Carol (Ribeiro) DeFuria is a member of the Middle States Association Commission on Elementary Schools and president and CEO of VHS Learning (VHS, Inc.), a nonprofit organization providing supplemental online classes and blended learning opportunities to middle and high school students in more than 650 schools worldwide.
Because VHS programs are fully online, faculty and staff are accustomed to virtual accreditation visits. In this Q & A DeFuria shares her advice for schools participating in virtual visits for the first time and offers her thoughts on how the coronavirus may change education in the future.
Q: How can schools get the most out of virtual peer review visits, and what advice do you have for schools that will be participating in virtual visits for the first time?
A: Given our experience, we know that virtual peer reviews can be just as effective as face-to-face reviews, but we understand that this mode of interaction is new for many. To get the most out of virtual peer reviews, it’s important to try to be clear and concise with interactions, being especially mindful of tone, which can be difficult to read when not face-to-face. It’s also important to respond as quickly as you can to any inquiries (within 24 hours or less) and meet established deadlines for posting materials so that work can progress. Be respectful, professional, and courteous – just as you would be in person.
Q: How has Middle States accreditation benefited VHS?
A: Middle States accreditation has helped us reflect on and refine our processes and better serve our schools and students. Our accreditation has helped guide our strategic thinking and helped us to be a better, more efficient, organization. I consider Middle States to be a trusted partner. The team at Middle States has always been incredibly helpful and supportive, and has helped us to improve as an organization and build a solid foundation for future growth.
Q: In what ways do you think the coronavirus pandemic will change how education is delivered in the future?
A: Schools will need to be much more flexible in the future. They must be more agile and able to pivot to different modes of education should schools need to be closed for any reason – natural disasters, weather issues, or a pandemic. The key to a successful transition is ensuring all students have access to the technology and resources they need to access learning in different ways and also ensuring they have a school liaison who checks in with them frequently to ensure they are on track. Virtual learning does not have to mean learning in isolation and students (and their teachers) will need more support going forward. School faculty and staff must have appropriate training on how to provide learning online and what constitutes effective long-term online teaching practices – not just stopgap measures for remote emergency learning in times of crisis. They are two very different things.
Q. What will this mean for existing online schools and programs?
A. Existing online schools and programs can help provide guidance to traditional schools to help them transition and become more flexible, with more of a focus on learning outcomes and asynchronous learning versus only synchronous methods.