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Posts tagged ‘online learning’

Online-education lawsuit misfires on state funding

Washington state must embrace online learning, “the future of education,” but a lawsuit against funding cuts interferes with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s right to decide where to allocate dollars.

MANY students in Washington’s K-12 public education system take classes online, some never entering a traditional brick-and-mortar school.

Our state’s challenge to serve these students while creating accountability in one of the fastest-growing sectors of education is complicated by a lawsuit filed by online-learning advocates protesting budget cuts.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction was ordered by Gov. Chris Gregoire to reduce education spending. The result: Previously, traditional and online schools received the same funding; now, online schools receive an annual average of $4,250 per student — 15 percent less.

We don’t like cuts to any part of education. But OSPI had the right, and responsibility, to decide where to allocate education dollars.

Moreover, the complex funding formulas for online education and traditional schools should be different. For example, the state should not allocate transportation dollars for virtual learning. Numerous other examples abound, enough to make a convincing case that online education can be funded fairly and differently from traditional schools.

Meanwhile, cuts in online learning have spurred school districts to rethink how they serve online students. More districts are focusing on serving students in their district, a step away from the current, large, statewide online schools. Steilacoom is an example of a small district with 2,000-plus students in its online-education program. That’s more students than Steilacoom’s physical student population.

About 18,000 students took at least one online course last year, according to Karl Nelson, director of digital learning for Washington state. About 9,000 students are enrolled full time in online schools. More than 50 school districts around the state offer online programs — mostly through for-profit companies.

Online education is popular for disabled students, accelerated learners and at-risk students who don’t mesh well in typical school environments. Working students who must do their schooling on a different schedule are also among those enrolled in online education.

The National Association of State Boards of Education called online learning the “future of education” in a much-touted 2001 report, “Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace.”

Washington should continue to support online learning, but a lawsuit wrongly challenges the state’s right to develop a fair funding model and accountability system.

Highlander Hosts Technology + Learning Conference in Providence

With the push for digital learning stronger than ever, a conference for next steps in Providence.

Providence will host educators seeking to better incorporate digital technologies into their schools this month, when Highlander Institute, a regional provider of high quality professional development in education, presents the Blended Learning & Technology Conference on Saturday, May 19, 2012 from 8:30am-4pm. This day-long, hands-on conference will give educators practical insight on adopting blended learning models. Blended eLearning integrates the best of online learning with face-to-face instruction, expanding opportunities for the teacher and student.

Integrating tech in the classroom: not always easy

“Integrating technology with tried and true classroom instruction is not always intuitive or easy, but when it is done well it helps the teacher understand a student’s abilities at a whole new level,” said Shawn Rubin, director of technology integration at the Highlander Institute and co-founder, Metryx. “Teachers can then use this input to create a much more individualized learning environment for the student, which leads to greater learning outcomes.”  Further, Rubin said, ” “blended learning recognizes that technology is something today’s students already enjoy. It uses tools that are intuitive to them and increases their engagement in their own learning.”

A national push toward digital learning

Pointing to the trend towards digital learning environments, President Obama, the U.S. Dept of Education and the Federal Communications Commission announced recently a 70-page guide for schools to begin transitioning to digital learning. Locally, the RI Dept of Education will soon announce the winner of the Model School Grant award funded by U.S. Dept of Ed “Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2)” funds, for the redesign of a school that uses technology as the catalyst for transformation.

Conference details

The Blended Learning & Technology Conference, subtitled “From Theory to Practice”, will bring together the practitioners, education technology gurus, and the people behind the tools for integration. Attendants will listen to educators already integrating technology in their teaching environments, and have the opportunity to “tinker, test and explore” applications and software on iPads, SMARTboards, and Android tablets.

“At Highlander, we understand the integration of technology for some educators and schools will be a gradual process. But the trend is moving quickly. This conference offers a comfortable environment to learn about these tools, and jumpstart the process,” Rubin said.

Featured speakers

Conference speakers include Jennie Dougherty from edUPGRADE, a nonprofit that brings beta technology to teachers in exchange for feedback; Melissa Pickering, recent manager of Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, and founder of iCreate to Educate; and Mohit Midha, COO of, a games based teaching resource for K-12 math.

Vendors and sponsors include: Broadband RI, Educreations, Engrade, K12, Learn Zillion, Lesson Writer, and Metryx.

For more information on the Blended Learning & Technology Conference, visit, call 401-831-7323, or email

The digital teacher

By Maureen Downey

In every district, in every school, in every grade, there is that great teacher who all parents want for their children. So, parents cross their fingers and hope that their child is lucky enough to end up on that teacher’s roster.

