When members of the military are stationed overseas, they usually bring their families. They live in Germany or Japan or some other faraway place with a military base and, often, a school run by the Department of Defense.
But members of the military often move from base to base, forcing their school-age children to switch schools time and time again.
The agency wants to make the transition easier, which is why it has partnered with education officials at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to develop what they’re calling a “virtual high school” curriculum.
“The virtual high school is not intended to replace face-to-face schools. It is a supplement to them,” said Greg Levitt, the lead subject matter expert for UNLV on the project.
The Department of Defense Education Activity, or DoDEA, the branch responsible for the education of military members’ children, operates nearly 200 schools worldwide with more than 90,000 students. The agency has standards similar to those in any public schools.
But if a student were to transfer to a new school that was not offering a course they needed at the time, it could mean the student would have to complete an old-fashioned correspondence course to fulfill graduation requirements.
Agency officials noticed the problem, and sought out experts who could help them solve it.
It awarded a $6.2 million contract to UNLV’s Division of Educational Outreach to develop 33 courses that would encompass the virtual high school.
Officials say students should no longer run into problems about missing courses. The virtual courses will stay on track with the courses in the actual schools.
“So, if a student was taking a course in a DoDEA school and had to leave midsemester and move to another DoDEA school where the course wasn’t offered, the student could pick up where he or she left off through the virtual class.” Patricia Riley, chief of the defense agency’s distance learning, said in a statement.
Christine Ditzler, UNLV’s senior instructional designer on the project, happens to know a lot about the problem.
Ditzler was raised mostly in Europe, a child in a U.S. military family. She switched schools often and graduated high school in Germany.
“I’ve gone to three different schools within one year.”
The virtual high school will help keep students’ school lives more stable, she said, by keeping them on one track throughout high school.
Ditzler, with the university’s distance education department, said current software makes it possible for students to videoconference with professors in real time and even exchange documents with them.
Victor McGuire, the project director, said UNLV is scheduled to turn over results of its efforts to defense officials next summer. The defense agency will implement and run the program the UNLV officials have developed.
If all goes well, the contract could be extended for a second phase, at $4 million for four more years. The extension would cover the development of more courses and teacher resource materials.
The virtual high school program is set to go into effect in fall 2010.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.