VIP Focus: Boards Play Vital Role in Adoption of New Online Learning Policies

Michigan Virtual UniversitySubmitted by Jamey Fitzpatrick, President & CEO, Michigan Virtual University

When I was a K-12 student years ago the idea of selecting individual classes from multiple providers located outside of my community was a foreign concept. Technology, innovation and powerful shifts in state policies have created a new landscape of opportunity for K-12 students in Michigan.

Imagine being an eighth grade student living in rural Michigan with a passion to become a marine biologist and taking an online course in oceanography from a school, college, university or private provider located in Maine with national experts. Imagine being a 12th grade student from an urban school with a desire to study Gaelic culture and language with an educational institution in Ireland? These examples are not science fiction—the ability to personalize learning has never been easier and more cost effective.

This changing landscape has also established an unprecedented need for increased consumer awareness for a variety of stakeholders, including school board members. Michigan students and their parents can “unbundle” their public education experience and explore targeted learning options that are free of traditional time and place barriers.

Research has shown online learning is academically effective and can provide meaningful alternatives for students who have a need for greater flexibility with their education due to individual learning styles, health conditions, employment responsibilities, lack of success with traditional school environments or a desire to be working early at the college level. However, expanded choice alone will not help every student achieve academic success.

Achieving success as an online learner has become an important part of being college and career ready. Various stakeholders have important roles to play as the system of public education works to scale the effective use of new and innovative delivery models, including:

Parents play a central role in being a strong advocate for their child and need to be assertive in requesting alternative educational options.

Schools take on a huge responsibility to vet the quality of online course providers and offer effective wraparound mentoring, counseling and support services to help students be successful.

Policy leaders need to support public awareness campaigns so that more students and parents are familiar with innovative policies. Policymakers also need to establish appropriate mechanisms that provide transparency on the costs, effectiveness and quality of online providers, without hampering innovation.

Michigan Virtual University has published three important resources to help support students, parents and school administrators in several capacity building areas related to consumer awareness and best practices, including:

  1. Mentor Fundamentals: A Guide for Mentoring Online Learners. The guide describes the roles and responsibilities of the school mentor and contains tools to prepare mentors for working with online learners.
  2. Parent Guide to Online Learning. The guide includes an overview of online learning policies, a profile of successful students, advice for parents and a readiness checklist.
  3. Online Education: A Consumer Awareness Report: This document is specifically designed to inform parents, school personnel and school board members of the nature of online learning options, their effectiveness for Michigan students, the costs of these programs and current trends.

It will become increasingly important for school personnel to help students and their parents design, implement and manage personal learning plans that include educational services provided by a third-party organization. Boards of education will continue to play a vital role in adopting local policies that ensure administrative guidelines are in place to manage this changing landscape.

Jamey Fitzpatrick is the President & CEO of Michigan Virtual University and can be reached at or 517.324.5360.

VIP Focus articles are company-sponsored advertisements and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of MASB. It’s intended to provide Very Important Partners with a space to share information of value to you and your district.

Read More DashBoard Articles