What if every student in the class could get that terrific teacher rather than a fortunate few?

That is one of the promises of online elearning, said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact and a speaker at last week’s Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s panel on Education Reform for a Digital Era.

Hassel said that only about 25 percent of classes have one of these top-tier teachers at a given time. That means the other 75 percent don’t.

Education can enlarge the classroom of the teachers achieving the best results with students and pay them more for doing so by multiplying their reach through technology, Hassel said.

Relieve those great teachers of noninstructional tasks, use video to reach more students and incorporate smart software to personalize instruction.

While the panelists differed on how digital learning should be introduced, they agreed that it represents the future.

“There is a lot of hope and a lot of hype. We have yet to see too many programs in practice live up to their promise,’’ said moderator Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute. “To get it right, we need a much more fundamental and compelling school reform agenda than we’ve got today.”

Today, there is one computer for every three students across all k-12 schools. There is connectivity. There is hardware. Yet, of 55 million students total, it’s estimated that fewer than a million have taken an online course.

Most schools function as they always have — a single teacher overseeing a classroom with, on average, 23 students. That’s in contrast with every other industry in the country in which technology plays a larger and larger role in how work is done.

“Technology is inevitable,” said John Chubb, distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a founder of EdisonLearning. “We can’t put our fingers in the dikes and stop technology from coming.”

The role of skeptic on the panel was assigned to Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30.”

Bauerlein outlined several obstacles that caused initiatives such as statewide laptop programs to stumble, including 50-year-old teachers who didn’t get on board or a lack of schoolwide coordination.

But the toughest challenges come from students who regard technologies as social tools and resist their conversion to learning tools.

“These tools have intense social meaning for them. They are largely mediums of peer pressures, peer absorption, peer fixation and peer topics — coming into their lives 24 hours a day,” he said.

“Try to control that classroom with 25 laptops open and keep students from drifting into social habits,’’ he said.

If technology became as integral to the academic lives of students as it has to their social lives, Chubb said, “this imbalance that clearly exists now would begin to change. There is not the option of keeping technology out. The challenge is how to make technology work for schools. Or schools will become, in the eyes of students, irrelevant.”

Today, teachers face classrooms that have students who are reading at below grade level and students reading at a college level. “Digital learning allows students to learn at their own level … to customize instruction,” Chubb said.

Under rigid rules on teacher pay and class size, Hassel said there aren’t strong incentives now for teachers to embrace technology or become involved in shaping it. “There is no way they can use it to leverage their time. But if they can use technology in time-saving ways and take on more students and earn more, they will become active shoppers and become a driver of quality.”

That research suggests digital learning is not being done very well yet doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved, Chubb said.

“If we wait for definitive evidence that this new model works better than the old model, we will never get there,” Chubb said.

“What we want is to give educators, principals, school districts and charter school heads more flexibility and more incentive to try to figure out how to adopt technology. This is not something policy makers will figure out. Educators will figure it out.”

This article was originally posted at

My Takeaways from the 2012 Digital Learning and Media Conference

On March 2 and 3, I attended the third annual Digital Media and Learning Conference in my home city of San Francisco. Though I missed the first day of the conference, I got so much out of days two and three, connecting with educators and thinkers and other folks who are passionate about how we can use technology in smart ways to improve education and expand elearning beyond the classroom.

I won’t summarize all the panels I went to and the conversations I had, but instead will talk about two panels in particular that I found especially inspiring and that highlighted a concept frequently at play throughout the conference: Learning partnerships do not have to begin in the classroom to affect what happens there, and learning partnerships will be integral to the future of education.

The first of these panels, DML: Case Study in Digital Media and Learning Partnerships: A Youth-Centered Design Framework in San Francisco, featured Jill Bourne, Deputy City Librarian for San Francisco; Elizabeth Babcock, Chief Education and Digital Strategy Officer at California Academy of Sciences; Ingrid Dahl, Director of Next Gen Programs at Bay Area Video Coalition; and Matthew Williams, Educational Technologist at KQED. These four individuals, and the institutions with which they are affiliated, have come together to contribute the room, the resources and the expertise required to train youth to create digital media. Bourne explained that San Francisco’s main library would be allotting some 5,000 square feet to develop a teen-friendly space for young people to learn all manner of media production under the guidance of instructors from Bay Area Video Coalition. Cal Academy is hoping some of what the students will produce will be interesting multi-media productions aimed at helping children and teens get excited about science. And by airing the content the teens create, KQED can help bring these productions to a broader audience.

