The Impact Of Auxiliary Support Systems In Improving Learner Outcomes In An Online School: A Qualitative Case Study

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The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of auxiliary support systems in improving learner outcomes through a case study of one virtual school in a midwestern state. Mentor and teaching practices were researched and analyzed using the Community of Inquiry (CoI) theoretical framework. The research design was an evaluative case study where data were gathered from online teachers, mentors, and academic interventionists. The research sought to answer the questions, "Were online students more successful when they have an assigned mentor with whom to work?" and "How might we improve how we prepare our mentors (e.g. training, support, and professional development) to better serve our students?" The practices and beliefs of two mentors, one academic interventionist, one special needs teacher, and four online teachers were studied using interviews, observations, and document analysis. I used the CoI's three presences: social, cognitive, and teaching/mentor presence to examine mentors, interventionists, and online teachers in one K-12 public school district over the course of one semester. The location I selected has legislation that mandates that there is an assigned mentor for every student enrolled in an online class. Each staff member was asked to fill out surveys to gather pre and post semester data and participated in a sequence of interviews based on that information. The findings from the study showed causal relationships between students' need for skilled and effective mentors and success in their online classes. They provided advising tools and resources, offered daily support and encouragement, helped troubleshoot technology issues, motivated frustrated students, and helped them stay organized. However, while mentors were assigned to online students as required by legislature, each of the participants had been "voluntold" of their mentoring roles and were left to figure it out on their own. The lack of time to complete their normal job duties along with mentoring students resulted in negative feelings. As a result, there were inconsistencies as to the effectiveness of the mentors. Further research is needed to identify practices of K-12 fully online teachers for all subject areas and to verify the applicability of the K-12 Community of Inquiry framework.



Educational leadership, Community of inquiry, K-12 online learning, Online Learning, Online school|Online teachers, Virtual school