Virtual schools and colleges meet for the first time
Sero recently hosted the first conference for virtual schools and colleges from around the world, as part of the VISCED project. Deputy Project Manager Giles Pepler reflects on proceedings:
The conference or colloquium as it was called, was spread over four days, starting on the morning of Monday 21st May and concluding on the afternoon of Thursday 24th. Day by day, it went something like this:
Monday 21st: In the morning we filmed an interview with Laura Kalnina, a Board member of Rīgas Tālmācības Vidusskola in Latvia, which is one of our case study virtual schools. Laura was unable to be in Sheffield for the main Colloquium, but was able to come to Sero to film an interview which was shown at her presentation the following day. At just 20 years of age, Laura had helped to set the school up, ‘attended’ as a student, graduated from it and is now on the Advisory Board! We managed to produce the finished video ready for Tuesday morning, cross-cut with appropriate slides from the school Principal’s PPT presentation.
In the afternoon, we held an invitation-only seminar on quality and benchmarking in virtual education at Sero, managed by Paul Bacsich and attended by Barry Phillips and Giles Pepler from Sero, Susan Patrick, Matthew Wicks and Rob Darrow from iNACOL and Ilse op de Beeck from KU Leuven. An excellent afternoon that helped to set the scene for the remainder of the conference.
Tuesday 22nd was the main day of the Colloquium. We hosted 46 people at the Holiday Inn, of 15 different nationalities and representing 14 virtual schools – a good turnout for the first ever attempt to bring together European virtual schools for a focused event. Susan Patrick commented that the first iNACOL conference ten years ago had almost exactly the same number of participants.
The progamme for the day included presentations by different virtual schools from Europe and North America and discussions about quality and critical success factors for virtual schooling. Sustainability, regulatory frameworks and pedagogy also come up for discussion.
Participant evaluations have been very positive. All the virtual school presentations were highly rated, especially those on Sofia Distans [Sweden], Escola Móvel [Portugal], Otava Folk High School [Finland] and virtual education for seriously ill children [Belgium and Italy].
The professionalism and commitment from the virtual schools were striking, as was their delight in being brought together to share experiences and ideas – most are clearly working largely in isolation. There was a strong desire to establish a European virtual schools network, or association – many delegates asked what they could do to help with this and left asking ‘When’s the next event like this?’.
The third meeting of the VISCED International Advisory Committee (IAC) was held on the morning of Wednesday 23rd, with representatives of the virtual schools making invaluable contributions to lengthy discussions on critical success factors. For those not involved in the IAC, we arranged visits to The Sheffield College and Notre Dame, our two Sheffield VISCED pilot sites. Thanks to Julie Hooper at the College and Paul Haigh and Andrew Marsden at Notre Dame who laid on special presentations which were universally rated as excellent by those who went.
In the afternoon we started the third full VISCED project partners meeting, whilst Andy Wynne organised a visit to Yewlands School and the associated City Learning Centre for our American guests – again, very highly rated by the visitors.
The morning of Thursday 24th saw the second half of the project partners meeting and the afternoon the first meeting of the VISCED Exploitation Working Group. The sun still shone, and I was completely exhausted!
Overall, the extravaganza seems to have been a great success – in many ways it will form the centre piece of the whole VISCED project. Thanks are due to our colleagues Sally Reynolds, Nikki Cortoos and Joasia van Kooten from ATiT for filming the whole Colloquium and conducting a highly informative set of video interviews with the key players. All the presentations – and many more photographs – will be available on the VISCED website www.virtualschoolsandcolleges.info in the near future.