International Research into K-12 Online Learning

Paul Bacsich, Sero Consulting, United Kingdom
Sara Frank Bristow, Salient Research, United States

Introduction


Schools are changing and the very fabric of education is under scrutiny. All over the world, some very fundamental questions about schooling are being asked that affect the very nature and essence of schooling. Can schools built on industrial age models change to meet the requirements of the information age? How necessary are rigid timetables, fixed locations and age-dependent categorisations? Would we not be better with more flexible approaches that cater for individual skills and aptitudes with pupils passing through a system that respects achievement rather than one which punishes failure?

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DEANZ Webinar


It is clear that ICT has played a role in opening up the debate for more open and flexible models of schooling. Effective uses of internet-supported strategies are making more and more opportunities available to teachers and pupils alike. People throughout the education sector are finding new and creative ways to harness the power of the internet to meet the demand for more flexible and pupil-centred models of learning. New structures are emerging, different strategies that foster creativity, support individual skills and better match the demands of our information-driven society.

The compulsory school sector poses particular challenges given its strategic position with our society. Not only are schools highly controlled and often rather centrally managed, but they also represent for many the beliefs, norms and practices of the society in which they operate. Adopting new structures and approaches can pose difficulties as they are seen to challenge the norm – raising sometimes quite fundamental issues and challenging age-old practices and beliefs.

The VISCED Project

This course segment is based on preliminary outputs from the VISCED (Transnational Appraisal of Virtual Schools and Colleges) project, funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission (project number: 511578-LLP-1-2010-1-GR-KA3-KA3MP). This initiative is open to researchers and policy makers; all outputs are available published on the VISCED project wiki.

VISCED provides the ideal basis for this segment in that it includes the following:
  • An inventory of virtual schools and colleges worldwide publicly available on a research wiki
  • A comparison of European cases with non-European cases with elaborated success factors and action points
  • A set of parameters and success factors for classifying and comparing virtual schools and colleges
  • A series of in-depth case studies chosen from the exemplars identified in the research work

For a full inventory of all virtual schools examined by VISCED, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools

Paul on 2 October: still time to tell us about more - especially in Latin America and East Asia


Levels of Virtual Education

VISCED - settled on a five-level description for classifying the hundreds of virtual schooling initiatives and organisations it has found globally:
  • Fully virtual: this includes bricks-and-mortar schools offering a full distance education in parallel with face-to-face classes
  • Semi-virtual school: extra learning available outside school timetable
  • Virtual school-in-school: virtual school within a school or college, which does not offer a full curriculum
  • e-mature school making good use of blended learning
  • Informal school: organisations such as Notschool or Mixopolis


Dimensions of Virtual Schools and Colleges

Within these five levels, virtual schools and colleges are typically "tagged" along 5 main dimensions:
1. Geography (especially continent, country and region)
2. Catchment area (international, national, state, school district etc)
3. Full-time or supplementary
4. Ownership and flow of funds (state, foundation, company etc)
5. Size band

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"World Tour" of Virtual Schools

This section summarises the current state of research on the VISCED wiki. It comes with a number of provisos: like all "world tours" it cannot claim to be comprehensive and the project team is still finding flourishing examples of virtual schools, even within the LLP countries. The sub-sections below give a brief overview of the main continents.

North America - the USA and Canada

The USA

Online education in the US has gained considerable traction over the last 15 years - more so than in any other country. A major report from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) estimates that over 1.5 million American K-12 students were engaged in online and blended learning for the 2009-2010 school year (out of approximately 55.2 million students enrolled).This represents roughly 3% of the US schools population.

In 2010, supplemental or full-time online learning opportunities were available to students in 48 of the 50 US states. 38 states had state virtual schools or state-led online initiatives (with a 39th set to open in 2011); 27 states plus Washington, DC had full-time online schools serving students statewide; and 20 states were providing both supplemental and full-time online learning options statewide (but not as part of a state virtual school).

For a full inventory of all US schools examined by the project, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools_in_the_US

Canada

In Canada, distance learning is a feature (to a variable degree) of the education systems in all 13 territories and provinces. In 2011 it was estimated that just over 200,000 students were enrolled in distance learning courses and/or programmes. This constitutes between 2.8% and 3.4% of the total K-12 student population. Unsurprisingly, given the vast land area and regional autonomy, there is an extremely broad spectrum of distance learning provisions varying by cities, districts, provinces and territories.

