Saturday, March 24, 2012

Interview with David Myers, V.P., Michigan Virtual University, Innovators in E-Learning Series

Online learning for children from ages 12 to 18 is an area of great growth and promise, as more schools move from strictly brick and mortar to blended approaches. The Michigan Virtual University has been an innovator in the field and offers courses to a wide array of schools and learners, who are able to obtain the courses in many ways.. Welcome to an interview with Dr. David Myers, Vice President of Educational Programs and Outreach.

1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning
Dr. David Myers, Vice President, Educational Programs and Outreach, Michigan Virtual University
Michigan Virtual University designs, develops and provides online learning to middle schoolers and high school students as well as professional development for Michigan educators.  I am responsible for coordinating the activities of four areas of the company.  These are:  curriculum and instruction, product development, customer service, and marketing, sales and communication.  Michigan Virtual University works with local public and private schools in three areas.

Since 2000, MVU has worked with the legislature, governor's office, local and private schools as a catalyst for change.  Supporting early adaptors and introducing a new instructional approach was both challenging and rewarding.  Moving from a traditional instructional delivery model in brick-and-mortar schools to online or blended learning has grown since the inception of the Michigan Virtual School in 2000 with the delivery this year of about 20,000 enrollments.  MVU through the MVS provides both online content and online instructors that are Michigan certified and highly qualified in their areas of teaching.

Through its professional development portal Michigan LearnPort®, MVU has also pioneered moving part of teacher training away from a one-size-fits-all model to one that serves the unique needs of individual teachers with professional development when it is needed, anytime, anywhere.  Michigan LearnPort uses the Meridian Global LMS  and supports about 15,000 educators yearly with nearly 25,000 enrollments.  Michigan LearnPort also provides collaboration spaces, record-keeping and reporting,  MVU also acts as a capacity builder with its customers, providing consultant services, training and strategic planning assistance as schools seek to provide effective programs to meet the growing needs of their communities.

2.  What do you consider to be some of the emerging challenges in elearning today?
There are myriad challenges facing schools, teachers, students and parents as online learning moves from being a novelty to a recognized part of instructional delivery. Schools face the challenge of deciding what can best be delivered in traditional approaches and what can best be delivered through technology.  They are also faced with deciding whether to build their own content, buy from a quality provider or barter with others in a combined approach.  Blended learning, combining elements of both traditional and online learning, may become the best approach.  In order for this to take place, teachers trained in traditional methods will need to learn new skills including becoming proficient with the hardware and increasingly complex software that's available.

Online learning through Michigan LearnPort provides some of this needed training.  Students need to transfer their interest in technology from pursuits in social media and recreation to learning traditional content.  Parents will be faced with decisions on which type of learning best suits their child and what is the best content and when it should be introduced.  All parties will be facing the issue of quality.  How does one know that learning is taking place, and whether or not one model is better than another?

As the market for online learning increases, the number of for-profit providers will grow.  Determining how to identify quality providers and distinguish them from those just looking for profit will be a challenge.  Relying on just sorting them out in a traditional market sense may yield many under-educated students.  Unlike making a mistake in purchasing a product that can be returned, discarded or a new one purchased, students that loose valuable learning time with inadequate education will take a long time to make up the lost ground.

3.  What are some of the opportunities that have presented themselves recently?
MVU is investing considerable energy in two areas.  The first is the continued development of high-quality content.  As partners in organizations like the State Virtual School Leadership Alliance, the International Association of K12 Online Learning and the National Repository of Online Content, MVU is working with experts across the country to insure that Michigan students and teachers have access to the best possible content delivered by the best-trained teachers.  MVU has also developed programs for schools interested in developing strategies for introducing or expanding online learning in their communities.  As part of a capacity-building role, MVU is working with individual schools interested in capitalizing on 12 years of experience in online learning.

4.  Where are some of the biggest problems and inadequacies with the learning management systems that many people use?
Most learning or content management systems are excellent in a few key areas, but not in all areas.  Of particular interest in K12 is access to progress information on individual students and groups of students.  Pulling data from the databases in a LMS is a challenge because the data needed is oftenvery specific to the individual approach a student takes through the content and the need is to identify patterns that yield the best results.  This kind of data is not usually a main focus of LMS developers.  Another area of need is for up-to-date "dashboarding" where school personnel, students and their parents (guardians) have instantaneous access to all kinds of information that is easily viewed.  In education, many decisions are made each day on what resources or help might address a student's needs.  The more data and the ease in compiling/displaying the data offer huge potential for intervening with (and redirecting) students.

5.  How have you overcome them?  What has your strategic objective involved?
MVU spends a lot of time looking at new products, new media, and new approaches to teaching and learning.  MVU recently developed a program that brought together representatives from about 30 school districts to discuss and plan for innovation.  This think-tank, so to speak, will tackle some of the issues in online learning to help MVU decide what is needed most by our customers and what might promote individual schools to risk change.

As for the LMS, MVU recently retooled the LMS that powers its online portal for K-12 teachers called Michigan LearnPort. Michigan teachers, school administrators and other school staff rely on the portal, in part, to earn continuing education units, take state compliance courses and satisfy other professional development needs. Our upgrade from Meridian's legacy product, the Knowledge Centre, to Meridian Global LMS 2011, is helping us improve content delivery, reporting, security and the user experience.

6.  What do you think will constitute the future of e-learning? What are the "next generation" technological breakthroughs likely to be?
Online learning is part of the fabric of K12 education.  There is likely to be a balance between traditional brick-and-mortar delivery, complete online delivery and a combination of the two in a blended approach.  The next wave of technology is likely to be in the area of assessment of learning.  Education needs highly complex software capable of analyzing each individual's approach to learning, constantly changing the level of instruction and the pedagogical approach; so that, learning is challenging, yet not too difficult.  Most experts in the field of online learning believe that the role of the teacher will remain important.  Teachers will be relieved of some planning of instruction much like when textbooks were introduced, but there will be added emphasis on the diagnosis and prescriptive skills of the teacher.  Individual learning plans will replace planning a single approach for a group of students.

7.  What are some of your favorite "for fun" books?
I love to read historical fiction like "Coming into the Country," by John McPhee, mysteries and thrillers for pure escapism.  The best books I've read lately, or am currently reading that are more professionally oriented are "Crucial Conversations," "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell, and "Decision Points," by President George W. Bush.

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