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N.Y. educators converge at conference on virtual learning
June 16, 2014Tweet
Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses can improve a student’s chances of getting into a good college and developing sophisticated academic skills, but rural, low-income and other disadvantaged students in New York often don’t have the option to do so. A two-day conference provided a forum for school districts and BOCES-led consortia from across the state to discuss their efforts to increase the number of students taking AP courses, especially among those who have been traditionally underserved.
The VAP (Virtual Advanced Placement) Conference, held June 12-13, brought together teachers, principals, school district representatives, New York State Education Department (NYSED) representatives and College Board representatives to discuss success stories, strategies and challenges in providing online and blended learning AP coursework. The conference was sponsored by the Virtual AP Evaluation Research Team, a group from the Graduate School of Education contracted by the NYSED to evaluate the Virtual Advanced Placement Program. The program was created to increase the number of students taking AP courses, using funds from a $17 million grant from the NYSED as part of the larger Race to the Top effort. The team, led by Associate Professor Pamela Sandoval, includes two faculty members, Professor Beth Burch and Assistant Professor Nicole Fenty, and four research associates, Andrea Allio, Andrew Blaine, Nathan Burch and Margo Undercoffer.
AP courses are college prep courses, “so we’re talking about making sure that kids who are underrepresented…are prepared in the highest way for college,” said Fenty, whose research interests include providing access to underprivileged students. “The hope, the initial thought process of the grant, was to allow for kids who had started several steps behind to have that access.”
As part of its evaluation of how grantees are providing access, the research team conducted interviews with administrators, teachers and students across the state, from places as different as New York City, Broadalbin/Perth and Ulster BOCES. They also collected survey information and other forms of data from these groups. While the team still needs to analyze its data, they have already made one big discovery: grantees are offering vastly different forms of virtual and blended courses. Some students see their teachers only through an online connection, while others have regular face-to-face interaction; some classes use full-service laptops to learn, while others use tablets. The VAP Conference gave grantees the opportunity to discuss ideas and share best practices with one another.
“The conference provided a way for people to come together and talk about what they’re doing, what they believe is going well and to learn from what other grantees are doing,” said Sandoval. “This may be very useful to them because, as statewide evaluators, we have so much data that will take time to analyze. Currently, we can only provide so much information to each grantee. This meeting provided them with an opportunity to talk to people, and to get ideas from other people and use those ideas.”
In a conference presentation titled “Virtual AP Evaluation and Research: Planning for the Future in New York State,” Sandoval made note of the vast amount of data her team needs to comb through and how long it will likely take to analyze it.
“As evaluators, we have real questions about what happens after students are involved in these programs,” Sandoval told participants. “’How well did student do in courses? What scores did they receive on the exam? What were their high school GPAs? Did they graduate from high school and enter postsecondary institutions?’ And answering those questions will take some time.”
Other presentations touched upon a variety of blended and online learning issues, from supporting virtual students to teaching voice and autonomy through virtual advanced placement literature and composition. Michael Barbour, an expert in virtual education and advanced placement, discussed the numerous models for online and blended education, and expressed a need for a common terminology for all models. Participants also shared their experiences through poster and paper presentations, as well as through three-minute “lightning talks.”
With so many virtual learning models in place and so many variables at play to implement them, Sandoval told participants that it’s alright to try new things — the purpose of the program is to see what works.
“It’s okay to try new things and find out, ‘Well, maybe it didn’t work out as well as we thought it would,’ or, ‘it’s working as well and bringing in students who otherwise would not be able to take AP courses,’ or ‘Wow, this is really working and impacting student success.’ Our job in the long run is to make that determination and provide feedback to the state.”