For a full inventory of all Canadian schools examined by the project, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools_in_Canada

Europe

There are currently 68 European virtual schools and colleges identified on the VISCED wiki - distributed across 18 countries (although the total number of European virtual schools is likely to be well in excess of 60 and perhaps approaching 100). On the basis of the evidence available, we estimate the split between those established by public or private providers to be approximately 50:50.
  • The smallest school has 25 students and the largest has 1,4000.
  • Average size (where enrolments are quoted) is 475 students; removing the outliers leaves an average size of 470.
  • A significant proportion of these schools (possibly in the region of 50%) offer a full, or broad, curriculum.
  • A significant proportion of these schools (extrapolated to be between 30-50%) were initially established to address issues of pupil exclusion.
  • Characteristics of pupil exclusion addressed by European virtual schools include:
    • Students who are long-term sick and/or hospitalised
    • Students with disabilities
    • Young parents or pregnant young women
    • Travellers
    • Students who have been bullied or are school-phobic
    • Students who left school with no or few qualifications
    • Students who are imprisoned
    • Geographically isolated students
    • Students with specific language needs (immigrants with poor host-nation language skills)
  • At least 10 European virtual schools were initially established to support expatriates and/or the children of military personnel serving overseas.
  • In several European countries there appears to be a growing interest in virtual schools providing supplementary, specialist and/or revision courses and lessons.
  • There is a broad pedagogical spectrum - from 100% online through to significant face-to-face interaction - and a variety of communication tools including skype and commercial videoconference systems, e-mail, telephone and learning platforms.
  • In many cases the virtual schools reflect local/national circumstances - either in support of local/national policy priorities or to meet demands not sufficiently catered for in their host region/nation.

For a full inventory of all European schools examined by the project, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools_in_Europe

Australasia

Australia

As might be expected in a very large country with many isolated communities, there are a significant number of virtual schools in Australia. The largest numbers are in New South Wales and Queensland, with three in Victoria, two in Northern Territory and one each in South and Western Australia. It appears from publicised enrolment numbers that the Schools of Isolated and Distance Education in Western Australia is the largest, with "thousands" of enrollments.

For a full inventory of all Australian schools examined by the project, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools_in_Australia

New Zealand

Whilst there are several very active e-learning organisations in New Zealand - e.g. Virtual Education Networks, the New Zealand Virtual Learning Network and LEARNZ, there appear currently to be only three virtual schools:
  • Te Kura/The Correspondence School is New Zealand’s largest, with more than 24,000 students a year studying full or part-time, and staff based around the country.
  • The eTime Virtual School, which provides opportunities for children in Years 5- 8 to learn in an online environment.
  • The New Zealand Virtual School [NZVS], which allows students to study courses contributing to NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement -the main school-leaving qualification) and industry based National Certificates. Thus it is a virtual college as well as a virtual school.

There is also the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand (OPNZ), which functions as a virtual college.

For a full inventory of all New Zealand schools examined by the project, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools_in_New_Zealand

Indigenous Virtual Schooling in Major Asian Countries

Projects like this, with an international focus, are few and far between - and studies with resources to conduct research across Asia in the same depth as the three continental regions described above are yet to be identified. The following VISCED profiles are representative, but not comprehensive.
  • Japan: whilst there is legislation promoting e-learning and distance learning in higher education and junior colleges, there are currently just two virtual school wiki entries - the NHK Academy of Distance Learning and the Super English Language Virtual High School. Whilst it is likely that terminology, language and the alphabet have masked some virtual schools from the researchers, it should also be noted that both these are identified as "national" schools.
  • China: VISCED has not studied China in any detail. There is plenty of evidence of distance learning projects for remote rural communities, but no evidence of anything resembling a fully virtual school.
  • India: there are a number of distance learning programmes in higher education, but VISCED has not found evidence of indigenous virtual schools. There are three international virtual schools within the NESA network.
  • Mongolia: A set of initiatives and projects have been developed in the country to support mainly non-formal rural distance education.
  • Singapore: The K12 International Academy Singapore is a private online American school. The school offers a wide range of courses for full or part-time study.
  • South Korea: alongside a wide range of digital online services to teachers and schools, we have found at least four virtual schools - The Air and Correspondence High School (ACHS), established in 1974 and now offering a learning programme blended with Internet and offline classes; Cyber High School, established in 2000; Hanse Cyber High School; Kyungbock High School.
  • Vietnam: anecdotal evidence suggests that whilst the internet is used for teaching, there are no virtual schools. However, the Ministry of Education website suggests that there are some virtual vocational training courses, linked to the college network.

