How ASU Prep Digital Met the Rising Demand for Online Learning

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It’s no secret COVID-19 has affected every part of our daily lives, forcing us to rethink the way we work, connect, and educate. As schools began to close around the country in the early days of the pandemic, parents helped their children shift to a remote learning experience and took an active role in their education. When the spring semester ended, school districts and families alike had difficult choices to make: do we resume in-person learning come fall? Parents took the time to weigh their options, and many turned to schools with proven success in online education—schools such as ASU Prep Digital. So how did ASU Prep Digital meet the rising demand for online learning?

Expanding the program to include grades K-12

ASU Prep Digital was founded in 2017 with several goals in mind. They aimed to not only prepare students for college acceptance with a rigorous curriculum that combined university courses with online high school, but also personalize the learning experience, giving every student the tools and support needed to be successful both in and out of the classroom. 

When students across the country were forced to finish out their spring semester virtually, ASU Prep Digital sprung into action and began the process of expanding its program to welcome elementary and middle school students in the fall. Families looking for stability after a rocky spring gravitated toward ASU Prep Digital, increasing their enrollment by almost 700 percent.

Introducing the Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute

Students aren’t the only ones learning to adapt to hybrid or remote learning environments. Teachers have also had to make the transition, which includes learning new tools to enhance their online classrooms and discovering ways to keep their students engaged through a screen.

Recognizing the need to support teachers across Arizona during this difficult time, Arizona State University, the Arizona Department of Education, the Helios Foundation, and Governor Doug Ducey’s office collaborated to bring the Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute to life. Managed by ASU Prep Digital, the Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute provides a flexible menu of training options for schools and teachers throughout the state, free of charge. With a range of topics and sessions, teachers can learn how to thrive and adapt to the ever-changing educational landscape through the pandemic and beyond. Visit their website to learn more and to see a calendar of the sessions.

Presenting at virtual conferences 

Though large gatherings have ceased for the time being, ASU Prep Digital has still found ways to share their experiences and expertise with educators all around the world. The annual ASU + GSV Summit was held virtually this year, making it even more accessible for those who may not have been able to attend in person. ASU Prep Digital hosted several sessions during the conference, speaking to their success in transforming K-12 education with the help of Arizona State University. You can learn more about this year’s event and register for the 2021 summit by visiting their website.

ASU will also be hosting REMOTE K12, the Connected Teacher Summit on January 9, 2021. This free, virtual event is designed to provide teachers with effective techniques, tools, and insights for online/blended learning while engaging with colleagues from all around the country. Teachers can even earn an ASU-certified Professional Development Credential by attending the event and filling out a post-show survey. Check out their website to learn more about the event and sessions that will be offered.

And this week, ASU Prep Digital is presenting at EdPalooza, a virtual conference hosted by ExcelinEd that aims to connect policymakers and educators in an effort to retool education. The three-day event will feature EdVision keynote speakers, EdTalks, and more than 100 Palooza sessions where attendees will be able to interact virtually and learn about the latest education trends, technology, and solutions. Visit their website to register and learn more about the event.

Looking to learn more about ASU Prep Digital’s growth and the future of education? Check out these posts:

Time Management Tools and Tips for Online Students

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In order to be successful as an online learner, there is one important skill students should master: time management. Because students have the freedom to complete coursework at their own pace, it’s imperative that they learn how to utilize their time effectively to ensure they get everything done without overwhelming themselves. Here are some time management tools and tips for online students:


Use a planner

One of the best ways to keep yourself organized is to use a planner. Having one place to jot down assignments and important deadlines will keep you on track. There are so many planners to choose from, whether you want a digital or physical version. Many companies, such as The Happy Planner and BlueSky, allow you to personalize your planner depending on your needs. You can also choose to utilize an app, such as Wunderlist or myHomework Student Planner, which will enable you to create daily to-do lists and get reminders for any upcoming tests or assignments. You can find more planner apps here.


