Accessible, engaging virtual learning for a diverse student population
As a public charter school, Maine Virtual Academy (MEVA) needs to be there for everyone. “We have a profound responsibility to provide the best possible education to our students and give our families the best possible service,” says CEO Dr. Melinda Browne.
As one of only two virtual academies in Maine, the school serves a very diverse population spread across a wide geographic area. Students’ access to technology and internet bandwidth varies widely depending on location. Some students need the ability to learn asynchronously to fit around other responsibilities such as work or family. And supporting students who use screen readers or other tools is vital too. So, ensuring that all its online courses are accessible from anywhere, at any time, on any device, is a top priority.
At the same time, MEVA helps students achieve their learning goals through a continuous cycle of assessment, instruction, and remediation, using frameworks such as the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP) growth assessment. Meanwhile, a data-driven approach to problem-solving and process improvement helps to drive innovation and student success.
“We want all our students to have a personalized plan that engages them in their growth,” says Christina O’Grady, curriculum coordinator. “Finding ways to appeal to students and getting them to engage actively is a big challenge.”
“We really focus on having our teachers design and build their courses to facilitate highly individualized learning experiences,” agrees Dr. Browne. “And we’re very, very data-driven. So, our technology platform needs to accommodate that.”
Super-powered course creation with Creator+
MEVA looked for a learning management system that would fully support its mission. “Our main concerns were ease of use, accessibility for students and their families, and the ability to use multiple devices,” says Dr. Browne. “We looked at several platforms, and D2L Brightspace was simply the best in terms of facilitating teachers to build the kind of content we need.”
Initially, teachers used standard Brightspace templates to build course content, but when D2L introduced Creator+, MEVA quickly saw the benefits of upgrading.
“I’ve now switched all my courses over to Creator+, and we’re going to focus on doing the same for all our teacher-created content,” says O’Grady. “Creator+ makes it easy to add cool features like carousels and hot spots that are more engaging for our students. We can embed all kinds of content, so it’s much easier for students to navigate and find everything they need, and it’s more accessible for screen readers.”
One nice feature of Creator+ is that it lets teachers embed practice activities in their course content, which allows students to test their skills and knowledge outside of formal assessments. “I envision it being something that will really impact reading and writing or even math skills,” says O’Grady.
“Students have anxiety about getting a grade, but when they’re able to check their knowledge along the way, they love that. They can walk through the steps and then know right away whether they’re right or wrong. It allows them to prompt their own metacognition–learning the best way to learn for them and encouraging them to reach out for the help they need.”
Unlocking insights with Data Hub
The Brightspace Data Hub is also a key tool for MEVA, helping administrators gain the insight they need to make better-informed decisions.
“I really like the fact that I can order custom reports in the Data Hub that allow me to see the bigger picture of what’s going on,” says Dr. Browne. “I can look at student pass rates for different classes to get a quick read on how students are doing in English or Math, for example. That’s very helpful.”
Improving results, saving time and boosting accessibility
Since moving to Brightspace, MEVA has seen significant improvements in many of the key metrics it tracks. “In the past year, we’ve seen a 6% jump in student retention, from 90% to 96%,” says Dr. Browne. “And re-enrolment is up by 7% in the same period. Academic achievement has improved too—we’ve moved up from the 44th to the 57th percentile in student median growth.”
While correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, MEVA believes that Brightspace deserves some of the credit for these improvements. “80% of my students complete the courses I’ve built with Creator+, while the average completion rate for other courses is around 35%,” says O’Grady. “So, to me, that says we’re succeeding in building engaging content.”
Creator+ is popular with teachers too. “I love it,” says O’Grady. “It’s so much easier, it saves so much time, and it gives you more variety. I put a lot of time into building my courses, and Creator+ probably makes it 25% faster. So, I’m saving 5-10 hours per course.”
“In the big picture, Brightspace allows students to access education who might otherwise be shut out completely,” concludes Dr. Browne. “Personally, I don’t know why every school in the country isn’t using it. D2L is a great company, they have a great culture as an organization, and they really help us to achieve our mission.”