Virtual School Chat Series Part 3 - Getting Technology and Community Engagement Right Are the Best Things You Can Do for Your Virtual School
The success of your virtual school may very well depend on how you implement technology and how well you engage your community. Technology is a critical part of your virtual school’s success. Depending on your school model, your virtual school may be entirely run online. It is perhaps obvious, then, that technology is a critical component, but the importance of people and community might be less clear. In our experience, both of these matter and can make a difference between a successful program and a good effort. Below we boil this discussion down to two components to consider for these areas of utmost importance.
Helping your technology team succeed:
1- Sketch out user workflows before selecting technology toolsA great exercise for your technology team to do prior to technology selection is to sketch out the step-by-step workflow describing the life of a student, teacher, coach, and administrator, and outline the various technology tools needed in each step. Your technology team may need to involve other team members (such as enrollment, instruction, etc.) during this activity. This deeper understanding of what needs to happen for students to learn and teachers to teach will help the technology team understand what tools they need to put in place, as well as when and how those tools need to interact.
If you have already selected a SIS (student information system) or other platforms for your virtual school, it is critical that your technology team thoroughly understands how your school’s information will flow in and out of this central system. For example, your school’s marketing and enrollment information and records may need to have a direct integration with your SIS, which then may be used to set up the downstream systems, related to fulfillment, instruction, assessment and other online education-aiding tools (such as emails, video conferencing or other synchronous platforms). If your systems are not synchronized, your technology team will have to allocate the proper resources to handle information transfer and identity management challenges caused by enrollment changes. Therefore, it is critical that your technology staff defines workflows for the subsequent technologies that will interact with your SIS prior to making a selection and if that selection has already been made, global understanding of the system architecture is of the highest priority. This is exponentially important for a team moving from an existing set of systems / workflows to new ones.
2- Be open to others’ recommendations, but also shop around and test drive
No technology is one-size-fits-all. There are common categories of technology needs, such as LMS (Learning Management System), SIS, PLP (Personalized Learning Platform), instructional digital content and virtual lesson delivery platform. The choices you make under each category will depend on what best suits your school’s learning vision. Just because it worked for someone else’s model does not mean it will work for yours.
For virtual schools, there are turn-key technology solution providers, such as K12, Inc., as well as a la carte curriculum and instructional delivery technology solution providers, us at Education Elements included, that you can incorporate and customize. This list from Edsurge is a great resource. Your technology team should be afforded the opportunity to partner with your academic leaders to shop around and test drive different options, or connect with the experienced technology partners who can recommend the solution options that will best meet your school’s unique needs.
Engaging your community to support success
1- Listen, engage and ask for feedback
As our virtual schools team takes a look at school budgets, we are often surprised to find that there is little to no budget set aside to enable deep engagement of the community. Consistently, we notice that the right level of engagement and communication with the community of a virtual school can make the difference between a successful program and a failing one. We suggest that virtual school leaders secure the proper resources to effectively listen to their community’s voice, interact with the community through key events and social media venues, send frequent communications about important decisions you are making, and solicit their feedback before making student / parent relevant decisions. For schools that have a brick-and-mortar presence, we strongly recommend that the community engagement and branding efforts are coordinated in order to deliver a strong unified message representing your school as a whole.
2- Use technology to help your community engagement
Technology can help boost your community engagement efforts. Students, teachers, parents and coaches all spend a considerable amount of time online, making it easy to use online channels to communicate, celebrate, survey and engage with your virtual school community. Enrolling in an online educational option should never make students or families feel like they are alone. However, many times without regular attendance at a brick-and-mortar building, students and community sometimes feel this way. Take advantage of your unique online school set up and find ways to engage the students and community through technology as a supplement to the face-to-face time that you do have. There are many resources available online that support these types of efforts, such as this one from communitymatters.org.
While discussions about technology and engagement do not always happen in the same breath, they should. Part of what makes a strong virtual school is special attention to details around every aspect of the school from the technology tools to the community-oriented efforts. If you invest strategically in both the tools and the people, you are well on your way towards having a successful virtual program.
Check out the other blog posts from the same Virtual School Series:
- Virtual School Chat Series Part 2: Your Virtual School's Checklist for Vision & Strategies
- Virtual School Chat Series Part 1: Why Is Running A Virtual School So Hard?
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