Blue Valley Unified School District (Kansas)



Blue Valley Unified School District (Kansas Unified School District (Kansas Unified School District 229) is one of the major school districts in the Kansas City Area. It employs over 3,250 staff and serves more than 20,000 students within its 34 schools. blue Valley's graduation rate of 95.9 percent demonstrates the district's commitment to providing a personalized learning experience for each student.

One way the district personalizes learning is by offering online courses to students through the Blue Valley Virtual Education Program.

Blue Valley Education provides students with the opportunities to design their own personalized learning. Students who participate in web-based instruction are participating in courses with students across the district. Virtual classrooms allow students the freedom to work on the coursework when and where they have time. The online classrooms contain a variety of technologies including: discussion forums, assignments, quizzes, and virtual textbooks. Each web-based course is designed to align with the Blue Valley District curriculum and the Kansas state standards. During the 2012-2013 school year, over 20 virtual courses were available for student participation.2

Quality Matters interviewed Robert Asquith, Virtual Education Team Leader at the Blue Valley Virtual Education Program about the program and what it's like to use Quality Matters (QM). Blue Valley and Robert have worked with QM since 2012 and Robert has taken two of QM's professional development workshops to ensure their online courses are of the highest standards: the K-12 Applying the QM Secondary Rubric (K-12 APP) workshop and the K-12 Reviewer Course. The K-12 APP provides a detailed introduction to and better understanding of the QM process. Participants are introduced  to the Rubric itself, its application to a teacher-created online course and writing helpful recommendations for continuous course improvement. The K-12 Reviewer Course is designed to prepare experienced online course developers and teachers to become Quality Matters Certified K-12 Course Reviewers.

What things to districts need to know as they create online or blended courses?

The Blue Valley Virtual Education Program currently designs the online courses for the district. Virtual Education staff work with content matters experts to write the online material, following a specific checklist based on the Quality Matters standards. Each course developer is provided with checklist that includes the content requirements for the online materials. Throughout the development process, an instructional designer collaborates with the content matter expert to ensure that all required components are included into the course design. Prior to enrolling students in the online course, a panel of Blue Valley certified teachers review the course content, design and format to ensure that the course aligns with the district curriculum. Following the panel review, the district's instructional designer completes any course revisions.

Recommendations for other districts planning to create virtual courses would be to use existing teachers to develop online content and review all courses with representatives from the content area. This will ensure face-to-face teachers area aware of the content, have reviewed the materials and are able to determine the validity of the coursework.

What challenges will districts face as they move to blended and online courses?

There are several challenges that may occur if a district elects to create its own online courses. The first would be identifying staff to guide the developer throughout the design process. Another challenge will be the knowledge level and expertise of the individuals involved in the design process. The staff members included in the design process need to be familiar with the learning management system (LMS), curriculum and technical aspects of creating resources and materials that support the online content. Designing an online course requires significant time and commitment from everyone involved. The district should identify key elements to be included in the course design and establish policies and procedures for evaluating the content using a rubric like QM's.

How do you align the available choices to district learning objectives?

The Blue Valley Virtual Education Program works with a panel of certified teachers from across the district. These teachers review the online content to ensure materials and resources support student learning and align with district curriculum and learning objectives. Obtaining feedback and input from district teachers is beneficial; it helps ensure face-to-face teachers are familiar with online course content and requirements. Blue Valley has developed a framework and design checklist for the development process that ensures a high-quality and consistent experience for all students.

How do you use Quality Matters at Blue Valley?

The Blue Valley Virtual Education Program using Quality Matters throughout the course development process. Both instructional designers and virtual course developers adhere to QM standards and the Rubric throughout the design and revision process. The Blue Valley Virtual Education Program's goal is to align course design with the QM process to ensure all virtual students have a high-quality, consistent experience.

How has Quality Matters been received by teachers?

The Blue Valley Virtual Education Program works with content matter experts to design all online courses for the district. These teachers are provided with a checklist, based QM standards, with requirements and expectations for the development process. This checklist provides them with a framework for developing online content. Course developers have said the checklist is helpful as they create course content. Each of the online courses is reviewed by a panel of district teachers familiar with QM standards. The panel uses the district-developed checklist when evaluating the online content.

What are the key elements in promoting QM adoption among teachers?

The Blue Valley Virtual Education program employs teachers from across the district. Only selected teachers are involved in the course design process, which uses QM standards. Each virtual teacher is provided with a copy of the district development checklist.

Have your teachers taken advantage of professional development?

All virtual teachers in the district receive yearly professional development that includes an overview of the LMS, district expectations and requirements for teaching an online course, a review of the course content and Virtual Education policies and procedures.

What costs are involved?

The district has an annual subscription to QM. Additionally, the district provides yearly funding for at least one of its instructional designers to attend the Quality Matters annual conference.

What was biggest challenge in using or implementing QM?

At this time, the district has not experienced any challenges in utilizing or implementing QM. The Virtual Education teachers were receptive to the process and district expectations for the development of online course content.

What is next for your district and Quality Matters?

Over the next few months, the district will begin evaluating and revising existing courses to ensure that the content aligns with QM, district expectations and Common Core standards.