For a full inventory of all Asian schools examined by the project, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools_in_Asia

The Middle East and North Africa

The Arab Middle East

In a study of 12 countries as this region (Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) there is a significant amount of virtual activity at HE level, but not yet at schools level - though several of the countries, particularly the oil-rich Gulf States, have ambitious long term plans for e-activity. Perhaps the most developed are Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, with national e-strategies extending to the end of the decade. The American influence is represented by 15 schools in the NESA Virtual School Project, with two in each of Qatar and Lebanon, three in the UAE, four in Saudi Arabia, and single examples in Oman, Jordan, Syria and Kuwait.

North Africa and the Near East

We have found virtual schools in Egypt [a NESA network school in Cairo], Israel [the ORT Aviv Virtual School] and Tunisia [the Tunisian Virtual School], but none in any of the other countries. Although recent political disturbances and changes were well recorded through social media, it is likely that the unrest and instability across much of the region has hindered the develpment of virtual schooling.

Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa

Whilst there is evidence of ICT capacity building initiatives in many sub-Saharan African countries, we have not found evidence of any indigenous virtual schools. Telecommunications infrastructure is generally weak and in countries with high school drop out rates and low levels of literacy, there are more pressing priorities. Rwanda appears to be the country with the best developed infrastructure and evidence of significant capacity building.

There are a number of international organisations providing online resources, training for teachers and, in some cases, online classes, but none of these operates as a fully virtual school. Our evidence from internet searches suggests that international organisations are most visible and active in Francophone sub-Saharan African countries: the websites of ACTE, ORIDEV,and iEARN are all in French.

There is an international commercial company - The African Virtual School - which offers online examination courses in west African countries such as Sierra Leone. The parent organisation is based in London, although the website features the Stars and Stripes.

In some Lusophone countries [e.g. Guinea-Bissau] there are HE links with Brazilian universities, but no such links are evident in the schools sector.
There are a number of relatively small scale ICT projects in individual countries - e.g. Under the Kapok Tree in Guinea.

South Africa

It is not surprising that we have found a wide of range of ICT in education initiatives in the most developed and economically powerful of the sub-Saharan countries. Whilst an e-education White Paper in 2004 set a goal of making every learner in both primary and secondary schools ICT-capable by 2013, the existence of well over 30 separate ICT initiatives, several of which are commercially sponsored and driven towards one product range, has meant that progress has been patchy. Whilst there are projects involving the use of mobile classrooms and remote online resources, there do not (yet) appear to be any examples of full virtual schools.

Latin America

Spanish and Portuguese are the predominant languages of Latin America (with Portuguese spoken only in Brazil, the most populous country in the region). We have found substantial numbers of virtual schools in this supra-region and, interestingly, a number of colleges in some of the countries offering virtual courses in vocational education.

Much of this virtual activity is thriving indigenously [albeit on a fairly small scale in most countries]; the origins of a number of the virtual schools and colleges have been influenced by Spain and the USA - e.g. Wilostar. which appears to be the only organisation marketing online education in Paraguay. A number of international schools and universities offer a Bachillerato Virtual across Latin American countries - one example of this is the Instituto Friere, whose Latin American base is in Colombia, but which offers virtual education in several countries, e.g. Panama. There are also virtual courses offered in single subjects: Telecentre.org is based in Mexico and offers online mathematics education to primary and secondary school pupils in Mexico, Bolivia and Peru.

In several countries there is a mix of privately funded and state funded schools.

Project Ceibal is an ambitious plan to transform education in Uruguay through issuing an individual laptop to every child - although there appears to be only one virtual school in Uruguay, the country has one of the most developed technical infrastructures of any Latin American country.

