eLearning That Goes beyond Text and Graphics: Minnesota Educators Use lodeStar to Bring Cyber Village Academy into the Homes and Hospitals of Ill and Injured Home-Schooled Children

By Bilyk, Robert | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), September 2005 | Go to article overview

eLearning That Goes beyond Text and Graphics: Minnesota Educators Use lodeStar to Bring Cyber Village Academy into the Homes and Hospitals of Ill and Injured Home-Schooled Children


Bilyk, Robert, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


In Minnesota, the eLearning explosion translates into many new opportunities for students. High school students take both core and elective courses online, making up missing credits and advancing their studies; three charter schools provide virtual high schools; seven district schools have formed an eLearning collaboration. Nearly every state college and university, and every private college offers online courses to its students. In 1998, however, things were quite different. That's when another teacher and I started an online learning school. And in that year, in our community, we were all alone.

In 1997, I taught computer programming at the Saint Paul College. By then I had a range of experiences in instructional technology: I had earned my MEd in curriculum and instructional systems through the University of Minnesota. I had built the college's Instructional Technology Center, helped to launch Minnesota Satellite and Technology, and taught technology-mediated instruction to college teachers and developers throughout the state.

Then the call came from Gary Warrington, executive director of Special Education for Minneapolis Public Schools, inviting me to build the first online learning charter school to serve seriously ill children and homeschoolers. The district had a roster of hundreds of children battling leukemia and different forms of disease. Two kids were homebound because of gunshot wounds. Minneapolis Public Schools and surrounding communities also had their share of homeschooled children who weren't being served by the district. At that time, Minnesota parents taught 12,000 children at home.

In response, I invited Cherie Neima to help me. Cherie Neima had been both a classroom teacher and a software designer/content specialist for the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC). Her credits include the CD-ROM Africa Trail, and MayaQuest, the online expedition led by adventurist Dan Buettner. So, together with Neima and an administrative assistant, I started Cyber Village Academy (www.cva.k12.mn.us), a Minnesota online/on-campus charter school. Our goal was to choose the right blend of teachers, technology, curriculum, and services to bring the "larger than life" school to the homes and hospitals of these children.

But spring 2001 brought a decisive turning point, and we had to face up to several serious shortcomings:

* The learning management system that we had chosen in 1997 was designed for postsecondary education and corporate training; it wasn't working for us. Thus, we needed a system that was student centric and not course-centric.

* The integrated learning systems that we had subscribed to had their own proprietary gradebook and didn't report to our eLearning platform. Also, lessons couldn't be edited and supplemented, and many were boring and unengaging.

* We were tired of text, graphics, and quizzes. We needed variety. We needed a tool that could create fun, engaging, educational activities that could live inside our learning management system.

The decisions we made that spring to overcome our challenges changed our school entirely--and for the better. Several innovations emerged. First, Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) released a learning management system that was initially designed for K-12. They called it Encarta Class Server, but later changed the name to Microsoft Class Server to avoid brand confusion. …

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