Here’s what I love about this partnership: First, each group brings something to the collaboration, and they each get something from it as well. And second, the partnership fills a need. Most schools do not have the money to buy and maintain the kinds of equipment necessary to do high-quality video and audio production, and they also lack the staff with the expertise required to teach these skills to students. This collaboration among various parts of the community helps to fill a void in “traditional” education. Jill Bourne, the Deputy Librarian, told me that she has recently formed working relationships with three different public high schools in San Francisco. I’m excited to track the progress of this partnership and see what the teens produce and how the teachers work with the group to incorporate media projects into their curricula.

The second panel discussion that had me feeling all fired up was Short Talk Panel: Playful interventions: libraries, college access, after school and media arts, which focused on creating richer learning experiences through games. “Gamification” (“Is that seriously a word?” a friend asked, when I was telling her about the conference. “Yes it is,” I replied) was a popular theme at DML2012, and I’ll be honest when I say people might be a little too game-crazy right now, for my taste. Learning activities need more than just badges to be innovative. Still, I also subscribe to the Alfred Mercier notion that, “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” And I’ve been know to create games in my own classes when teaching elements of syntax and sentence style, and I’ve found those games to be quite effective in reinforcing the “nuts and bolts” of solid sentence structure. So I was down to hear what the folks on this panel had to say about the role of games in teaching and learning.

Adam Rogers, Emerging Technology Services Librarian at North Carolina State University, gave a lively and interesting presentation about how he and his colleagues redesigned freshman library orientation at NC State by using iPods with the Evernote app installed. Freshman Composition instructors singed up their classes for orientation, and the students in the classes were broken up into teams of four or five students each, with one iPod per team. The students were also given maps of the library and a list of scavenger hunt questions to answer and activities to complete. They logged their answers using Evernote, which allowed them to do things like capture pictures of themselves with a librarian and make note of information contained in certain volumes in the library. It was a fun, engaging way to introduce the students to the library, its staff, and even each other, as they worked together to complete the scavenger hunt. I told Adam that I thought his game had potential to be reworked throughout the year to help students become really good at research. Teachers in various disciplines could work with the librarians to craft a similar game that results in the students collecting preliminary research on a specific topic, further helping them internalize where various kinds of information are to be found in the library, and where to turn if they need help finding better information than what their own search yields.

What both of these panels highlighted for me is the idea brought up at one of the plenary sessions–that education is moving from a one-to-many model to a many-to-many model. That is to say, it really does take a village to raise our youth and educate them and give them the skills they’ll need to survive and succeed in this rapidly changing world. Districts can and should capitalize on the potential of this “many-to-many” model by evolving traditional professional development days into learning partnership days. Teachers often have very little time or space for networking with others–inside and outside of their schools–and yet building relationships with other educators and with those who could contribute to education beyond the school walls helps to make the educational experience for both faculty and students so much richer. I left DML2012 full of hope for the future of teaching and learning and fully ready to be part of that future. My hope is that schools will embrace this future by thinking outside the classroom to find innovative ways to help the village contribute resources and expertise to the educating of our youth.

This article was originally posted at

New Report Urges Online Learning Expansion in Texas

Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Public Policy Foundation would like to see Texas follow Florida’s lead in increasing access to virtual schools.

A report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation suggests that virtual education and blended elearning both present the opportunity for cost savings and academic gain in Texas.

“At the K-12 level, the potential of virtual education is enormous,” said the report’s author, James Golsan. “Through the use of technology, students in rural districts would have access to the same educational resources as students in more populated areas. Familiarization with technology could prepare students for the work force more quickly.”

While there is some concern about the ability of existing traditional institutions to convert to blended learning facilities, it’s a popular model for new start ups. Virtual education is already a success story in Florida and the TPPF wants Texas to follow Florida’s lead.

“Florida has one of the longest standing and most successful virtual education programs in the country,” Golsan said. “As Texas seeks to improve its own digital learning environment, an examination of the Florida model provides the state with an example by which to fashion, at the very least, its public virtual education after.

Several benefits to a virtual education model are highlighted in the report, such as increased course availability and access to quality instructors. Although virtual education institutions have come under fire in the past for high dropout rates, the report believes that dropout recovery could be best served in the virtual arena.

Another highlighted benefit to Texas expanding its digital education offerings is the potential for huge cost savings. Not only does the report claim that educating students online is cheaper than traditional in-person methods, but that cost efficiencies of scale accrue more under a digital learning platform.

