Virtual Homeschool Group
2016/17 is right around the corner
Another great year is behind us and what a year it was! As far as build load, we have never had a year more intensive than the 2015/16 school year. We moved to a fully dedicated server, the fastest our hosting provider offered. We had to rebuild each course to take advantage of the new features that moving to Moodle 2 offered all while learning the new version which was almost like moving to a whole new software. With the exception of a few math courses, all rebuilds stayed on schedule or ahead through the school year. What a great, dedicated (and worn out) build team we have. We have a few math courses to finish rebuilds on and coming this school year we have many more rebuilds and brand new courses we will be bringing here to the new server at www.virtualhomeschoolgroup.org.
We also had phenomenal growth. We grew from no accounts on the new server to over 8000 new accounts created in the database this year. The Facebook group has grown a lot as well. It is now close to 5,500 members, mostly parents.
What great volunteers we have had! Most of our teachers and builders not only homeschool their own children, but did you know that over half of them also work part time jobs as well? What dedication! Thanks to all the builders, teachers, and graders that stepped up this year to serve fellow homeschoolers. We hope all of you found that ...
Please Donate or Volunteer
We Need YOU - Virtual homeschool group is a true co-op. All of the work is done by volunteers and the bills are paid by voluntary donations.
Volunteer Teachers -
Look at all the great courses our course builders are building and updating for the new school year by visiting the Volunteer Teacher Open House page. We did a poll in the Facebook group for what families wanted and the courses we plan to have ready to go are listed there in the order of votes from most needed on down. Note that the math, literature, and Geography courses are not listed there yet but will be available too. We also have an Active Development page of more courses in development that didn't make it into the poll results or we need a volunteer teacher with expertise in that subject to work with the build team just to be sure we get it transferred correctly (Spanish, for instance). The courses there can bump up to the Open House level build schedule for the fall semester is we have a volunteer teacher that steps up. To volunteer, stop on in for information HERE or just directly enroll in the Moodle for Teachers course page. We have some training opportunities starting as early as late this week.
You can see how we are doing in our summer fund-raising Here. There is information on that page for how to donate. We only fundraise during the summer up to July 31 and we still have a long way to go. We hope to meet this year's budget need, but also get some savings worked ahead in combination of this year and next to move to using the AWS server network. Read more about that in the "What About the Future?" section of this newsletter.
Live Online Classes and New AYOPs
AUGUST 1st REMINDER -
Don't forget that the new school year live classes seat starting at noon Central August 1st. Mark your calendar and set digital reminders. It is not first come first serve that day, so mosey on in later in the afternoon or evening to avoid the rush at noon. The server load will be less and therefore much faster to look around.
Don't forget the Early Seating Perk -
Miss the whole August 1st busy-ness by donating or volunteering and enjoy the perk of early seating for the last one to two weeks of July.
At Your Own Pace Courses -
Mid-July is also when the new school year course copies will arrive for at your own pace (ayop) courses as well.
Test Run - We did a limited test of about 150 parents with new parent tool in the spring semester. Everyone loves it, so we will be rolling it out site-wide this coming school year. Click THIS LINK to see an annotated screenshot of what it looks like.
E-Mailed Progress Reports - A capability of this tool we have not activated yet in the test run is the ability for it to send out weekly progress reports to parents. The report will detail if the student has any grade items cored below the minimum grade set in each activity (usually 80%) and if the student did not log in during the last week. It also will post the overall grades in all courses the student is enrolled in. This is going to be a great help to parents, but especially it will help parents that don't log in often to take advantage of the progress tracking tools that we have.
Get the tool - If you have already set up parental access, you will get it automatically. We will be adding it to your accounts this summer. If you do not already have a parent account or a parental access set up linking your account to your student's accounts, set it on up. This tool will be amazing! Contact Tammy Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org with the first and last name on the parent and student accounts that you need to have linked.
July 4th Holidays
Site Maintenance -
We have a scheduled maintenance for the July 4th weekend. The site may be unavailable off and on in that window as we perform updates to the site at all levels. Students and course builders are advised to limit critical site activities during this time. If you must work in this window of time, keep an eye open for the message bar along the top where we will post ten-minute warnings before the site goes into maintenance mode or other resource intensive operations will run. Remember that that warning will update only on a page refresh.
