Florida Virtual School
More school reopening plans, budget cuts promise, racial issues, testing, grade flip, pensions and more
It’s the vow from Holocaust survivors not to allow the world to forget their past, lest genocide be repeated in the future.
Today, an innovative, high-tech method of delivering that message to the current generation holds promise for distance education opportunities on the horizon.
The USC Shoah Foundation, a Holocaust history organization founded in 1994 by director Steven Spielberg at the University of Southern California, is taking the practice of recording the oral histories of survivors to an entirely different level. It has created 3-D interactive holograms of survivors who not only recount their chilling experiences in Nazi concentration camps and ghettos during World War II; they can respond to a viewer’s questions in real time.
Called Dimensions in Testimony, the program (which debuted in 2017) uses advanced filming techniques – green screen, dozens of cameras arranged in 360 degrees – to create a three-dimensional digital image of the subject. Over the course of several days, the survivor is interviewed about his or her story, and then answers more than 1,000 questions that would be anticipated from an audience (“What was life like before the war?” “Do you feel hope for the future?”).
Viewers receive more than a narrative. They can have a virtual conversation with a survivor who not only isn’t physically present but who is no longer alive.
Fewer than 100,000 Jews who were in camps, ghettos and in hiding under Nazi occupation are still alive today, according to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The youngest are in their mid-70s. Time is running out.
Aaron Elster, one of 20 interviewees listed on Shoah’s Dimensions in Testimony website, died in 2018 at age 85 after recording his testimony in 2015. Nevertheless, Elster has been immortalized in a medium that allows him to interact with individuals in ways that create personal connections that run deeper than what the printed word or traditional audiovisual presentations can provide.
The viewer can personalize the experience by taking the virtual discussion in almost any way he or she chooses. The only limitation is the inability to shake a survivor’s hand or give him or her a hug.
Shoah currently has made the Dimensions in Testimony available to seven other Holocaust museums in the United States, with more access on the way. Some of the interviews are conducted in languages other than English, such as German and Hebrew, opening them to wider audiences around the globe. And of course the technology can be expanded to any number of oral histories, such as survivors describing the nuclear bombings of Japan – and to other areas of education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed scores of students to distance learning for the first time, and with wildly uneven results. Many school districts were forced to migrate lessons to rudimentary online platforms on impossibly short notice, causing endless frustration and dissatisfaction from students, teachers and parents. Most agree that group instruction on Zoom is insufficient. Florida Virtual School, which way back in 1997 became the nation’s first statewide K-12 virtual public school, has more experience – and a proven track record — in providing a more robust distance learning environment.
Dimensions in Testimony takes the concept to a different level. It’s like something from a Ray Bradbury story, only it’s science fact, not fiction.
It’s superior to videoconferencing because it’s not dependent on time. Holographic lessons can occur whenever they’re convenient while still remaining interactive. And they are customizable – they are as flexible as the artificial intelligence can take them. As the Shoah Foundation states, they enable students “to be agents in their own learning.”
Obviously, 3-D holograms aren’t an immediate solution to how to improve remote learning when (if?) schools re-open this fall. Still, the technology is beyond the concept stage and already in limited use. (For reference, the fictional communicators of “Star Trek” in the late 1960s were realized as actual flip phones a mere 30 years later.)
For Dimensions in Testimony, a project created to keep the past alive, the future is now, paving the way for other education innovators to follow.
In this episode, Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill talks with Julie Young, vice president of education outreach and student services at Arizona State University and managing director of Arizona State University’s Prep Academy and ASU Prep Digital. Young, who has been celebrated as an education disruptor for nearly three decades, was founding CEO and president of Florida Virtual School, the world’s first statewide virtual school and one of the nation’s largest K-12 online educator providers.
The longtime friends share a fascinating discussion about the future of public education in the wake of a global pandemic. Both believe the shifts that have occurred have accelerated change, making competency-based education the “new normal” by default. They also discuss the crucial role of virtual reality technology as it relates to the competency-based model. Both Young and Tuthill remember teaching in classrooms 15 minutes from the beach populated by students who had never been there and discuss how virtual reality can end such inequities.
Young: “We’re not going back to the old normal, and we’re creating our new normal. And our new normal will be to offer families choices.”