For a full inventory of all Latin American schools examined by the project, see http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Category:Virtual_schools_in_Latin_America

Rest of the World

Many of the countries included in this category are relatively remote and often sparsely populated islands and island chains, especially in Oceania, though there are some more densely populated islands in the Caribbean and Pacific. There is evidence of a number of relatively small scale distance learning at school levels; in contrast, some of these territories have better developed distance learning access to higher education, notably in Lusophone islands linked with Brazil and Portugal.

The Caribbean

There is little virtual schooling of significance in any of the Caribbean islands, whether they are Anglophone, Francophone or Dutch speaking. In some of the Anglophone islands revision lessons are available online from Notemaster.com, a commercial company. There is some distance schooling on small islands - e.g. Little Cayman - and small scale initiatives on other islands - e.g. St Kitts & Nevis and the Trinidad & Tobago Virtual Classroom.

Oceania

The two most significant developments are both in the Philippines: the Open High School Program & Internet-Based Distance Education Program (iDEP). These are largely targeted at the more remote communities; the same targeting of remote communities can also be found in Vanuatu, where the Correspondence School of New Zealand offers distance learning courses. There are similar local initiatives for remote communities in the Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands.

Other Islands and Island Chains

We have found little evidence of online or distance schooling in any of the other Pacific, Atlantic or Indian Ocean island chains, except for a small number of initiatives in Mauritius - e.g. the Cyber Caravan.


Key Success Factors


During our research we identified a number of factors which help to make virtual schools and colleges successful. These are factors that are contributing to the sustainability of the different virtual schools and colleges that we have encountered and are factors that will certainly enable the setting up of successful virtual schools and colleges in the future. The more that online education and virtual schooling shifts from small-scale experiments to large-scale, mainstream operation, the more important these factors will become. The factors mentioned here appear to be key to success; our final publications will refine these into a set of factors which are critical to success and sustainability.

Usability of the system being used to support students, teachers and others involved.
It is clear from our investigation into virtual schools and colleges that the technical infrastructure they put in place has to meet very high standards of usability, even though the technology employed may be relatively old and simple. There are many different systems in place, sometimes tailor made by the schools themselves, including a wide variety of online learning platforms and video conferencing systems. No one system dominates the market and practically all the schools and colleges we investigated used a mix of synchronous and non-synchronous with a blended approach being the dominant learning model. Whatever the system, the extent to which it is user-friendly and fit for purpose is a key consideration.

Extent to which a clear e-learning strategy is in place
A complete commitment to e-learning is core to the rationale of the school or college and not only does it define the school or college as being different but is also fundamental to how it operates. Arguably without the e-learning aspect, many of the virtual schools and colleges we investigated simply would not exist. E-Learning provides the means and the basis for the success of the school; the strategy may be implicit, rather than explicit and frequently operates on a pragmatic basis - the strategic elements relate to usability and accessibility.

Appropriateness of recruitment and training policies
Many of the job roles in virtual schools and colleges are multi-faceted and complex, demanding a mixed set of skills and competences as well as high levels of empathy and understanding related to the specific nature of the students involved. Virtual schools and colleges have to identify staff that bring together not only professional skills and empathetic attitudes but also strong technical skills and competences. The most successful approach chosen by those charged with recruitment seems to be to choose staff with the relevant professional background and experience and to provide on-the-job training and support in respect to the technical aspects. Regular updating of skills is very important for most schools and colleges who often depend on a high level of peer support amongst staff.

Extent to which regular evaluation is in place
Given the highly innovative nature of the virtual schools and colleges we encountered, it is hardly surprising to note that most of them are engaged in the regular evaluation of all their processes, particularly learning/teaching processes and curricula. They tend to use a variety of different approaches including feedback from stakeholders and involving outside agencies where appropriate; often evaluation is conducted implicitly and informally, completely unlike the formal processes in universities and large colleges.

Robust and reliable technical infrastructure
To be successful, virtual schools and colleges all agree that their technical infrastructure needs to be extremely dependable. For many the quality of the technical support needs to be particularly high when it comes to dealing with users as they are generally not technically expert and may require sensitive management when it comes to their local technology set-up.

Strong leadership skills and competences
Many of those involved in virtual schools and colleges are pioneers, comfortable with overcoming challenges and breaking down barriers. Most have strong beliefs when it comes to topics like equity in education and the importance of lifelong learning and it is clear from our work that strong leadership skills and beliefs and a value-system that enjoys overcoming challenges are vital components when it comes to creating successful virtual schools and colleges. These leaders need to also be able to make clear decisions regarding staffing, student issues, and virtual school administration which command support across the organisation.

