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A Personal Interview with Julie Young, President and CEO of the Florida Virtual School (FLVS)
Saturday, May 10, 2008
I have not been posting to my blog lately. Sorry. Google took my TravelinEdMan blog offline for a week since they had perceived it to be a spam blog. I have cleared that up thankfully. I found out just as I was about to post a blog reflection related to attending a talk by Barack Obama on the night of April 30th, 2008. He was here for our presidential primary and he was electric! I will post that later on as I have something else to post tonight.

During the past few weeks, I have been working on my book that extends Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” book to education. I have a draft nearly completed and it is approaching 220,000 words. Yikes. I have been interviewing many educational leaders for it. Among them is Julie Young, President and CEO of the Florida Virtual School (FLVS). Her comments were so thoughtful that I asked her permission to place them in my blog.

As background for you, the FLVS is among the largest online K-12 schools in the U.S. and perhaps the world. With state appropriations of over $50 million (Jacobson, 2007), during the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the FLVS had over 52,000 students from grade 6 to 12 enrolled in more than 87,000 half-credit courses (see Florida Virtual School, 2008). These enrollments were expected to exceed 100,000 during the 2007-2008 school year.

Here are my questions and Julie’s answers:
1. (Bonk.) How do you make learning engaging?
a. (Young.) First and foremost, we rely on the teacher to engage the student. While technology will increasingly allow us to customize the courseware itself to each individual student, we believe a proactive teacher who intentionally reaches out to students on a regular basis goes a long way in the battle for engagement.

That said, we’re moving ahead on the curriculum design side as well. Some past developments that have worked well with students are simple things like chunking the content and adding things like pace charts to give students simple tools to make their way through a course. The more ownership we can foster within students in their learning process, the more likely we will see engagement. We’ve also analyzed our courses to see where students are less engaged or where they might be stumbling over certain lessons. As we continually refresh and update our courseware, we look at that data in order to know where we need fresh interactive tools or lesson re-designs to keep engagement levels high.

2. (Bonk.) Why do students from so many states use the FLVS?
a. (Young.) Because we were so supported in Florida, we were able to develop and grow quickly. By the time other states began to recognize the need for an online learning option and began doing the research to see what was involved in launching a program, they realized that it just made more sense to come to a program like ours and purchase services.

We have been selling courseware, training, consultative services, and classroom seats outside of Florida since 2002. Those revenue dollars come back into development to keep courses at the highest quality level possible. We feel pretty good about being able to take the expertise we’ve been able to foster here and use it to provide a sort of a clearinghouse for quality online courseware and instructional design so that we can share that research and design with educators nationwide. Ultimately, more students will benefit as we partner nationwide.

3. (Bonk.) Are there any states doing what the FLVS did? Or using it as a model?
a. (Young.) Yes, there are a number of states who have modeled their program after FLVS. In fact, some of those states have also purchased courseware and services from us. The Southern Regional Education Board, in fact, has encouraged all of the states within its purview to follow the FLVS model, not just from an instructional design stance, but also from a policy and fiscal support standpoint. Florida has worked hard to remove legislative barriers to online learning, and SREB encourages other states to take note and follow suit.

Some states have adopted many FLVS policies in terms of the daily school operations, but their model may be completely different. For instance, leaders in Wisconsin took the stance that online learning should be a grass roots initiative versus state-led. The Appleton district took the initiative to launch a program, and after much research, they chose FLVS as their curriculum provider. That choice has resulted in a long-term partnership which has included myriad consultations and training. They have taken the principles that made FLVS a success and have found ways to apply those principles to their unique circumstances. Today, the Wisconsin eSchool is a large consortium of numerous districts that share resources and serve students through much of the state. We are proud to be their provider and partner in the journey.

4. (Bonk.) What happens next for FLVS?
a. (Young.) We are moving forward with developments in curriculum and in our instructional methods. On the instructional side, we have adopted what we are calling a “Symphony of Skills,” which is a mélange of best practices from several sources, including the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Phil Schlecty’s “Working on the Work” concepts, and Quantum learning. We are training our staff in all of these pedagogical theories and looking for ways to infuse our instructional approach with them. On the curriculum side, we are partnering with the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Co-Lab in Wisconsin to push ahead to next-generation content development. We are thrilled to be working with the recognized creators and developers of Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), which forms the basis for object-oriented learning.