Set SMART goals

A component of having strong time management skills is being able to focus on the current task at hand. It isn’t enough to carve out the time to get something done—you want your time to be spent effectively. This is where SMART goals come in handy. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely, and this formula is designed to help you stay on task and work toward something achievable. For example, if you want to achieve a higher grade in a certain class, you can break it up into smaller, easily manageable goals throughout the semester, such as committing to doing your homework assignments every school night from 6 to 8 pm, or studying every other night for two hours before watching your favorite show. Be sure to work with your teachers to ensure you’re setting realistic goals and keep track of your progress!


Eliminate distractions

You can plan your day and have all of your assignments laid out to complete. But if you’re surrounded by things that make it hard to focus, chances are you won’t get much done. On top of creating a dedicated workspace that’s free of distractions, it helps to identify what your biggest distractions are. If you like to mindlessly swipe on your phone or browse the web, consider setting an alarm for ‘social media breaks’ or using apps to help limit your social media usage. There are even Google Chrome extensions, such as StayFocused and Block Site, that you can use to temporarily block access to distracting websites while you work on your laptop. And if being at home makes it harder to get your work done, that’s okay! Try heading to a local coffee shop or library for a change of scenery. 


Take breaks

It can be easy to work for hours on end when you’re completing coursework at home in your pajamas. But it’s important to take breaks! Working for too long can cause burnout and make it harder to complete your tasks. Scheduling downtime throughout the day will give your mind and body the break it needs, whether it’s taking a walk, having a snack, or snuggling your pet! Divide your day into easily manageable sections, whether it’s based on class subjects or specific assignments, and set a timer so you know when to stop and rest.


Looking for additional resources on time management and achieving success as an online student? Check out these other posts:

Universities Report Online K-12 Enrollment Boost

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* This was originally written by Lindsay McKenzie and published on Inside Higher Ed 

Dissatisfied with the way local schools are responding to the pandemic, families increasingly turn to online K-12 options to educate their children — including schools run by universities.

Interest in online K-12 schools is surging in response to the educational disruption prompted by COVID-19.

At K12, the nation’s largest online charter school operator, enrollment increased from 123,000 to 170,000 students this year, according to reporting by Chalkbeat. At Connections Academy, another large online charter school company, applications have reportedly increased by 61 percent.

A similar picture is emerging in a more niche corner of the K-12 market — online schools run by universities.

At Arizona State University Prep Digital, an online public charter school run by the Tempe, Ariz.-based public university, student enrollment has grown by almost 700 percent — from 600 full-time students in 2019 to around 4,500 students this year.

This growth is partially explained by the fact that ASU Prep Digital welcomed its first classes of kindergartners through eighth graders this August — adding to the existing grades 9 to 12 launched in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic nonetheless played a major role in driving interest in the school and is continuing to drive new inquiries from families in the state of Arizona and nationally.

“We are definitely hearing from families that the pandemic is a catalyst for our growth,” said Julie Young, chief executive officer at ASU Prep Digital. “Families went through a rocky spring. They are looking for stability.”

In the spring semester, many traditional K-12 schools switched to remote instruction without equipping teachers with the right training or tools, Young said. Since ASU Prep Digital was conceived as a fully online institution, some parents feel the school is “a less risky option” than waiting to see how the fall semester at their local school pans out.

While ASU Prep Digital is drawing students from schools that are grappling with the impact of the pandemic, its leaders are eager to share its online learning expertise with other institutions, Young said. ASU Prep Digital is actively providing training in online teaching and learning to public school teachers in Arizona and elsewhere.

The Arizona Virtual Teaching Institute, an initiative of ASU Prep Digital, provides free training to teachers with financial support from the Arizona Department of Education, the state’s governor’s office, Helios Education Foundation and ASU. The institute has so far helped 3,200 of the state’s 48,000 teachers prepare to offer remote or hybrid instruction, said Amy McGrath, chief operating officer at ASU Prep Digital.

By helping neighboring schools offer better online teaching and learning, including licensing content and offering remote instruction to schools where there are teacher shortages, ASU Prep Digital is helping to raise the profile of online education, McGrath said. Online K-12 has some bad actors with poor student outcomes, but high-tech, high-touch personalized learning is “something that should be an option for every student,” she said.

