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Learning Technology > Maine Online Learning Program > Approved Online Learning Providers > Apex Learning Application

 

VHS's Application for the Maine Online Learning Program

 

1. The online learning provider must be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices and operations.

Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. URLs linking to supporting evidence are also acceptable.

As a provider of programs to students and teachers across the country and around the globe, The VHS Collaborative is committed to remaining nonsectarian in its course content, admissions and educational policies, and all employment and operational practices.

VHS is proud to post many of its policies and guidelines on our website: Academic Policies ; Course Credit; Enrollment Policies and Administrative Guidelines Within its administrative guidelines, VHS lists its nondiscrimination policy: All schools enrolling students in The VHS Collaborative must be in compliance with all Federal Civil Rights legislation.

Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ensures that no person shall, on the basis of gender, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in any federally-assisted program.

In addition, state civil rights legislation also applies to VHS courses. Compliance with all civil rights legislation will be the responsibility of each school, and complaints should be filed with each school and should follow the school's grievance procedure. Four policies from VHS’ Handbook will be submitted with this application (Non-discrimination, Anti-Harassment, Special Education, and Design Standard – Global Perspectives). Additional policies are available upon request.

2. Each course offered for a unit of credit must correlate with applicable state-adopted academic standards prior to being offered. All courses must include assessments.

Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. Provide an example of a correlation report that demonstrates how a course offered by your organization aligns with state standards. Upon request, within 5 business days an approved Online Learning Provider must be prepared to provide either the Department, or the school administrative unit, a correlation report for any online course being offered.

VHS contracted with EdGate Correlation Services to complete third-party correlation of core course offerings against state and common core standards. Correlation reports for core courses (English 9, 10, 11, Geometry, Pre-Calculus 1 and 2, US History) can be provided upon request. A sample correlation report will be provided with this application.

Recognizing that many states do not have specific course standards to guide development of elective offerings, VHS has aligned all elective offerings (at a weekly level) to the corresponding national content framework. An example correlation report for elective courses is also provided with this application.

With regard to overall design and pedagogical approach, all VHS courses are designed with the iNACOL Quality Course Standards in mind. VHS, as a recognized leader in online education, was appointed to serve on the committee to establish these standards and formally adopted them after their publication in 2011. (http://www.inacol.org/resources/publications/national-quality-standards/). Internal review is completed by VHS staff members as courses are developed or substantially revised. Archived reviews (against VHS’ former course design standards) are kept on file at VHS.

3. A teacher employed by the online learning provider and providing instruction to students must hold a valid teaching certificate in each content area being taught or receive approval from the commissioner to teach the course.

Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. Provide a list of those teachers who teach Maine students that includes: the name of the certified teacher, the content areas in which they are certified, the State in which their certification was obtained, and the expiration date of the certification. This list must be updated June 30th and December 30th of each year for which the online learning provider is listed, to reflect changes following the initial application and approval.

With guidance from American Institutes for Research, VHS has new faculty application and profile databases that capture all required information about VHS teachers. Information includes relevant education information, detailed certification information, dates of most recent criminal history checks and fingerprinting, and an overview of teachers’ relevant work experience. VHS will require that teachers update their profile annually. Information from this database will be used (by our SIS) to ensure Maine students are placed in a course section with a certified teacher and can be used to provide the Maine Department of Education with the required certification information as required in this application.


4. A teacher employed by the online learning provider must receive appropriate preservice and in-service training pertaining to the organization of the online classroom, programs and courses, the technical aspects of online education, the monitoring of student assessment and other pertinent training.

Describe the pre-service and in-service training, as outlined above, that is provided to teachers in your organization.

VHS teachers are experienced classroom teachers selected by their school and approved by VHS to teach a course. VHS member schools select teachers who, amongst other qualities, are passionate about their subject area, outstanding and experienced educators, self disciplined, dedicated, student-centered, and demonstrate excellent written communication skills.

