Rural Virtual Learning

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This is the fifth in a series of blog posts written by Michigan Virtual's Regional Mentor Leaders to bring to life what mentors do to build and maintain a supportive online learner environment to help students be successful. If you are a mentor and would like to share a strategy, a success story, or another topic that illustrates how you support students, please email [email protected]
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Ripe Apples in Orchard ready for harvesting

I have been a teacher at Ogemaw Heights High School for over 30 years. Ogemaw Heights High School is nestled away in the rolling fields of Ogemaw County. We are a district that has seen a drop in student population. At one point in the 90s, we saw our student population swell to almost 1,000 high school students. Today we are looking at a population of under 600. Poverty and at-risk students make up a vast majority of our high school population. Teachers have retired and have not been replaced because of declining enrollment. As our enrollment declined, so did some of our choices for course offerings. When legislation came through to provide students with online learning experiences, our district scurried to meet the requirements set forth by the new legislation; however, the superintendent did not want to rush blindly into this new endeavor, so we had several meetings with him as we moved forward. Members of our online learning committee had another positive experience attending workshops put on by Michigan Virtual. During those workshops, our district was able to meet and converse with many different districts throughout Michigan. Some were ahead of the game, and others were just entering into virtual learning.

Our initial sign up for online learning started with 30 students. We had two teachers who each worked with 15 students. Progress Reports and attendance monitoring was very easy with a caseload that size. The following year, the other online teacher made a career change and left the district. The online student enrollment grew the next year to 90 courses. We had a teacher who had an hour available in his schedule, so he covered 45 courses and I covered 45 courses. Each year we have steadily grown. We categorize online participation by course instead of students because some of our students take two online courses. For the 2017-2018 school year, our numbers reached 110 courses. Because of our growth, administration included the requirement in our course description catalog that students need to indicate on their EDPs when they are requesting online courses. That allows us to prepare for the next year. For example, we are aware of technology needs and room requirements at the start of each semester. This practice has continued on through the years and has been very beneficial with logistics for each semester.

Online students sign numerous documents to make sure they understand the online learning experience. I hold my parent-teacher conferences in the online classroom so that parents are aware of online options. With help of the technology department, we have been able to increase the number of computers in the online classroom. There are also Chromebooks available for students to use. The online classroom is located next to the media center, and students can sit in the library if they have permission from the media center aides. They have to follow the online classroom rules.

A very important component that Michigan Virtual offers is the online learner orientation tool (OLOT). Any new online learner at Ogemaw Heights High School must complete the online orientation using OLOT. OLOT helps students look at the many different aspects of being an online learner. Some of the students have opted not to take online courses because they were not online learners.

Communication is a very important aspect of being a mentor for online students. I have Google Classroom set up for each hour of online instruction. Announcements are placed on a regular basis. I do quite a bit of emailing to keep lines of communication open with the students. I invite parents to participate online with Google Classroom. I also let students know that I do not accept failure in an online course. I apply pressure and provide students with alternatives and ideas so that they are successful in their online experience. Students who need to recover credit need to have some extra mentoring. If credit recoverers are not counseled about the different aspects of online learning, they may very well not be successful a second time. We also have an after-school program where students who do not have internet access at home can work on their online courses. Instructors from Michigan Virtual provide mentoring ideas to help students be successful, as well.

Attendance in our online program has been very stable for the last three years. In our district this year we have over 100 courses that students are taking per semester. Some students choose to take one course per semester while a few opt to take two courses per semester. Throughout the time that online courses have been offered at Ogemaw Heights, we have surveyed students and have had very positive responses to our online learning opportunities.  Students and parents feel that there is an open line of communication between the mentors, instructors, students, and parents/guardians.

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

The Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) is a non-biased organization that exists to expand Michigan’s ability to support new learning models, engage in active research to inform new policies in online and blended learning, and strengthen the state’s infrastructures for sharing best practices. MVLRI works with all online learning environments to develop the best practices for the industry as a whole.

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