The rapid expansion of ASU Prep Digital — including both the launch of K-8 and additional students due to the pandemic — required “significant investment in staffing and infrastructure up front,” McGrath said.

“As a result, financial year 2021 surpluses will lag the first year of this expansion, but it will create opportunities to reinvest future surpluses to maintain growth trajectories,” McGrath said.

Part of the allure of studying at ASU Prep Digital for older students and families with ties to ASU is that students have access to college-level classes through concurrent enrollment at both the school and the university. That gives them the opportunity to test out so-called career pathways, earn credit and ultimately save money on college tuition, Young said.



3 Tips for Transitioning to Online Learning

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With the fall semester underway, many families across the country have chosen to keep their children home and enroll them in online programs, like ASU Prep Digital. If your child has never taken an online course, that’s okay! To ease your worries, we’ve rounded up several tips for transitioning to online learning:

Set a schedule and check in often

One of the major differences between online learning and brick-and-mortar is that students have the freedom to work at their own pace. While this is great for students who want to work ahead or even take a little more time with certain subjects, it can also take some getting used to. Help your child put together a schedule that allows them to work on assignments in a timely fashion without feeling overwhelmed. And during the first few weeks of their first semester, it’s recommended that you check in nightly to ensure they’re staying on track.

Encourage your child to engage in extracurricular activities 

Transitions are easier when you have friends by your side! Online schools offer clubs just like brick-and-mortar schools do, which makes it easier for students to find something they’re passionate about and meet people who share the same interests. From book club to student government and everything in between, there’s no shortage of activities that will help your child break out of their shell and begin to develop connections with their peers.

Understand there will be a transitional period 

The same way it takes time to transition from each grade level, your child will need time to adjust from a physical learning environment to an online learning environmentand that’s okay! The most important thing they’ll need during this time is support. Luckily, there’s no shortage of that at ASU Prep Digital. Students will communicate with their teachers and Learning Success Coach on a regular basis, ensuring they’re staying on track to be successful in and out of the virtual classroom.


Looking for more insight on transitioning to online learning? Check out these posts:

How to Keep Elementary School Students Engaged in Online Learning

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As many parents prepare their children for a fall semester spent learning at home, there’s a question on everyone’s mind: how do you keep elementary school students engaged in online learning?

Luckily, we’ve rounded up a few tips that will help you make the most of their online learning experience and keep them engaged all semester long.

Create a designated workspace

Now that your child will be spending more time at home, it’s important to ensure they have a place that’s dedicated to schoolwork and free of clutter and distractions. Whether that means getting them a desk of their own or setting up a quiet spot in the house, this will enable them to stay focused when they’re completing assignments or engaging in live lessons.

Figure out their learning style

One of the major benefits of online learning is that students can learn in the style that best suits them, which may not be possible in a brick-and-mortar setting. Does your child need visuals to aid in understanding certain topics? Do they work better during a certain time of day? Find out what works best for them and develop a schedule that will allow them to be as productive as possible.

Include breaks in their schedule

The same way adults need breaks in their day, kids do too! Online learning makes it easier to power through lessons and assignments since students can work at their own pace, but that doesn’t mean they should work nonstop from morning until night. Encourage them to go play outside for a bit, have a healthy snack break, or watch an episode of their favorite show before diving into a new topic or lesson. Little breaks can do wonders for boosting their energy and increasing their productivity.

Looking for more tips on keeping your elementary school student engaged and motivated? Check out these posts:

Help Wanted: Teacher | Job Duties: Unknown

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Will 3.7 million teachers in the US return to work this fall no longer knowing what their job entails?

Curriculum development, classroom management, relationship building, performance data monitoring—over the past hundred years or so, the job duties of a K-12 teacher have gone by different names and have been accomplished in different ways, but the basic necessities of a teacher’s job have stayed largely the same. Picture an early 20th-century one-room schoolhouse with a teacher standing at the front of the room next to a chalkboard, or picture a classroom today with a teacher standing at the front of the room next to a smartboard. In 1919 or 2019, learning happens within those walls, within those minutes of the day.  Given all that’s stayed the same over so long, Fall 2020 may mark the largest and most sudden shift to the responsibilities of a teacher in the U.S. in modern history.

