn to monitor, encourage, and enforce attendance of students enrolled in virtual classrooms by making use of tracking software and progress measuring programs in order to “comply with federal No Child Left Behind policies” as well as “state attendance and truancy issues (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender, 2013).” Enforcing truancy statues will prove to be an arduous challenge to administrators, and Archambault, Kennedy, and Bender report that “dedicated staff who are well versed in the curriculum, system tracking, and working with families to address potential problems” are essential to ensuring accountability in online learning. Communication is a vital aspect of monitoring student progress because it allows for early intervention (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender, 2013) should a student fall at risk of truancy or falling behind. Parents and guardians who may not be familiar with the concept of virtual classrooms because they are more familiar with traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms will need to cooperate with administrators in motivating students and holding them accountable for their assignments and their progress.

Proctors who oversee exams for virtual classrooms will also need to be informed on cheating behaviors and dishonest academic activity. Watson and Sottile (2010) found that it is 73.8% easier for a student to cheat on an online exam in a virtual setting than it is for a student to cheat on an exam administered in a traditional classroom. Although many online courses require students to take exams in a physical classroom, many students find that traveling to an on-site location to take an exam defeats the purpose of enrolling in an online course due to the inconvenience, expense, and time spent in traveling to the specified on-site location. As new strategies develop to help ensure academic integrity, proctors need to familiarize themselves with proctoring software such as VProctor which allows proctors to determine if students have opened “another browser window,” accessed their mobile device, consulted another person in the room, or opened a textbook (Venable, 2013). BioSig-ID measures “unique behavior characteristics of students using devices like a mouse or touchpad (Venable, 2013).” ProctorU connects students with live proctors via web cameras and will request verified photo identification as well as ask verification questions like “prior street address or zip code (Venable, 2013).”

Archambault, L., K. Kennedy, and S. Bender. 2013. Cyber-truancy: Addressing issues of attendance in the digital age. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 46 (1): 1–28

Bird, K. (2014, February 19). Online vs. Traditional Education: The Answer You Never Expected. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/college-life/online-vs-traditional-education-answer-never-expected/

Cavanaugh, C. & Clark, T. (2007). The landscape of K-12 online learning. In Cavanaugh, C. & Blomeyer, B. (Eds.), What works in K-12 online learning. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011, October 1). National Standards for Quality Online Teaching (Rep. No. 2). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from International Association for K-12 Online Learning website: http://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2.pdf

Venable, M. (2013, August 16). Online Student Verification: Is that you? Are you there? – OnlineCollege.org. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from

Watson, G., & Sottile, J. (2010). Cheating in the Digital Age: Do Students Cheat More in Online Courses? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, XIII(I). Retrieved April 25, 2016.

In Depth Explanation of: What it Would Take to Implement A Policy in U. S. Schools

Online courses have shown to have many benefits, such as higher levels of motivation, expansion of educational access, increased opportunities for high-quality education, improvement of student results and abilities, efficient administration, and diversity of courses; however, many critics doubt whether or not these benefits are as effective as they are made out to be and point out that the available research to support these conclusions are scarce (Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009). Much of the available literature on virtual schooling reports that online education has serious problems in regard to “student readiness and retention issues (Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009).” According to multiple studies conducted over the last ten years, “only students who were typically successful in online learning environments were those who had independent orientations towards learning, who were highly motivated by intrinsic sources, and who had strong time management, literacy, and technology skills (Cavanaugh, 2007).” Those skeptical of online learning will point out that holding students accountable for attendance, cheating, truancy etc. is far more difficult in a virtual setting than a physical classroom (Archambault, Kennedy, and Bender, 2013). Furthermore, an analysis of 196 studies, only seven of which were conducted in a K-12 public school, showed that only three demonstrated significant benefits with online courses (Barth, 2013). Another significant challenge in the current state of virtual schooling is the accreditation of online courses because many employers, educators, and administrators view online programs with a negative stigma compared to traditional degrees (Berge & Clark, 2005). Clearly there is a fundamental issue in the nature of online education, and addressing this issue will become essential in the future of this nation’s educational system, especially considering that online learning is on track to become a major player in the future of education.

Although there are a myriad of issues surrounding online education such as the digital divide, high attrition rates, lack of social interaction, etc., this blog proposes a policy of treating virtual classrooms as a fundamentally different setting from physical classrooms in order to address the issue of accountability in online education, and believes that significant steps to improve the quality of online education include formatting assessments differently to better suit a virtual environment, making use of available technology to supplement lessons, and requiring teachers of online courses to undergo preparation programs designed specifically for virtual classrooms.