Strong emphasis on learning outcomes - often on an individual basis
Given the fact that many virtual schools and colleges provide learning opportunities for individuals who do not for various different reasons fit into the main stream, it is logical that learning outcomes will receive considerable attention. Most of the organisations we investigated were able to describe clearly defined learning and development goals, which can be assessed, where appropriate, for purposes of certification and progression.

Availability of appropriate digital learning resources
Some virtual schools and colleges create their own digital learning resources while a few either buy in commercial materials or use a mix of both. What is core to all is the accessibility of the material and the extent to which it meets the curriculum needs. There is an increased interest (from a very low base) amongst this sector in OER and some are now implementing systems based on Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Clarity of the organisational system underpinning the operation of the school or college
Everyone involved in virtual schools and colleges needs to have a clear idea of the rules governing the school, the different progression options offered by different learning pathways and of the relationship of the curricula to national or state requirements, especially as many do not cater for what can be considered main stream students. All of the successful schools and colleges that we investigated made very explicit what students could expect in terms of achievement and progression and set meaningful goals based on these projects on an individual basis.


Select Case Studies From Around the World

(Collected for the VISCED Project, http://virtualcampuses.eu)
Profiles of individual schools reveal a rich tapestry of models from country to country. Most, but not all, of these examples offer sites in English.

Bednet in Belgium

Bednet is a regional project in Flanders set up in 2005 whereby students suffering from long term and chronic diseases follow lessons and interact with their own class through videoconferencing. It currently caters for around 160 students aged between 6 and 18 and has two aims; to ensure that children can keep up with their school work and that they can remain in contact with teachers and classmates. The learning outcomes for the Bednet students are exactly the same as for their peers in normal classes; the overall objective is to ensure students return to their own school. The school remains responsible for the child's schooling: the Bednet staff describe themselves as facilitators. The student is linked to his/her class via a Bednet set which consists of two laptops (one with the student, the other in the classroom), two webcams, two scanner-printers and a camera focused on the blackboard. This means that the student participates in lessons in real time, using signals to ask questions and interact. Although not technically a school, Bednet is working on a strategic plan to increase its service to 500 Flemish students annually and to become a fully integrated - and therefore supported - ministry service.

Credenda Virtual High School in Canada

Credenda Virtual High School (CVHS) was established in 2005 to meet the specific needs of students and their families in the geographically isolated area of northern Saskatchewan in Canada. These (typically First Nation) communities have historically faced barriers to accessing high-quality education; rates of high-school completion and consequent attainment levels have remained stubbornly low. CVHS was thus designed to support local schools through partnership working to meet student needs, wherever class sizes were too small to justify offering a course (or where the course was best delivered by a subject specialist). Supported by e-Teachers, students study online CVHS courses at their host school (within their communities) and from home. Credenda’s approach is founded on high levels of personal support and interaction between teacher and student with crucial assistance provided by a fully qualified on-site teacher. Each live classroom session is recorded and archived for these e-Students to access later for review, or completion of their assignments. CVHS now provides a curriculum for Grade 10-12 students and continuing education courses for adult learners of any ethnicity. Credenda’s success has been such that its reach has now expanded to cater for approximately 500 students per academic year including those from across Saskatchewan province and beyond – with some students studying from overseas.

Ensino a Distância para a Itinerância in Portugal

"Ensino a Distância para a Itinerância" (ED) - previously known as "Escola Móvel" - is a distance learning project of the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science aimed at ensuring regular schooling of travelling children whose families work in circuses and fairs. The project has recently been broadened to include hospitalized children, teenage mothers and other young people who cannot function in brick-and-mortar schools and now caters for up to 100 students. ED is now hosted by one school in the Lisbon region which hosts teachers and provides logistics and the organisational infrastructure for the project. Although online and 'at distance', it is largely based on the Portuguese national curriculum and follows a traditional approach involving subjects, timetables, assignments and grades. The underpinning approach and pedagogy is, however, adapted to the needs of the particular target group. The project relies on 23 teachers and a project co-coordinator, with each teacher responsible for tutoring 3-5 students and establishing close relationships with their families. The school uses a Moodle platform, with chat as the main instrument for interaction during lessons. A blog is used for project work and cross-curricular activities and students are encouraged to use other online resources, such as YouTube.