What will we be asking teachers to do that they’ve never done before?  

What will teacher job descriptions look like this fall, as schools re-open during a global pandemic?  Will the new job description include requirements like “learning management system (LMS) acuity” or “digital curriculum specialist?”  What about “online collaboration software expert?”  The image of a teacher standing in front of a classroom was suddenly and unceremoniously replaced in March 2020 with a much different image—one that seemed ubiquitous overnight—of the Brady-Bunch-style-faces-in-boxes image of a Zoom/Google Meet/Teams online meeting. Faced with literally no alternative as a pandemic swept the country, teachers did all that they could to move their physical classroom into a computer. The situation was unforeseeable; as a result, resources were scarce and training was absent. The experiences of many teachers, students, and parents during Spring 2020 were poor.  With a century of cultural and practical teaching experience standing in front of classrooms ingrained in our cultural understanding of what teaching is, and roughly 8 weeks of experience with emergency remote learning offered as an alternative, it’s very easy to see why so many districts, teachers, parents, and students balked at what was being called digital learning.

What will teachers’ job duties be this fall?

Begin by thinking about what teachers will be asked to do.  States and districts are focused this summer on creating re-opening plans and contingency plans based on health, safety, and of course continuity of learning.  In all that planning, are we giving serious thought to what we’re asking teachers to do on a day-to-day basis?  Many plans have some variation on digital learning included, either for those students who will not/cannot attend in person this fall, or as a backup plan in case another wave of school closures become necessary, or both.  With so many logistical quagmires to try to plan for—bussing, band class, lunchroom procedures, mask requirements—the actual operational details of what digital learning will look like this fall tend to get hand-waved away: “Oh, we’ll just have teachers do what they did in the spring.”  Which brings us back to the central questions for school leaders to ask as we head into fall with the certainty that distance/remote/online/virtual digital learning will once again be necessary, which were highlighted earlier: Are the teachers you support experts in creating online curriculum?  Are they adept at progress monitoring, motivating, encouraging, and communicating within an LMS?  What will you be asking them to do that was never part of the job they were hired for, and what skills are they going to suddenly need that were never listed on their job description?

How will we support teachers while asking them to do more than ever before?

Based on the headlines already in July, the new school year is going to be ushered in by politicized controversy.  Teachers will be the face of their school in managing classroom mask procedures, physical distancing guidelines, and desk sanitization processes.  One way to support the teachers in your building who will also be responsible for digital education is to leverage the options available in the form of K-12 online courseware.  For every age and every learner, there are full courses—from 3rd grade Social Studies to Pre-Algebra to Robotics, and everything in between—already written and already aligned to state and national standards.  Teachers have the security of knowing the curriculum is already taken care of, allowing them to focus on their students’ progress, mastery, and well-being.  Teachers also have the agency to edit the curriculum to the full extent desired; they don’t have to sacrifice their perennial favorite unit or lesson in the interest of serving the course as it’s written.

Along with providing resources for teachers in the form of research-based, professionally designed digital courseware, support can come in the form of targeted professional learning.  While digital learning is brand new to many in the field of K-12 education, there are institutions that have been fully online for decades—hiring, training, and coaching teachers to be virtual classroom experts.  Allow that expertise to serve the teachers and schools you support by providing a suite of professional learning delivered by credible, fully digital teachers and trainers who have the lived experience to be real mentors and provide real help.