As described in VHS’ company profile, VHS teachers are required to complete NetCourse Instructional Methodologies (NIM), a graduate level online course that prepares educators to teach a VHS course. NIM introduces the pedagogy, methodology, and moderation techniques educators need to effectively teach online. NIM facilitators are VHS staff members from the Curriculum and Instruction Team or are experienced VHS teachers with demonstrated success teaching online. They are highly invested in the course, and closely monitor each participant’s progress, provide grades and feedback on all assignments, participate in class discussions, and motivate/mentor participants in public discussion boards and via private discussion threads.

During NIM, participants review and prepare to teach their VHS course, practice facilitation techniques, and participate in collaborative projects with their peers. The course takes place in Desire2Learn (D2L) so that participants have hands-on experiences with navigating and utilizing VHS’ learning management system. All teachers are required to complete a separate, self-paced D2L training course as well. This D2L training is specifically geared towards functionality teachers need to manage the day-to-day, technical operation of their course and is available to teachers even after they have graduated from the NIM program.

Feedback from participants has been consistently high – participants report that NIM is an excellent preparation for teaching online and that they learned invaluable lessons when required to take part in VHS’ teacher training program.

Additionally, during their first semester(s) of teaching, each new VHS teacher is assigned a faculty advisor (FA). The FA is required to evaluate the teacher, provide feedback each week, and be available as a first-tier support system if the teacher has a question or problem. Veteran teachers are monitored regularly as well and are assigned (on a content-specific basis) to a VHS Curriculum Coordinator who provides feedback and support as needed.

The VHS Curriculum and Instruction Team offers webinars on a variety of topics and synchronous office hours as well. All teachers are encouraged to take advantage of these training opportunities. The FA weekly evaluation focuses on the following aspects of online instruction:

• Weekly general announcements to online classroom
• Presence/Frequency in the course
• Response time/frequency to student inquiries
• Involvement in content discussions (discussion threads)
• Modeling of critical thinking
• Grading frequency/timeliness
• Feedback on student work/submissions

VHS also offers a number of professional development (PD) opportunities throughout each academic year. These courses have all been developed in-house by The VHS Collaborative and have provided its participants with tools & methodologies necessary for success in the 21st century classroom. The growing catalog of VHS PD courses includes the following subjects:
• 21st Century Teaching & Learning
• Web Enhanced Classroom
• Blended Teaching and Learning
• Web 2.0: Collaborative Instruction
• Becoming an Online Teacher
• Introduction to Technology-Infused Teaching and Learning
• Walkthroughs: Looking for Learning in the 21st Century Classroom
• Fractions for Elementary School Teachers


5. The online learning provider must verify ongoing student attendance and progress and performance in each course as documented by ongoing assessments in a proctored environment and provide examples of student course work.

Describe how attendance, progress and performance are assessed, and also the level to which assessments are typically proctored online and/or locally.

The D2L platform collects detailed data on student access and activity in the courses. Teachers are able to track data on student activity in all areas of the course and can see how frequently students are logging into the class and the length of visits within the course platform.

VHS also utilizes site coordinators to monitor student progress and ensure students are on task and online as required by local regulations. Many schools schedule VHS courses into the students’ day and have a specific computer lab or library sign-in where students are expected to be present and working on their course.

Site coordinators are trained in VHS policies and are provided with clear protocol by which they can communicate with VHS staff and teachers to ensure students are making adequate progress in their VHS course. Each site coordinator can impersonate their students to see exactly what they have been working on in the class. They are provided with grade updates on a regular basis, as dictated by VHS’ academic calendar (http://www.thevhscollaborative.org/programs-courses/academic-calendar).

Because of the asynchronous nature of the courses, VHS does not require students login at particular times, but uses the platform to monitor attendance and progress. Students are provided with documents in each course that outline course objectives, provide expectations around participation and course access, clarify the standards for grading and assessment, introduce course rubrics, and provide an overview of VHS’ plagiarism and academic honesty policies. Students receive frequent feedback on their progress. Each week’s assignments is graded by the teacher – many have explicit rubrics that describe expectations for the work.