· What we can learn from the sudden shift to digital learning and how parents took control in structuring their learning and working days
· The empowerment that occurs when parents plan curriculum and how COVID-19 has allowed them to watch how their kids learn
· How virtual reality can level the equity playing field, giving more children greater and personalized access to understanding what the world is like
· How assessments will change and combine, creating an experience based on the needs of each learner
· How the role of teachers will shift in this new environment
In this episode, Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill talks with Eric Hall, who joined the Florida Department of Education in February 2019 to deal with some of the state’s most high-profile initiatives, including the expansion of school choice.
A little more than a year into Hall’s tenure as head of innovation, COVID-19 began roiling education, and it looks like those disruptions will continue into the fall. A firm believer in the power of Florida Virtual School, he is convinced the state’s investment in online learning leaves the Sunshine State well-positioned to educate students. He discusses with Tuthill FLVS’ capacity to ramp up to serve nearly 4 million children, how to prevent rising achievement gaps in a distance-learning environment and his belief that great teachers drive technology.
“We have conditions in place that have empowered parents to make the best decisions for their children … we’ve got to double down and hold ourselves accountable as a state.”
· The agility of Florida Virtual School as both a COVID-19 safety net and an expanded resource for a shift to blended learning for families who want it
· How distance learning and blended education extends the classroom beyond the school day while creating greater equity for less resourced families
· How to realign resources to get increased technology to more families
School reopening reimagined, virus cost to schools, superintendent leaving, timing of tax votes and more
In this episode, Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill interviews Louis Algaze, president and CEO of Florida Virtual School. Founded in 1997, FLVS is a publicly funded non-profit that operates as its own $240 million school district. During the 2018-19 academic year, it served 215,505 students, technically making it the largest public school in the United States.
Tuthill and Algaze discuss FLVS’ rapid expansion in the wake of COVID-19 and the role the online school will play going forward, touching on improvement opportunities for the learning model they expect will be an example for the nation’s public school system as it shifts gears into the fall and beyond.
“There is so much talent and desire … We’re looking forward to really fantastic things in the future.”
· How FLVS rapidly expanded capacity to serve every public school student in Florida
· Differences between crisis learning and a full online education
· How the demand for blended learning will grow and what it will look like
· The challenge of acclimating nearly 2,000 teachers to a blended learning model and the commitment to train teachers statewide
· Collaborating with traditional public, charter, and private schools to address student needs
As Florida officials prepare to discuss reopening brick-and-mortar schools in August, stakeholders urged members of the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday to use caution and involve health experts.
In comparing the reopening to flipping a light switch, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he plans to “use a dimmer switch” approach. In addition to safety, he said, priorities include eliminating inequities that were exacerbated during the pivot to distance learning as well as mental health issues and food insecurity.
“We’ll be working though what these impacts are,” he said.
Details of the Florida Department of Education’s COVID-19 Education Recovery Plan outline call for using the state’s education slice of the federal CARES Act relief money for extended summer programs as well as extended school year programs and wrap-around programs to catch up students who fell behind during distance learning.
Congress has allocated $16.5 billion to the U.S. Department of Education to assist state and local education agencies in dealing with issues related to COVID-19.
Corcoran’s report also called for money to be dedicated to extended online learning, refreshing or replacing electronics that were used during the spring, and an infrastructure for future digital needs.
Board member Michael Olenick urged Corcoran to be proactive.
“I don’t think we should wait for the federal dollar figure and then accept it,” he said. “We should develop that figure and present it to the federal government.”
Corcoran’s report came as representatives from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents presented its recommendations for reopening.
The superintendent group’s recommendations, presented by Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego, include forming a statewide “pandemic education response team” composed of medical professionals across Florida with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The statewide pandemic education response team may need to consider a combination of social distancing/group gathering and personal protective measures/screening protocols to best mitigate exposure to COVID-19 while planning for a return to school that ensures the safety and well-being of all stakeholders,” the report said.
Board vice chairwoman Marva Johnson wondered what that would look like.
“Are we looking at split days, staggered days?” she asked.
Grego said the superintendents have a meeting Thursday with medical professionals, including public health specialists, pediatricians and psychiatrists.
Board members took no votes on reopening plans but expressed support for Corcoran’s recommendations and for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic.
“I think our governor is doing a heck of a job handling this situation and trying to get our economy going again,” Chairman Andy Tuck said.
In other business, board members, acting as the trustee board for the Florida Virtual School, heard a brief update from its CEO, Louis Algaze, who said the nonprofit school system had reached its goal of boosting capacity to serve 2.7 million students by May 4.
“Should we see any resurgence in COVID-19, we’ll be available to assist,” Algaze said.