Teachers have the wherewithal to adapt to the series of challenges COVID-19 will pose this fall; the question is not whether teachers can figure out ways to serve all their students in the face of all the possible scenarios this fall will bring, the question is whether they should have to figure it out on their own.  The resources and training exist to support teachers in creating high-quality digital classrooms to provide learning continuity via flexible, safe options for students.  A hundred years of inertia guides our cultural thinking about what a teacher’s job looks like.  In the span of just a couple months, we as educators and leaders are going to re-shape that image.  Through the use of engaging and rigorous digital courses coupled with relevant professional learning, teachers can start the school year equipped to meet the needs of a new kind of classroom, by being prepared to handle any expectation that will be included on a teacher’s job description in 2020.


Teresa King is Director of National Partnerships at ASU Prep Digital, which is a fully online K-12 school operating as part of Arizona State University’s mission to serve all learners through inclusive networks of opportunity.  ASU Prep Digital offers over 175 courses to license, as well as digital teaching professional learning, to partner schools and districts around the country and around the world.

Girl Scout Summer Adventures Proves to Be a Virtual Learning Success

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The best online program for girls emerged from Girl Scouts, ASU Prep this summer

By Amanda Fessler

On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, all students – those who didn’t finish the recent school year in-class to those who will start school for the first time – face a very different set of circumstances than previous years. School administrators express that more than ever, mental, emotional, and social preparedness is paramount.

To address the pandemic’s impact on education in Arizona and replace in-person programs canceled due to social distancing guidelines, Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council (GSACPC) partnered with ASU Prep Digital to create a unique, online program for K-12 girls this July.

The new program, “Girl Scout Summer Adventures,” is structured so girls can connect socially and emotionally during this time of isolation and support their formal education at the same time. It’s all about setting girls up for success by enriching their socially-distanced summers at home and helping them prepare for the coming school year. Through the program, which is tailored to each grade level, girls are working with new friends, having fun, and tackling new skills through age-appropriate activities and experiences.


The four-week pilot leads girls through a choose-your-own-adventure journey exploring life skills, STEM, entrepreneurship, and outdoors. With a mix of live and recorded sessions and downloadable content, girls have been able to go at their own pace and on their schedules. The program is guided by GSACPC program staff and licensed educators. And since Girl Scout programming complements the academic curriculum, participants in grades 7-12 have had the opportunity to earn free summer school credit.

 “As an organization that positively impacts academic achievement for girls, we feel an obligation to innovate our program model so we can continue to support girls during this monumental time when their education is in upheaval,” said Christina Spicer, GSACPC Deputy Director. 

Thanks to a long-standing history with ASU Prep Digital– the local accredited online high school affiliated with Arizona State University– once the pandemic began impacting schools, GSACPC rapidly went to work to develop the Summer Adventures program in partnership with the school.

GSACPC was also able to coordinate special, behind-the-scenes live visits for girls by tapping into some of their other dedicated partners. From business owners, arts and culture organizations, to VIP visitors, session experiences have included Q&As with female role models like Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego to cooking class with a pro chef and touring an observatory.

Parents and guardians are praising the quality of the program:


A parent who is also a teacher noted, “It is an impressive amount of planning, organizing, and implementing! Both my daughters are excited about the line-up for their [grade] levels, and I hope to sit to the side for a lot of it, too! One of their material boxes arrived in the mail today, and I’m in awe of the badges and journeys incorporated and provided. You should all be commended for creating such a professional, age-appropriate, packed-with-fun program.”

A longtime Troop Leader shared that she has never seen such excitement from girls in her troop, “Six of my [Troop’s] Girl Scouts registered for the Summer Adventures program, and they are having so much fun! They send me pictures and talk to me about all the exciting projects they’re doing.”

To make the program accessible to all girls, a fee was not required to participate. A donation of $100 for the full 4-weeks was suggested, but families were able to determine how they could support the program. GSACPC hoped to serve 250 girls through the July pilot session, and 416 girls are currently registered.

“ASU Prep Digital helped us learn how to offer Girl Scout programming within a Learning Management System. We look forward to using this knowledge as we continue to adjust our program delivery model to meet the needs of girls,” said Spicer. 

With this success underway, GSACPC plans to continue assessing how programs like this might catalyze deeper partnerships with all local schools to support formal education outcomes for girls, especially as school districts are looking at their plans for returning safely to the classroom.