One of the major concerns surrounding accountability in online education lies in the effectiveness of assessments. Due to the nature of online courses, it is inevitable that students will make use of notes, corresponding textbooks, or even google to answer questions on exams for online courses. Essentially, all online exams will be unavoidably open note. Because of this teachers of online courses need to design their assessments differently to measure student ability. For example teachers should set time limitations on online exams in order to help ensure that students will be able to quickly recall information as opposed to spending as long as necessary to search for the correct answer. Furthermore, instead of focusing on questions based on recall teachers should phrase questions so that they force students to demonstrate critical thinking and a mastery of the content area as opposed to simple knowledge recall, which can be easily facilitated with the use of a smartphone or other electronic device.

 

Another major criticism in online learning’s accountability lies in log-in time requirements as a stand in for seat-time requirements. In a physical classroom, a teacher can easily determine whether a student is physically present or not in a classroom; however, in a virtual setting the same is not necessarily true. Keeping track of and ensuring student attendance in online courses presents significant challenges. Measuring the amount of time that students have logged on their virtual accounts would not be an effective means of measuring student progress because students could simply leave the browser window open as the timer runs up the clock. Due to the nature of virtual schools, students can log on to work on their courses at any point in the day or night from anywhere, “and the only common denominator among them is progress completion. What takes one student to complete in 1 hour may take another student 3 hours (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender, 2013).” Instead Archambault, Kennedy, and Bender suggest that virtual schools establish a system of attendance based on student progress via completion of assignments towards earning credits. This progress model requires students to  complete the same number of assignments for a given online course and holds students accountable for truancy issues.

The progress model assumes that the goal is students passing classes. It then divides that requirement over the course of weeks, and ultimately days, in the school term. Based on this goal, MVHS school officials determine the required percentage of increase in each class per week toward full completion. Most students take a minimum of five classes each semester. School officials divided the total percentage of completion needed to earn credit by the number of weeks in a semester and multiplied it by five classes. This equates to a 25% increase needed (cumulatively considering all classes) per week for attendance. After deliberation and consideration, MVHS administration collectively determined that each 5% increase amounted to one school day based on a 5-day school week, as is found in traditional schools. For example, if a student fails to make 10% progress in a particular week, that student would be considered absent for 2 days

Based on the aforementioned progress models, virtual schools can establish a system of holding students accountable for their “attendance,” and it should be noted that there will be an effort made to assist students who are struggling academically to achieve progress as opposed to students who simply put no effort into a given assignment. “Using progress as a measure allows MVHS to monitor who is struggling academically as well as those who are absent/truant. In either case, identifying students who are struggling to progress is vital (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender, 2013).”

Another major concern in accountability in online learning is determining whether or not the person registered for the course is in fact the person taking the course. The most common method to verify student identify for online courses involves “issuing each student a unique login and password. However Hilbelink acknowledges that there are ‘instances where students have purposely given out their login and passwords to another person who takes their exam or posts for them on discussion boards (Venable, 2013).'”

To prevent fraudulent abuse of virtual classrooms, several online institutions are implement various measures to ensure the student registered for the course is the one taking the course. Current methods of verifying student identity rely predominantly on requiring students to take “tests at on-ground testing centers” where ID is required prior to taking the test. New methods however, are cropping up constantly. In Strayer University’s online courses students are required to answer two random multiple choice challenge questions such as “prior street address or zip code” to verify student identities (Venable, 2013). At Proctor University students are connected to a “with a live proctor via [their] web camera [who] will ask you to show a photo ID (Venable, 2013).” Online course management services like eduKan is currently experimenting with biometrics to identify students through “fingerprinting, voice recognition, and retinal scans (Venable, 2013).” Another experimental software, VProctor, attempts to “flag ‘triggers’ such as ‘opening another browser window, talking on a phone, talking to someone else in the room, or using a book (Venable, 2013).'”

In order to implement these suggested methods across U.S. schools to improve the accountability in Online Education, a number of steps will be required. Teachers and proctors would have to become familiar with new software. Large amounts of funding needs to be allocated to developing programs and purchasing usage rights. The National Educational Technology Plan, the “flagship program for online education”, suggests the following:

One of the most effective ways to provide high-quality digital learning materials at scale is through the use of openly licensed educational resources. These resources may be used, modified, and shared without paying any licensing fees or requesting permission. Open licenses for this purpose have been created by organizations such as Creative Commons for learning resources. For software, a number of open license types are available, such as the GNU General Public License and others recognized by the Open Source Initiative or the Free Software Foundation. This is significant considering that the United States currently spends approximately $8 billion each year purchasing commercial learning resources.4 Replacing just one textbook for one subject can free up tens of thousands of dollars for other purposes.

There are advantages other than just cost savings. Openly licensed materials can be more accurate than traditional textbooks because they can be updated continually as content changes. Openly licensed materials also allow teachers to exercise their own creativity and expertise so they can tailor learning materials to meet the needs of their students.

