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VSCHOOLZ Reworks Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Ed Content

With a recent infusion of investment, virtual education company VSCHOOLZ has undertaken a mammoth project to pick apart the individual lessons and learning objects contained in K-12 resources from education publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH). This will allow teachers that use the service to assemble curriculum their own way.

The investment comes from Huizenga Holdings, a private equity vehicle for American business maestro and former sports team owner Wayne Huizenga, whose former holdings include AutoNation, Waste Management, Blockbuster, as well as the Miami Dolphins National Football League team and the Florida Marlins, a Major League Baseball team.

VSCHOOLZ provides a "turnkey" online K-12 curriculum service for schools. Prospects include both virtual campuses and traditional ones that want to launch a distance learning program.

"Right now, the traditional courses that are available for virtual schools are canned," said VSCHOOLZ Chief Operating Officer Trina Trimm. "They follow the course from A to Z." At the same time, she added, "teachers around the country are trying to build their own material on a nightly or weekly basis, because they're enthusiastic about wanting to go digital and having that kind of content available for their students. That is a huge amount of work and a burden on teachers who are really not qualified to be full course curriculum developers."

VSCHOOLZ' aim is to deliver digital content to those teachers in a way that allows them to customize the course for specific student needs. The company has put together about 180 days worth of lessons based on HMH content to equate to the average length of the typical school year. Each lesson is mapped to the national Common Core State Standards, though a couple of states have requested their own alignments, which the company is accommodating too.

"We've taken [the HMH] content and broken it down into modules based on the standards," Trimm explained. "Then within each module, there are three weekly units. Within each unit, there's a daily lesson. Within each lesson, there's a learning object." Students can access those resources through a Web browser. The modules are customizable so that, for example, different teachers within the same school can switch out the reading material or other components.

If the material isn't within the purview of HMH resources, the application includes a feature that manages payment of the extra licensing.

Because every component of a given course is a separate learning object, if the state realigns the course or adds or removes standards, a new learning object can be inserted into the program to make it ready for delivery. "Pluto is no longer a planet? It's gone the next morning," Trimm joked.

The initial rollout will cover K-12 language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Trimm said a number of customers are already lined up for the service. That includes charter schools, as well as Catholic Schools K12 Virtual, run by a Florida parish.

All courses include etext, assignments, quizzes, and tests. The program includes tools such as message boards, digital drop boxes, chat rooms, and teacher-to-teacher file sharing.

The teacher sharing service allows instructors to request help in developing material for a specific unit. A recent flurry of activity has centered on the turbulence in the financial markets, which teachers in economic classes are picking up on, Trimm said. "There's some really great material--interviews and discussions--out there. So teachers are collaborating in this space to be able to create lessons about what's going on in the economy right now relevant to those instructional pieces," she explained.

"A canned course won't cut it anymore. It's not about one size fits all. It's about making the content really exciting and engaging for the kids. And it has to be content that has been proven to show learning gains," Trimm said.

"Thanks to this strong partnership with VSCHOOLZ, HMH can now provide more students with fully customizable digital courses in all the major subject areas, designed to incorporate a wide-range of digital technologies. Like never before, it empowers teachers to assess an individual student and develop the strongest customized program," added Bethlam Forsa, executive vice president of global product and content development for HMH.

More information is available at vschoolz.com.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.