April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Two Virginia Educators Offer Best Practices for ‘Teaching in the Cloud’

Students at Seneca Ridge Middle School (LCPS) work with librarian Lauren McBride to store and access information in the cloud. Photo credit: Lauren McBride

Students at Seneca Ridge Middle School (LCPS) work with librarian Lauren McBride on cloud computing. Photo credit: Lauren McBride

The “teaching in the cloud” delivery system of curricula enables students to take classes “anytime, anywhere, any-pace,” says Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) superintendent Eric Williams, whose district of 70,000 students has a “teaching in the cloud” program called “Virtual Loudoun.” Virtual Loudoun (VL) is a program where students are able to take summer school classes and high school requirements to help them graduate on time with greater flexibility.

Virtual Loudoun” (VL) uses “cloud computing”—or using the Internet to store and retrieve information and resources through service providers, including Google and Microsoft. The virtual curricula uses the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model.

“The goal for the future is to create an environment in which a high school student should not have to set foot in a brick and mortar facility [to] receive the same quality of rigor and expectation [as received by actually being there],” says Timothy Flynn, Loudoun County director of instructional services.


Tuscarora High School students (LCPS) are using the library media center to store and access information in the cloud.
Photo Credit: Mary Pellicano

Students pay $695 for a course (more information on the VL website), and the course offerings include: Physical Education, World History, and high school English. The courses have been developed and created by WHRO, a Virginia-based educational media company that works with the Virginia Standards of Learning. LCPS teachers serve as instructors for VL and must take an online methodology course to qualify for teaching online.

The number of LCPS students taking online courses has increased from approximately 150 students to over 1,200 in two years—and is projected to grow significantly. “Librarians [are]…focused on helping students learn how to access the information they need,” says Superintendent Williams. School librarians have the unique opportunity to both create and support cloud-based learning environments.

With school districts moving toward 1:1, BYOD, and “teaching in the cloud,” we’ve culled together our best practices:

Be instructional leaders

Librarians need to be involved in the development of online courses from the get-go. As experts in both curriculum and lesson plan design, they understand the available resources that are vital to the development of online curricula. It’s crucial that they become part of instructional committees that develop curricula in order to identify the best possible cloud-based resources. However, they also need to be savvy about potential student privacy issues, including transparency with data collection purposes from commercial vendors, as well as an understanding of digital citizenship and how to behave safely and responsibly in a digital world.

One of LCPS’s goals this year is to have every librarian teach lessons developed by Common Sense Media on Digital Literacy and Citizenship. This initiative provides an opportunity for librarians to take on leadership roles in leading schoolwide instruction on areas such as internet safety, privacy and security, relationships and communication, cyberbullying, digital footprints, information literacy, and Creative Commons and copyright. Common Sense Media has a variety of free resources and curriculum materials that serve as a starting point.

CONSIDER Location, location, location

Once the curriculum and lessons for online learning are determined, the next step is deciding on a virtual space—or where the lesson will take place. There are a variety of platforms to choose from, including Moodle, Google Classroom, and Microsoft Office 365. Above all, the platform must effectively present the curriculum and collect student work. Regardless of venue, it’s imperative that librarians become well-versed with the features and tools available on the chosen platform to provide support to teachers and students.

Librarians also need to make outside curriculum resources available to end users. These include local subscription services, databases, ebooks, and other online tools. Librarians should continually seek out new tools and apps by keeping up with reviews; the American Association of School Librarians provides an ideal starting point with their annual review and ranking of the best websites and apps for teaching and learning.

Adapt the physical space

The library’s physical space may also present challenges. Students who use the library to take online courses will need charging stations and movable seating, as well as both open spaces and smaller, quieter options for collaboration and 1:1 instruction.

Furthermore, many devices and screens require specialized lighting to prevent glare or eye strain. The library will also need to provide access to materials that allow students to try out what they’ve learned, such as video stations, 3D printing labs, electronic cloudBits, and coding programs, including Scratch, squishy circuits, and Cubelets Bluetooth Robotic Construction.

Education researcher and 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra said that his dream is to build a “school in the cloud, where children can explore and learn from one another.” (See his TED Talk here.) It’s possible his vision isn’t too far off from being realized on a widespread basis, and as school districts embrace cloud-based teaching initiatives, librarians must position themselves to be leaders in guiding the discussion, culling the appropriate resources, and adapting their librarianship for the challenge.

Lauren McBride (@bravelibrarian) is a LCPS middle school librarian at Seneca Ridge Middle School in Sterling, Virginia.

Elissa Moritz (@ElissaMoritz) is the acquisitions and online resources librarian for LCPS.

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