Archambault, L., K. Kennedy, and S. Bender. 2013. Cyber-truancy: Addressing issues of attendance in the digital age. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 46 (1): 1–28

Barth, P. 2013. Virtual schools: Where’s the evidence. Educational Leadership 70 (6): 32–36.

Berge, Z. L., & Clark, T. (2005). Virtual schools: Planning for success. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Cavanaugh, C. S., Barbour, M. K., & Clark, T. (2009). Research and Practice in K-12 Online Learning: A Review of Open Access Literature. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10. Retrieved April 19, 2016, from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/607/1183c

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, Washington, D.C., 2016.

Venable, M. (2013, August 16). Online Student Verification: Is that you? Are you there? – OnlineCollege.org. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.onlinecollege.org/2013/08/16/online-student-verification-is-that-you-are-you-there/

Background: Accountability in Online Learning

Online learning has taken the educational world by storm as of late. In an ever-demanding world of rigid schedules, fast-paced competition, and  ubiquitous technology, online courses have been rapidly becoming a major game changer in the face of education. With the cost of college rising so rampantly, online courses have become an attractive, low-cost alternative. According to the Babson Survey Research Group , only 32.5% of responding colleges offered full degree programs online in 2002; however, that percentage nearly doubled by 2012 with 62.4% of responding colleges offering full degree programs online (Sheehy, 2013). During the 2011 school year, more than 6.7 million students, approximately “32% of total higher ed enrollment”, enrolled in at least one course online during the fall semester of 2011 (Sheehy, 2013). In certain states such as Michigan, New Mexico, Alabama, and Virgina, students are required to take an online course or virtual learning experience in order to graduate from high school because those states feel that it is essential to prepare students for the future of education (Sheehy, 2012). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2008) the number of students in k-12 public education systems that were enrolled in online courses rose by 65% between the years 2002-2005. A survey conducted by Picciano and Seaman (2009) approximated over one million k-12 students enrolled in virtual classrooms in the 2007-2008 school year. “Researchers at Harvard University predict that by 2019 almost half of all high school students will take their courses online (Toch, 2010).” It is clear that online education is growing and that it is here to stay.

Most Americans are familiar with virtual classrooms at the university or college level, and online courses has been viewed as a means to address several common problems in education, such as overcrowded school systems, a lack of courses geared towards “remedial or accelerated students,” a scarcity of qualified teachers in local areas, and the difficulty in accommodating learners who require education at a different pace or in a different environment (Cavanaugh & Clark, 2007). Unsurprisingly, virtual educational programs for K-12 students have been developing at meteoric rates domestically and abroad since the 1990s. In less developed countries and regions of the world, K-12 online courses are seen as a means of advancing one’s economic and social standings (Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009). Although online courses have shown to have many benefits, such as higher levels of motivation, expansion of educational access, increased opportunities for high-quality education, improvement of student results and abilities, efficient administration, and diversity of courses, there is an overwhelming number of educators, students, and employers who view that virtual classrooms are not nearly as effective as a traditional classroom and with good reason (Cavanaugh, Barbour & Clark, 2009). According to multiple studies conducted over the last ten years, “only students who were typically successful in online learning environments were those who had independent orientations towards learning, who were highly motivated by intrinsic sources, and who had strong time management, literacy, and technology skills (Cavanaugh, 2007).

Considering that online courses are not only here to stay, but may even become more popular than traditional courses, it is essential for educators to understand that the pedagogogical techniques applied in the physical classroom do not necessarily apply to the virtual classroom, and it is the purpose of this blog to detail suggestions that would improve the numerous issues surrounding accountability in online education.

Cavanaugh, C. S., Barbour, M. K., & Clark, T. (2009). Research and Practice in K-12 Online Learning: A Review of Open Access Literature. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10. Retrieved April 19, 2016, from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/607/1183

Cavanaugh, C. & Clark, T. (2007). The landscape of K-12 online learning. In Cavanaugh, C. & Blomeyer, B. (Eds.), What works in K-12 online learning. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Picciano, A. G., and J. Seaman. 2009. K–12 online learning: A survey of U.S. school district administrators. Boston: Sloan Consortium. http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/K- 12_06.asp (accessed March 5, 2009).

Sheehy, K. (2012, October). States, districts require online ed for high school graduation. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-schoolnotes/2012/10/24/states-districts-require-online-ed-for-high-school-graduation

Sheehy, K. (2013, January 8). Online Course Enrollment Climbs for 10th Straight Year. Retrieved April 07, 2016, from http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2013/01/08/online-course-enrollment-climbs-for-10th-straight-year

Toch, T. 2010. In an era of online learning, schools still matter. Phi Delta Kappan 91 (7): 72–73

Zandberg, I., and L. Lewis. 2008. Technology-based distance education courses for public elementary and secondary school students: 2002-03 and 2004-05. (NCES 2008-08). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

My colleague, Khaynen Yocca discusses the issue on his blog at http://www.edublogftw.wordpress.com