5. (Bonk.) Do you have an interesting story or 2 where you impacted learning of someone in a way that you did not plan?
a. (Young.) Earlier in our development, we didn’t realize the secondary skills that students would gain from working in the online learning environment. We’ve seen students develop in their ability to speak clearly with an adult because they actually talk one-on-one with instructors fairly regularly. (They can’t hide as easily as they can in a classroom.)

b. (Young.) We’ve also seen students grown in their ability to organize themselves, take initiative, and take ownership of their learning—simply because of the nature of our environment. Likewise, students have developed in their ability to read and write, again because the online environment requires them to do so more often than the classroom.

Finally, we’ve seen students grow in technical skills. They often come into this environment with a mistaken belief that they know all about the technologies we use, but they don’t. What they do have, however, is a fearless willingness to try. They dive into the content, and the fact that they are learning to use tools like a web-conferencing, VOIP, or a simple PPT at the same time they are learning content may be seamless to them.

One other thing that comes to mind in terms of unexpected outcomes is the life management and coping skills that so many students have gained through our health and life management courses. We get so many questions about how it is possible to teach personal fitness online, but what the naysayers don’t see are the almost daily letters we receive from students and parents about how life changing the course was. We’ve had students write to say they lost 10, 20, 40 pounds, and many have said that other family members lost weight as well because they actually did the workouts together! These are the same students who likely would have gotten nothing out of a school gym class.

We’ve had students from the life management courses write that they’ve improved their ability to communicate with their families as a result of the course. One student who had been running with a rough crowd wrote that he realized he had made poor choices that had adversely affected him and his family, and the course taught him how to turn things around for himself. He actually said that he believed the course and the teacher saved his life. It doesn’t get much better than that.

6. (Bonk.) Friedman says the world is flatter now. I think it is open. Do you see the world opening up?
a. (Young.) The world is definitely opening up in terms of access to information and to people. The possibilities, as Friedman so eloquently portrayed in his book, for information exchange, collaboration, and teamwork are almost mind-boggling, as are the ramifications for our personal, educational, and work lives. I think this new world of open access provides for students some exciting and unprecedented opportunities for learning. It also presents new dangers.

Part of my passion as an educator is to help other educators understand how vital it is that we be willing to pioneer within this new “open” world on behalf of our children. If you think of pioneering days of old in this country, no one would have dreamed of sending children out to forge a trail to the West ahead of their parents. Yet, so many parents and educators today are willing to throw up their hands and say that they just aren’t good at technology or they are just too old to change their way of teaching. That’s the equivalent of sending our kids into a wilderness with no map or compass. We have to be willing to provide the maps and the compass so that when they get out into this new open world of instant access, they will have guideposts, warning signs, and even a moral compass to keep them on a productive path.

7. (Bonk.) Are you familiar with the MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative? How might free or open educational resources (OER) be used or promoted by FLVS?
a. (Young.) Yes, we are familiar with the move to open courseware, as noted by MIT and others. It is certainly a trend, and it is something we have discussed and will continue to discuss at FLVS. There are challenges, such as finding ways to share content without compromising state or national standards requirements, but we will continue to explore options that will allow us to do more sharing in the future.

Thanks for listening or reading this interview. As I indicated, Julie is quite thoughtful; small wonder the growth of the FLVS. As always, your comments are appreciated. You can read more about the FLVS in my upcoming book.

By the way, I will be gone this week to Atlanta on Monday May 12th to meet up with Brian Ford from the UK to discuss my book and then to speak at UNC Charlotte on Tuesday (May 13. IU also speak this coming week at DePaul University in Chicago on Thursday and Friday (May 15-16). Let me know if you want to attend any of these talks. Last week I presented at Fresno Pacific University. PDF copies of my talks in Fresno can be found here:

Florida Virtual School:

Florida Virtual School (2008). FLVS fast facts. Florida Virtual School. Retrieved April 13, 2008, from

Jacobson, Robert L. (2007, December 28). State-run virtual schools gather steam. eSchoolNews. Retrieved December 28, 2007, from (link no longer works); try this one for part of story:
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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 7:40 PM  
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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

Visit the Indiana University Home Page of E-Learning Expert Curtis J. Bonk.

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