InterHigh in Wales

InterHigh was established in 2005 for students aged 11-16, up to GCSE level. From an initial enrollment of 23 students, by 2009 it had more than 200 pupils spread across its five year groups. InterHigh is a private school registered as a not-for-profit company. Most of the pupils live in the UK; the rest are expatriate children living abroad. The school has proved particularly beneficial for children who are unable to settle at mainstream schools, including children with Asperger's syndrome and the full range of inclusion issues. Students study online mainly from home and staff do most of their teaching from home. Lessons follow the National Curriculum with internal tests to assess progress. Pupils are encouraged to use social networking sites to chat to friends, help each other with work and make new friends. The virtual classroom is built around an interactive whiteboard and uses customised web and video conferencing software. Recently, InterHigh has expanded by launching three new business divisions: joint ventures with local authorities and individual schools in the public sector, independent schools and tuition businesses. The main new business is Academy 21, which caters for pupils excluded from conventional schools and referred by their local education authority.

iScoil in Ireland

iScoil is run as a private not-for-profit organisation funded by the Presentation Sisters in Ireland and caters for young people aged 13-16 who are out of mainstream school, largely referred for school phobia and refusal or disaffection and mental health issues. The usual number of students is around 45-50 at any one time. Students are referred through an established process by welfare officers working with the National Education Welfare Board: criteria for referral include having been out of school for at least 6 months, having tried other provision and having at least one supportive parent or guardian. The original approach was fully online, but this has now been broadened to include a blended learning approach. iScoil uses Moodle as their online learning platform. This provides iScoil with the necessary flexibility to support their staff, which is composed of mentors, subject specialists and central team members. Both mentors and subject specialists are qualified teachers who work part-time. iScoil operates an individualised online learning programme and whilst it does provide opportunities for students to collaborate and work together, it does not insist on this. iScoil does not yet have an official status within the Irish education system; the concept of the virtual school is new to the Irish system.

Nettilukio - Otava Folk High School in Finland

Originally set-up in 1892, Otava Folk High School launched the project Internetix and within this project Nettilukio, a fully virtual upper secondary school, in 1996. Otava Folk High School now consists of the actual physical Folk High School, Nettilukio (virtual upper secondary school) and Nettiperuskoulu (virtual basic education). When Internetix first started, the emphasis was on producing e-learning materials that students could use whilst taking upper secondary school courses. As Nettilukio developed, it designed its own learning platform, Muikku, designed to support both study and evaluation. There are now more than 500 students from all over the world in Nettilukio. At present, people with learning disabilities, who have been bullied or found it difficult to cope in physical schools form the largest group of students. Nettilukio works with 23 part-time teachers not all of whom live in Finland. Four e-learning instructors are responsible for guiding student groups and there is a small central staff, including a Principal and training manager. Students at Nettilukio choose between three different methods for completing their courses: (1) non-stop courses; (2) collaborative courses; (3) phenomenon-based learning. There are no examinations or testing regimes.

Open Polytechnic in New Zealand

The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand is a specialist institution of distance learning based near Wellington, with learning centres in Auckland and Christchurch. It now has around 34,000 students, but very few under 20. It began life as the Technical Correspondence School in 1946, providing resettlement training for returned servicemen and women following World War II. There are rather more women than men students (57:43), and around 13% of students declare themselves to be of Maori ethnicity. Open Polytechnic can provide quality vocational and higher education programmes to senior secondary school students. It offers a variety of courses at Levels 1-4 on the National Qualifications Framework for students still attending school and also offers school students access to courses at Levels 4 and 5 on the National Qualifications Framework. These are generally not unit standard-based and therefore cannot be credited towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, but they give advanced students the chance to get started on higher-level educational qualifications whilst still at school.