VHS has adopted Turnitin in AP courses and is expanding use to other sections each year. This tool allows teachers to have quick access to check for plagiarism in all written assignments, including checking for duplication of work in different course sections.

Students have constant access to the course grades area where they can see their current average and all feedback from their teacher. Their grades are shared with their site coordinator on a regular basis, and will be rolled up to the site coordinators through Genius even more frequently in the 2013-2014 academic year. Each semester grade is the numerical average of the term grades, which are reported for weeks 1-8 and 9-15 of a semester course.

VHS courses do not typically contain large numbers of objective assessments (such as multiple choice, true-false, short answer). Students are instead asked to complete a variety of performance-based assignments, including course discussions, open-ended questions, projects, group assignments, etc. This tends to limit the need for proctored testing environments, especially in schools where students are required to complete their VHS course during a specific hour of their day. As has been previously discussed, all course courses have lesson-level alignments to ME standards. Elective courses are aligned at a weekly level to the national content standard for a specific discipline. Examples of course assignments can be provided upon request.


6. Administrators, teachers and other educational staff employed by the online learning provider must comply with the fingerprinting and national criminal history record check requirements as set forth in section 6103.

Provide evidence of the protocol your organization uses to meet national criminal history record checks. Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this.

As of the 2012-2013 academic year, VHS requires that all teachers complete and update a profile form, in which teachers provide information about their fingerprinting and background check status.

Beginning in the Summer 2013, any VHS instructor who has not been fingerprinted as required by their state Department of Education, will be required to have their fingerprints taken and will be required to request a FBI fingerprint check (with results forwarded to VHS) as described on the FBI website. VHS requires that all applicants for employment at VHS sign a form authorizing background checks with a third party vendor.

Before employment is offered by VHS, these background checks must reveal that there are no findings that would prohibit the applicant from performing his/her expected performance-related duties. Background checks conducted by VHS may include the following areas: criminal check, sex offended check, educational credentials check, social security check.


7. The online learning program must comply with the State's information technology accessibility policies and standards. Maine’s information technology accessibility policies and standards can be found here:

a. Web accessibility
b. Software accessibility

Describe how your organization complies with these standards and/or provide a copy of the organization’s policy document that demonstrates evidence of this.

The D2L platform is focused on accessibility: VHS’ technological specifications can be found here.

Policies and the guidance we provide to our faculty is important, but equally important is that Accessibility is one of the key criteria we consider when looking at any software tool or content for VHS use. This is an especially important focus for our learning management system, and we are pleased with how D2L stacks up against the other LMSs we've looked at. D2L’s corporate website speaks to their commitment to providing an accessible course platform.

This document outlines the compliance of Desire2Learn's Learning Environment with the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

The Voluntary Product Accessbility Template (VPAT) is an industry standard template for recording how a product or service conforms to Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act. This VPAT outlines the compliance of Desire2Learn's Learning Environment.

Equally important when speaking to 508 compliance is the course content (material served up through the LMS), and for this we can point to section 3.2 of our course design standards: 3.2 Visual and hearing impairments are considered in course document design. a. Colors are not used to indicate directions (e.g. "Click on the blue square") b. Text is not highlighted with a similar color which therefore provides limited contrast c. All links have alternative text descriptions in the tag itself d. All instructionally relevant images have descriptive ALT tags; decorative images are marked appropriately (ie. ALT="") e. Videos are captioned f. Audio files have written transcripts g. Any animations, simulations, or videos must be accompanied by at least one other optional non-interactive activity covering the same content with the same learning objectives to be used at the option of the learner. Also noteworthy is the fact that we've heard positive feedback from students accessing our courses with JAWs and other Assistive Software Programs, including students from Maryland School for the Deaf and Washington State School for the Blind.