“Currently, Texas funds its students at a rate of around $11,000 per pupil,” Golsan said. “Research suggests that full-time virtual students can be educated for between $1,500 and $3,000 less per student than those in traditional brick-and-mortar settings.”

The perceived benefits of online education have recently come under scrutiny from Great Lakes Centre for Education Research and Practice, but the TPPF remains enthusiastic.

The report also recommends the easing of the course approval process for digital coursework, the promotion of private provider participation in digital learning, the creation of a scholarship program for digital learners, and the opening of the Texas Virtual School Network to private and home-schooled students.

This article was originally posted at

Digital Learning Bill Passes State Senate

The Digital Learning Act passed the Senate with a bi-partisan vote of 36-15. The bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) is expected to make Georgia a national leader in online elearning.

“This bill would significantly broaden learning opportunities for Georgia students. Based on current virtual classes already being offered we have the opportunity to increase student achievement at significantly lower costs,” said Sen. Rogers.  “Right now, there are 16,000 students participating in this program, and that number is quickly growing. These programs are vital to ensuring that our students are able to meet the ever-changing demands of the 21st century marketplace.”

SB 289 focuses on the importance of virtual and digital learning in today’s modern learning environment. Under this bill, students entering the ninth grade during the 2013–2014 school year will complete at least one online learning course prior to graduation.  Options to meet this requirement include the following:

• Online courses offered by the Georgia Virtual School;

• Online duel enrollment courses offered by a postsecondary institution; or

• Online courses offered by a provider approved by the Georgia Department of Education

The bill also requires all end-of-year core subject assessments to be administered online by the 2014-2015 school year, a move expected to dramatically reduce the opportunity for cheating.

In addition, the passage of SB 289 would allow local school systems to enter into contracts with virtual learning providers approved by the Georgia Department of Education.

The bill has received support from the Department of Education, specifically from Bob Swiggum, the Chief Information Officer for the Georgia Department of Education and Thomas Wilson, Director of Governmental Affairs at the Department of Education.

“SB289 provides more opportunities for Georgia’s students to participate in online courses, a common instructional method of post-secondary institutions,” said Bob Swiggum, Chief Information Officer for the Georgia Department of Education. “Our students will be better prepared for success, instructional costs will be reduced, and a wider variety of courses will be offered.”

Sen. Rogers, along with several of his Senate colleagues, are working to find solutions to address the educational needs of 21st Century students. This bill is a key component to the Republican Caucus’ ongoing commitment to education reform.

For Immediate Release:
February 24, 2012

Natalie Dale, Director

Of Profits and Power: Education Establishment Attacks Digital Learning

The education establishment is pulling out all the stops to stifle the movement to expand the use of technology to modernize the way students learn.

Digital education is a growing form of school choice. Virtual charter schools are a natural way to provide access to top-notch instruction for students, regardless of their geographical location. But the protectors of the status quo are doing everything they can do stop it.

Finally, their true colors are showing.

Debbie Squires, a representative of a school principal’s association, recently told the Michigan House Education Committee that while parents do indeed care for their children, they’re not knowledgeable enough about what is best for their children.

This is a standard line of thinking – those with the background and “expertise” know what’s best for children, not their parents.  See recent articles on the “school food police” for further evidence.

The other line of attack is that “profits” are evil and that no one should be making money in education, even if for-profit  companies provide quality instruction for children.

Michigan Parents for Schools (but apparently not virtual charter schools) recently urged its members to contact lawmakers and demand that they reject the virtual charter bill, which would remove the cap on the number of schools allowed in the state.  The subject line of the email read, “Let’s make sure online schools help kids, not pad profits.”

This is an interesting criticism because ultimately, lots of people make money off education.  Textbook companies make money.  Contractors make money.  Teachers make money.  Administrators make money.

But who’s accountable when taxpayers are ripped off by government schools that aren’t delivering results?

Say, for example, Muskegon Heights school district in my own quaint community in western Michigan.

Recent data shows that 6.8% of 11th graders are proficient in reading and writing while only 2.2% of students are proficient in math. Meanwhile,  the school district is nearly broke and may not be able to meet its payroll for the rest of the academic year.

Someone is grossly mismanaging district funds (perhaps making a profit?) while the children go without a decent education.  Where is the outrage from the establishment about that?

Perhaps the Michigan Parents for Schools group should call a few Muskegon Heights parents, to see what they think.

My bet is that most, if not all, of those parents would welcome a digital education option, a charter school option, a school voucher option – anything to get their kids out of that miserable “not-for-profit” government school district.

And they probably wouldn’t care if some company was making money while teaching their children, as long as their children learned.

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