Rīgas Tālmācības Vidusskola in Latvia

Set up in 2009, with the support of the Ministry of Education and Science, Rīgas Tālmācibas Vidusskola (RTV) initially offered general secondary education but has now begun to offer primary education as well. RTV is the first distance learning school in the Baltic States to be accredited by its national ministry. Student numbers have increased each year and there are now around 450 living in 22 different countries and aged from 14 to 57. More than half the students are full-time. A smaller proportion of part-time students use RTV as a supplementary school to complete subjects they want to improve. RTV has 29 teaching staff and communication between students and teachers is carried out on the school's e-study environment and may involve Skype, phone, e-mail or any web-based programme that they agree to use. Every class has a schedule created by the central team, with tests each month. Teaching and learning takes place in a range of modes, including independent study, online group tutorials, individual online tutorials, individual correspondence tutorials and tests. Study materials are provided through video lectures, Ministry-prepared interactive materials, private lessons and Skype lessons. Students take the same examinations as in conventional schools.

Sofia Distans in Sweden

Sofia Distans was established in 1994 to enable expatriate Swedish students to study within the Swedish school system. There are 500-600 enrollments in each year group, now including students in Sweden who are not able to attend conventional schools. Funding is a mix of public and private. There are 20 teachers and every student has a parent or tutor in their home location. Students study half the time at home and half the time in their main school, whilst staff teach from the Sofia Distans base. The pedagogical approach is to offer online blended distance learning. Most students are engaged in self-study, following Sofia Distans prepared study plans. Teaching is subject-based. The technology used is a FirstClass platform, with DVDs and extensive use of the internet. Student outcomes are similar to physical schools: the school conducts the national tests in Swedish, English and mathematics. The qualifications are recognised in Sweden.

Wereldschool in the Netherlands

Wereldschool was founded in 1948, initially to provide education for the children of Dutch nationals living in the former Dutch colony Indonesia. In 2011 it split its operation into two separate "sister- schools". Wereldschool continues to support children overseas and another school - IVIO@School - has been developed to support children in the Netherlands who are not considered well-suited by the traditional Dutch education system. Home schooling is not legal in the Netherlands so these children (excluding those in prison who attend prison-schools) are expected to attend a physical school where they work through the IVIO materials and are supported online by IVIO teachers. IVIO@School already has 600 students of whom 90% are full-time. Wereldschool itself currently supports approximately 700 students overseas - across 128 countries –15% of whom study a full online-curriculum. Of these, 500 are primary students and 200 secondary students. The Wereldschool offer covers pre-school (3years) through to upper-secondary (18 years). The main goal is to prepare students for their return to school in the Netherlands (or Belgium) and the school prefers teachers who combine their work at Wereldschool and a traditional school. The school is privately owned but is recognised as a school by the Ministry of Education. However, the only funding received directly from the Dutch Government is for ‘Dutch’ as a subject and students have to pay for the rest of their education themselves. Every year Wereldschool has to provide its learning outcomes to Government officials and every three or four years the school is visited by the inspectorate. Wereldschool sees its key challenge, and critical factor for sustainability, as personalisation. As such, the school is planning to move from its main communication channels of email and Skype to a much more digitised curriculum whilst maintaining the fundamental element of personal support to its students.



References


VISCED project wiki, http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Main_Page

VISCED Brochure (Draft), 2012.

VISCED Handbook (Draft), 2012.


Further Reading


Barbour, M. K. et al. (2011). Online and blended learning: A survey of policy and practice from K-12 schools around the world. Vienna, VA: iNACOL, http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/iNACOL_IntnlReport2011.pdf

Bradley, J. et al. (2003). The Open Classroom: Distance Learning In and Out of Schools. London: Kogan Page,
http://books.google.com/books?id=x9gz3jh0v0sC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Patrick, S. (2011). "An International and National Perspective on K-12 Online Learning and the Future of Education" (presentation),
http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/national_international_perspective_201110.pdf

Powell, A. and Patrick, S. (2003). An International Perspective of K-12 Online Learning: A Summary of the 2006 NACOL International E-Learning Survey,
Vienna, VA: NACOL, http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/InternationalSurveyResultsSummaries.pdf

VISCED Newsletters, http://www.virtualschoolsandcolleges.info/newsletter/

VISCED Wiki, http://www.virtualcampuses.eu

Blogging


For your own institution, consider the global "Critical Success Factors" in this document:



and then:
  • Decide on the relevance to your institution’s/sector’s future success.
  • Score your institution against these criteria.
  • If you feel some vital criteria are lacking, formulate them.