SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – The Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative, in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education, is expanding services for schools by offering a variety of support options to greatly improve remote learning.
“For 11 years, we’ve focused on providing greater learning opportunities for students through online education,” said Jeff Renard, founding director and principal of VTVLC. “By helping schools be better prepared to cope with remote teaching, we can ensure their students will receive the best possible outcomes under the worst possible conditions.”
On March 15, 2020, Gov. Phil Scott issued a directive to all Vermont schools to conduct an orderly dismissal of all schools, and cancellation of all school related activities, no later than Wednesday, March 18, 2020. This required teachers to begin teaching from home with no prior training or support. Immediately, VTVLC began creating resources and plans to support schools and teachers to respond to this interruption in traditionally offered programs.
“Vermont is a small, rural state” Renard added. “We’ve built our relationship with school districts over the last 11 years by focusing on each organization’s needs and customizing how we support each one. This year, as a result of the pandemic and the need to support schools with the tools to effectively transition to remote learning, we’ve customized what we do and expanded our systems to supply turn-key solutions which support not only remote learning, but helping teachers focus on their students instead of curating and creating content.”
In Vermont, teachers are required to have a supplemental endorsement to their content area license. The Online Teaching Specialist endorsement is required for teachers working with students from a distance and distinguishes VTVLC online teachers from those in other states where such an endorsement is not mandated. The certification program VTVLC runs in partnership with Castleton University is a 10-credit graduate certificate in online teaching.
The transition to remote teaching requires educators who are used to relying on verbal and nonverbal cues during the limited time students are seated in the classroom to check for understanding using different strategies. Although “homework” done outside the normal school day extends the practice of new information, teachers tend to rely on providing instruction while in close proximity to their students in order to check for understanding. Remote teaching relies on other techniques.
“Online teaching relies on a variety of tools and the purposeful collection of data,” Renard said. “Assessments are designed not only to check student proficiency, but also a way to collect key data points to analyze exactly how much the student is understanding the material. True online coursework is designed to be flexible, providing students the agency to work when and where they are best positioned to be successful. Work is blocked in weekly chunks to provide this flexibility and teachers make themselves available for ‘online office hours’ to work one-on-one or in small groups using video conferencing systems. This allows students to receive the help they need, when they need it most.”
VTVLC is not only supporting Vermont schools to make the transition to remote learning, but also broadening their partnership model. VTVLC works as a cooperative. Schools which are teaching partners provide a teacher who, as part of their regular teaching assignments, facilitate at least one online course which becomes part of the catalog of offerings to students across the state. This allows smaller schools with a teacher offering a course like AP Statistics, usually to a small group of students, to open that class up to other students around the state.
Now, through VTVLC’s expanded role in Vermont, students are able to access these online courses regardless of where they live. This partner model is both efficient and extremely flexible for students and the schools they attend.
“We’re very proud to be supporting schools with new tools and training to help them through the impacts of the pandemic. And even more proud of how we’ve grown over the last 11 years to remove barriers to students being able to access courses they never would have been able to enroll in previously.” said Renard. “We look forward to helping students succeed whether via their local schools or through VTVLC online courses.”
For more information about VTVLC, visit www.VTVLC.org or call 802-885-8331.