The Educational Development for Planning and Conducting Evaluations (ED PACE) Project was a partnership between the West Virginia Department of Education and ROCKMAN ET AL, undertaken to design, conduct, and disseminate research that could be used within and beyond the state as a model for studying technology interventions in education. Funding for the three-year project came from the U.S. Department of Education, which awarded grants to nine states in support of research on the impact of technology-enhanced programs on student achievement. The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) provided networking services to ED PACE and other state projects, to highlight research methods and strategies and disseminate findings.
The focus of the ED PACE research, conducted by ROCKMAN ET AL from October 2003 through October 2006, was the implementation and impact of West Virginia’s Virtual School Spanish program. This nationally recognized program was created in response to a mandate from the West Virginia Board of Education (Policy 2510) requiring all counties to offer two years of foreign language to middle-school students. West Virginia faces a serious shortage of licensed Spanish teachers, and online courses offered an attractive alternative, one that would give seventh and eighth graders the opportunity to earn a year’s credit in Spanish by completing 1A and 1B courses, and help middle schools, especially those in remote rural areas, meet the state mandate.
To develop the online Spanish courses, the West Virginia Virtual School, created in 2000 by state legislation to deliver high-quality instruction to all students regardless of their location, partnered with the Florida Virtual School. Like West Virginia’s other middle-school language programs, the Virtual School Spanish program divides the Spanish 1 curriculum into two years (1A and 1B). In a further effort to meet the learning needs of seventh and eighth graders, the program uses a blended or hybrid delivery model that combines face-to-face and virtual instruction and both paper and web-based activities. Instruction is provided by a three-member team—a lead teacher (a certified Spanish teacher), responsible for the design and delivery of the daily lesson plan and a weekly meeting with each class via phone; an adjunct teacher (also a certified Spanish teacher), who provides content-related feedback, via email and voicemail, and grades students’ tests and products; and a classroom facilitator (a certified teacher, but not a Spanish teacher), who guides students on site to ensure that they stay on task and complete assignments on time. The technology-rich course also includes electronic communication, not only between the instructional team and students but also between student “virtual amigos,” and web-based voice or WIMBA tools that aid instruction, assessment, and interaction.
The overall goals of the ED PACE research on the Virtual School Spanish program were:
- to provide empirical data on student achievement in the Virtual School Spanish program using a quasi-experimental design and both formative and summative measures, and
- to develop a framework for scientifically-based research that builds state capacity to assess the impact of technology programs.
The impact or summative research was designed to measure students’ Spanish proficiency and their overall performance on the state’s standardized achievement tests. The implementation or formative study provided contextual information for that research and a comprehensive picture of implementation statewide. During Year 1, ROCKMAN ET AL developed survey instruments to collect implementation data about, made exploratory visits to 1A and 1B classrooms in 26 of the 27 virtual sites around the state and a sample of comparison face-to-face sites, and developed a Spanish outcome measure to assess the Spanish language proficiency of students in both virtual and face-to-face sites. Our analyses of the data showed few differences between virtual and face-to-face sites in Spanish language proficiency, but a range in performance among the virtual sites. This range in performance, along with variations that emerged from our observations, led us to design a Year 2 study that would allow us to examine implementation in the virtual sites more closely, take a second look at students’ performance on the Spanish proficiency outcome measure, and begin to explore associations between implementation and performance In Year 3, we focused the study on 1B classrooms in all virtual sites, again administering the Spanish outcome measure and further exploring associations between implementation and performance and the factors that contribute to effective facilitation of the program.
Three years of research for the ED PACE project indicates that the Virtual School Spanish program works. Students learn, they are engaged—especially in activities that involve technology and culture— and they develop not only language skills but also positive attitudes, and work habits, all of which serve them well in Spanish II in high school. The program has been well received by students and their parents, and by school administrators, who believe the program helps them successfully meet the state mandate to offer foreign language instruction. As it has matured over the last four years, the program has drawn on the foreign language expertise of lead and adjunct teachers, and established a cadre of facilitators who have incorporated their own teaching expertise into classroom practice.
Our data also suggest that the effective use of some key elements of the blended model is associated with more successful implementation and powerful student outcomes. When implemented as such, this blended model provides not only effective instruction to students, but also a model for effective virtual instruction, one we believe could and should be replicated to ensure that students can continue learning Spanish in high school and to deliver courses in other foreign languages.