Summer break for Open Office Hours -
Open office hours closes for two weeks around the 4th of July each summer. This summer, break will be from June 28 through July 7.
Many More Short Courses
Usually, we send out just one to two major newsletters a year. This year, we want to explore having many short duration live online courses mixed in to the school year. We have puzzled over how to best meet the communication needs to alert parents and students to when these rotations will seat. We have used MailChimp for our newsletters, but we want to experiment with using Moodle itself to sent out the messages. It can literally save us $100 each mail out. This mailing has gone out through Moodle as an experiment to see how well it can work for us.
While the annual newsletters are a great way to get the word out about the upcoming seating, it doesn't do those emergency messages or what do you need two way communication things that a live group can do. A great way to stay in the news loop is the project Facebook Group. If you do Facebook, be sure to join the group. It is a busy and wonderfully sharing group. Usually news posts there first before anyplace else.
WRAPPING UP THE PAST YEAR
GET GRADES - We do not automatically mail out grades at the end of courses, so don't forget to go in to the course pages from this last school year to print off grades for your long-term records. You will find the grade link in the administration block in the side bar. Use your browser's print function (usually under the File option in the menu). Once you have your grades, click the un-enroll link to remove the course from your Dashboard and keep it clutter free.
ARCHIVED, BUT ACTIVE COURSES - Not done with your course yet? No problem, keep on working. We will migrate the courses from the past school year to the archives section soon, but you can still access the courses from your Dashboard (see link in the navigation bar of the site). If you have signed up for a lot of classes, Click Customize the page in the upper right and click the drop down that appears to show more courses. Save the changes and then you will be able to see even the ones that are in the archived sections. Slim the list down by un-enrolling from any courses you do not need anymore.
WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
Amazon Servers to Meet Peak Demand
We moved to the fastest multi-core dedicated server possible when we moved last summer to the new version of Moodle. Even with that, peak demand when live class students go out to start quizzes all at the same time means that we hit slow downs for mage loads during peak hours of the day (10am to 2:30pm Central). We figured our next step up would be to get two servers and split some of the load out between them, but my son is working for a new educational start up and he is setting up there servers using Amazon Web Servers. From what he has told me, instead of working in terms of servers, it works based on demand. They network their servers so that when you hit peak demand you actually get more servers in a distributed network put to use to meet the demand so there is never a slow down. We plan to move to this in the 2017/18 school year. Why not the 2016/17 school year? It expands to meet demand, but so does the cost. The downside is that going in, we don't know what the costs will be like we do when we have one dedicated server. So, we want to have some savings in place for absorbing the extra unpredictability of the costs. Plus, my son who now works for a company using these will have had a year of experience I can tap if I need it when setting it up. Having the help will be a big benefit the first time using it.
What About the Old Site?
We will be phasing the old site (the .com address) now that students from the 2014/15 school year have had a full year beyond the typical course end date to finish up their courses. We will be closing it during the July 4th maintenance window. The old server will be a redirect page to the new one. If you do have a student that is still working on anything at the old site, contact Tammy Moore at email@example.com. We can migrate your student's work to the new site courses or if we know there are a large number still working, we can delay closing the old site down a little longer.
We are looking forward to another great year! Join in the fun by signing up in the early seating or the Augusts 1st open seating events. If you found any disappointments in the last school year or really hope to see something new this school year, drop us a note and tell us about it. We may be free and all volunteer, but we want the project to be a blessing. Get us in the know of what you need from us this year.
Questions or Comments? Let us know ...
You have recieved this e-mail because of signing up for an account at http://www.virtualhomeschoolgroup.org/ in the last year. This is our first time using the News and Announcement forum to get the newsletter out since we usually use MailChimp. If you wish to unsubscribe but you do not get an automate message below this line, just contact Tammy Moore. After this mailing we will have a better idea how Moodle does unsubscribes when using the front page forum tool. Unsubscribe links are in the forum tool when used in courses, so we anticipate it should be here too. :0)