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Oxford Virtual Academy Case Study

Middlebury Interactive's award-winning online world language curriculum expands students’ opportunities.

To give students more learning opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have, the Oxford Community Schools in Michigan operate a highly regarded virtual academy that attracts students from around the state.

These opportunities include the chance to take world languages such as French, German, Spanish, and Chinese through a partnership with Middlebury Interactive Languages—and it’s a benefit that has brought more students into the program, including homeschooled children who want to learn another language, said Andrew Hulbert, executive director of virtual learning.

The Middlebury Interactive Languages curriculum “gives us the ability to offer world languages that we couldn’t offer in a brick-and-mortar environment,” Hulbert said, citing financial and resource challenges of providing face-to-face world language instruction. “It has opened up avenues that students never would have had before.”

Established five years ago, the Oxford Virtual Academy serves about 1,200 students, many of whom come from outside Oxford. The academy is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and it offers an early college program that provides college credit as well.

“We have kids learning a world language as early as the third grade,” Hulbert said.

Some of the academy’s participants are full-time virtual students who log in from home, while others supplement the traditional instruction they get in the Oxford schools with online classes not offered at their school. Those students can log in to their online classes from computer labs located in Oxford’s middle school and high school, Hulbert said.

“We’ve given those spaces sort of a coffee shop feel, and they’re open before school and after school, as well as during the school day,” he said. The labs contain computers, headphones, and “everything else that students would need to be successful.”

Honored in the Readers’ Choice Awards program from eSchool Media for the last two years, Middlebury Interactive’s online language curriculum is based on principles of the language pedagogy utilized at Middlebury College’s renowned Language Schools.

The courses were developed for K-12 students by Ph.D.-level academics and linguistic experts, using approaches proven to be effective in language instruction. For instance, video recordings of actual interactions between native speakers in different countries bring cultural authenticity to the lessons.

“We’ve built language learning activities around these videos, as well as authentic written resources such as newspapers,” said Aline Germain-Rutherford, chief learning officer for Middlebury Interactive Languages and Surdna Professor of Linguistics at Middlebury College. The use of authentic materials helps students learn not just the language, but also the culture.

Hulbert said he was drawn to the Middlebury Interactive curriculum because it provided a much richer understanding of the languages than other products he tried. “It gives kids a deeper, more immersive opportunity to speak the language, rather than just understand the language,” he said, noting that it offers instruction ranging from introductory to highly advanced, with fully native speakers.

One of the challenges for students who are learning a language online is the ability to engage in conversation. Middlebury Interactive Languages solves this challenge by including the opportunity to have synchronous conversations with live instructors.

“Students actually have to speak to the teachers, and the teachers will reply,” Hulbert said. “There are three components of the instruction—reading, writing, and speaking—and they really address all three. With Middlebury Interactive, the students come out ahead in their ability to speak the language—which is not always the case with other world language vendors.