Since he took the helm of Michigan Virtual University, Jamey Fitzpatrick, formerly with the Michigan Department of Education, has found himself in an exciting position, on the cutting edge of how technology can assist education on a state level.   Fitzpatrick is President and CEO of MIVU, a 501 C3 non-profit, with a board that reads like a who’s who in Michigan education and business.   The MVU operates the Michigan Virtual High School (MVHS) that has been developing and delivering high quality online courses to middle and high schools students.

I recently had a chance to chat with Jamey about his role in the world of virtual schools and what he sees on the horizon.

Q. It sounds like there are a lot of developments on the table at MVU, can you tell me about Michigan’s interest in having a high school graduation requirement of one online course?

A.  The State Board of Education and the Michigan Legislature are actively working to develop new high school graduation requirements in Michigan. One component of the proposed policy being discussed calls for all high school students to take an online credit or non-credit course or learning experience during their high school career. This specific policy recommendation is receiving lots of attention inside and outside the state of Michigan.

Q.  What is the fundamental value of online courses for Michigan’s students?

A.  Today’s high school students need greater opportunities to obtain the skills and training that are essential in our increasingly competitive information-based economy.  Participation in an online course serves to validate students’ life long learning skills and readiness for the world of work.  This proposed online learning requirement is consistent with one of the core recommendations contained in the U.S. Department of Education’s 2005 National Education Technology Plan.  The proposed requirement is also consistent with the draft State Educational Technology Plan (likely to be adopted by the SBE in March 2006). 

Q.  MVU recently was part of a study of online learning that analyzed success and failure in the online environment, what did you learn?

A. The biggest thing we learned is that we are sitting on top of a huge amount of student data, probably more than a school-based teacher has in a traditional classroom setting.  Our challenge is to harness the power of Blackboard and other tools to generate meaningful reports that allow us to create timely intervention strategies to ensure student success. 

Q.  I know that there are arguments being made about creating a 21st Century workforce in Michigan, how does the Virtual School contribute to this and are you seeing any measurable gains.

A.  This year, more than 50,000 Michigan residents will take an online course from one of Michigan’s 28 community colleges.  Many more will take an online course from a four-year college or university located in the state.  We are witnessing a fundamental shift in how students of all ages learn and communicate.  The world of work has gone through a transformation in the last decade and the Internet is one of the core factors that has changed how employees communicate with internal and external customers.  Giving all Michigan high school students an opportunity to develop and practice 21st Century learning skills will allow them to be more prepared for today’s world.  We are not talking about five or ten years from now, we are talking about the year 2006! 

Q.  Certainly anything new has its detractors.  What are your critics saying about online education in schools and how do you answer them?

A.  One of the biggest hurdles mentioned regarding the proposed e-learning policy has to do with a perception that student access to technology and the Internet is limited.  Identifying the lack of technology and Internet access in schools as an argument against the proposed e-learning requirement is really difficult to defend.  In the last ten years nearly every Michigan school district has passed some type of bond issue for new construction, building renovation and/or technology enhancements.  Based on data that was published in Education Week magazine’s most recent version of Technology Counts, Michigan can claim the following statistics based on 2004 data: range of 4.1 to 5.4 students per computer, 99% of schools with Internet access, and 88% of instructional computers with high speed Internet access.

Q.  What developments and growth will we see from Michigan Virtual in the next 12 months?

A. We just launched an online Chinese language course a few weeks ago.  We are very excited about the potential to make our virtual classrooms rich with cultural learning experiences for Michigan students.  We are aggressively pursuing international opportunities to partner with schools in other countries.  Can you imagine taking an online world history course with students and educators from around the globe?  Making the online classroom more relevant and engaging for the students is our goal.  We will likely continue our current expansion of online products and services for middle and elementary students.    

Q.  Where is all of this going, give us a snapshot of education in Michigan five years from now.

A. I believe Michigan’s proposed e-learning policy has the potential to cause every high school educator to become an online instructor.  If implemented, my hope is that most schools will look to create internal solutions that reflect a blended approach of face-to-face and online learning.  This is very exciting to think about in the context of transforming how high school educators use technology in their classrooms.  Can you imagine students only going to a teacher’s classroom four days a week instead of five, allowing time for other things? This could give the local educator a chance to be an online teacher for students in their building.  I am anxious to think about our role in helping Michigan teachers think creatively about local online learning solutions.

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