Virtual Education Research Alliance
Research Alliance Quicktabs
Research alliances connect practitioners, researchers, and policymakers around regional education challenges. Alliances are tasked with addressing these challenges through regional research, technical assistance, and dissemination projects. Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest supports eight alliances.
States in the Midwest are using and expanding virtual education to supplement, enhance, and expand the educational opportunities available to K–12 students. This alliance has two main goals: (1) to develop the capacity for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin to collect and use data to implement effective high school virtual-learning programs that result in improved student outcomes, and (2) to develop and carry out a research agenda that focuses on questions about student achievement and virtual-learning conditions, particularly regarding methods through which online teachers and school staff can support student success in online courses.
Guiding Research Questions
- What data can states and districts collect to document and track how schools use online courses and how students perform in these courses?
- What type of professional training should online teachers, on-site monitors, and school-level administrators receive to support students enrolled in online courses?
- What are the patterns of student engagement in online courses and how are students’ engagement patterns associated with their online course outcomes?
Brian Barber, Michigan Department of Education
Ronda Eshleman, Indiana Online Academy
Cindy Hamblin, Illinois Virtual School
Mary Corwin Herring, University of Northern Iowa
Marcel Kielkucki, Kirkwood Community College
Gwen Nagel, Iowa Learning Online
Michele Nickels, Wisconsin Virtual School
Dawn Nordine, Wisconsin Virtual School
Michelle Ribant, Michigan Department of Education
Peggy Clements, Ph.D., Senior Researcher at AIR
Jackie Zweig, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate at Education Development Center (EDC)
Erin Stafford, Research Associate at EDC
Technical Assistance Projects Develop systems, surveys, and other tools to help stakeholders apply data to their work
Building Capacity to Conduct Online Learning Research in Iowa and Wisconsin (2012)
Goal: To support the development of future research alliance studies.
- Developed data catalogs for Wisconsin’s and Iowa’s state longitudinal data systems and the administrative data systems of Iowa Learning Online and the Wisconsin Virtual School.
- Conducted a literature summary of existing studies of K–12 online learning.
- Engaged research alliance members in a series of meetings designed to support them as they collaboratively identified their priority research topics.
- Developed a theory of action that would inform the research alliance’s work in future years.
Scan of the Professional Development and Training Programs Offered by Nine Virtual Education Programs in the United States (2013)
Goal: To collect information on how other virtual education programs across the United States are preparing educators to support students enrolled in online learning programs.
- Gathered information about the professional development practices of other virtual education programs.
- Wrote a report for the research alliance members that described these practices.
An Examination of Data Collected in a Learning Management System (2014)
Goal: To expand the existing data catalog originally developed in 2012 to include data collected by the Wisconsin Virtual School’s learning management system.
- Documented the data available through the learning management system.
- Identified which data could be used as measures of student engagement, online teacher support, and on-site monitor support in a correlational study.
Examining Student Engagement and Course Outcomes in a Growing State-Level Online Learning Program (2016)
Goal: To increase VERA members’ understanding of a data analytic approach used in examining student engagement and course outcomes and to provide members with resources that they can use to collaborate with external researchers on similar data analysis efforts.
- Document the data elements that are available within a learning management system and student information system.
- Use the available data to conduct analyses regarding student engagement and course outcomes.
- Build VERA member capacity to understand the analysis techniques and develop resources to help them guide future research on this topic.
Research Projects Collect and analyze data and summarize information for dissemination
Goal: To analyze survey data about online course use in Iowa and Wisconsin brick-and-mortar public high schools during the 2012-13 school year. REL Midwest and its Virtual Education Research Alliance developed the survey, and the Iowa Department of Education and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction collected the data.
The primary uses of online courses by public high schools in Iowa and Wisconsin were to provide students with opportunities to recover credit for failed courses and to complete core requirements in primary academic subjects.
Schools cited concerns about the lack of online teacher training in Iowa and concerns about online course quality in Wisconsin.
Most schools appointed a staff member to monitor and support students enrolled in online courses, but most of these staff members did not receive training for the role.
Goal: To conduct a survey study to learn about the kinds of professional development that online teachers have received and what kinds of professional development they believe would support their instructional practices.
- Online teachers reported participating in training or professional development related to online instruction.
- More teachers reported participating in training that occurred while teaching online than prior to teaching online or during preservice education.
- The teachers most frequently reported challenges related to students’ perseverance and engagement.
- The teachers indicated that they preferred unstructured professional development to structured professional development to help them address those challenges.
- Further research is needed to determine what types of professional development and training are most effective in improving teaching practice, especially related to student engagement and perseverance.
An Analysis of Student Engagement Patterns and Student Outcomes in Online Courses in Wisconsin (2015-16)
Goal: To examine whether patterns of student engagement in online courses (defined as the amount of time students logged in to their online course each week) were associated with students’ success in the course (defined as the percentage of course activities completed and the percentage of points earned).
- Determine how many distinct student engagement patterns are evident in online courses and what percentages of student enrollments follow each pattern.
- Determine whether students displaying different engagement patterns differ in terms of their gender, school-grade level, or the type of course they are taking.
- Determine the associations between students’ engagement patterns and the percentage of course activities completed and the percentage of points earned.