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Online Digital World Will Re-Imagine and Liberate Learning

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

What we know or can know about each other never ceases to amaze me and it constantly evolves.  Netflix knows the movies we like.  Amazon knows what we want to purchase.  Websites target us with messages based on how we use websites.  Even toddlers use the web for videos and games as they acquire skill sets that will be essential for learning and success.

The all-knowing online world will re-imagine and liberate learning.  “Education used to be someplace you went to.  You used to go to school to learn,” says John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now!  “Now all of a sudden learning can come to wherever the student is located.”

You’re probably not going to hear extensive legislative conversation about personalized digital learning during the 2013 General Assembly.  One reason is two bills passed last year that will significantly alter the state’s blended and online learning footprint.  The other reason is a digital learning deep water study is underway by a task force appointed by Governor Nathan Deal.

Senate Bill 289 established several goals.  First, it said all public school students in grades three through 12 should have online learning options starting as early as the 2013 – 2014 school year.  Second, all 2014 fall high school freshmen should enroll in at least one online learning course before graduation.  Finally, the Senate bill struck down rules that enabled local districts to deny permission when students wanted to enroll in Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) courses.

House Bill 175 instructed state education officials to develop a clearinghouse of courses from public school districts and private sources.  This could include GAVS state-developed courses, curriculum that Georgia local school districts develop, and also courses from private education companies, such as the Georgia Cyber Academy courses.  The intent is to create an extensive library that would be available statewide to everyone through the DOE at no cost to students.

“Part of what we do is work with state lawmakers, with district leaders, with thought leaders, often being asked, where are the states we should be looking at?” said Bailey when he was in Georgia to address the Governor’s digital learning task force.   “Often we are talking about the work you are doing here in Georgia.”  Bailey is a former White House domestic policy advisor under President George W. Bush.  He also worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Digital Task ForceThis week the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement unveiled its new Digital Learning Task Force website.  The site contains an exhaustive definition of digital learning, names of  task force members, the task force public meeting schedule, a long list of digital learning resources and highlights from school districts that are considered out front of the curve.  You can also find a new state Department of Education digital learning status report required by Senate Bill 289.

Thirteen task force members have been asked to make recommendations on access options, course considerations – who creates courses, who approves them, who pays for them? – and some significant infrastructure questions – which schools have the necessary technology and which do not, who pays for that technology, what is the private sector role in technology?

The task force is coordinated by Sam Rauschenberg, deputy director at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.  He told the Foundation, “Since improving digital learning in Georgia will take a team effort the report may also include recommendations for schools and districts on how to move the ball forward in digital and blended learning.”

Bob Swiggum, Georgia Department of Education

Bob Swiggum, Georgia Department of Education

Access, courses and infrastructure are three big essential pieces.  Dig deeper and there is more at hand.  What is the role of the traditional textbook in future learning; has the back-breaking book bag finally had its day?  Who will teach the teachers how to teach this new model; how quickly can they be prepared?  How do we prepare parents for learning that they never experienced?  What is the future for competency-based learning that allows students to advance when ready?  How do you create incentives that will make local schools want to participate in online learning models? And a very central question that will also be considered, what are the funding model options?

The development of an online courses clearinghouse is proceeding rapidly.  About a dozen contributors including the Gwinnett and Forsyth school districts along with many private learning companies have submitted courses for review.  State education officials are evaluating courses using national standards established by Achieve and iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.  Hundreds of courses could be posted online as early as next month.

“Once we have it ready we will show it to legislators and ask them, are there any showstoppers here?” said Bob Swiggum, chief information officer at the Department of Education.  “If the answer is no we will probably open it up right on the DOE website as another tool.”  Marketing will be word-of-mouth and via the DOE web; there is no paid marketing budget available.

During his presentation to task force members last month Bailey emphasized that students live in an era of customization whether they are interacting with video, music or nearly any other aspect of their lives. “The only place that is different is education where we ask kids growing up in a personalized world to fit into a cookie cutter model,” Bailey said.  “That is a very frustrating disconnect.  That is what’s leading to dropout rates; it’s leading to kids being unengaged.”

The next task force meeting is scheduled for 1:00 pm on Tuesday, February 5 in the fifth floor conference room at the Georgia Tech Research Institute adjacent to Georgia Public Broadcasting in midtown Atlanta.  Discussion will focus on learning content.  The task force will submit final recommendations to Governor Nathan Deal Office and to legislators before the 2014 General Assembly.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gwinnett’s New Online Campus High School Prepares for August Launch

Mike Klein

Increasingly, learning happens anytime and anywhere. Georgia’s largest school system will launch an entirely online high school in August.   And the General Assembly might vote next week to create a new statewide clearinghouse for online content supplied by school districts.

Gwinnett County has 42,000 high school students. This fall Gwinnett will launch an Online Campus high school for 125 students with expansion already planned into middle and lower grades. This new school expands an ambitious online program that began eleven years ago.

“Our interest level for online courses has grown over 100% every year,” said Gwinnett associate superintendent Steven Flynt. “If we look at how the online program has grown, we’ve served over 30,000 students. This past year we had over 5,000 students enrolled in at least one class.”

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) predicts 50% of all high school content will be taught online within eight years. “Fast Facts About Online Learning” says online courses are available in 48 states and 27 have statewide full-time online schools.

“Virtual schools are where we are going. I think we all know that,” Georgia state Senator John Albers said during a recent state capitol education committee meeting. “It’s not leading edge anymore. It’s today’s technology. We’ve got to find a way to get kids through school. If they need to work part of the day, they can go to school online at whatever time of day it makes sense.”

Most Georgia public education students … there are 1.65 million … will always remain in traditional classrooms where some will have access to completely online or blended instruction. But faced with high quality competition from online education companies, Georgia districts are starting to put more aggressive emphasis on cyber learning strategies.

Forsyth County opened iAchieve Virtual Academy this year with about 130 online students in grades 6-to-12. Students need high speed internet access and their own computer. Courses are approved by the district and the state. Academy graduates will earn a Forsyth diploma.

Gwinnett is widely respected for innovation. This year the district received the $1 million Broad Prize for urban education excellence from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Christopher Ray is a 17-year veteran of Gwinnett schools, and for the past seven years Ray has been an elementary school principal. Ray was selected as Online Campus high school principal in January. Student applications for the new online high school were due the end of last week.

Ray said now “the real fun begins, looking at the students who will be with us next year, looking at the courses we need to offer. Are there courses that we need to develop before August? There are no problems. There are great opportunities. It’s like a big chess game. If you make one move, what are the implications and the repercussions?”

With 160,000 total students, Gwinnett is the state’s largest system. The number of entirely online students is expected to increase annually. Middle school courses are planned in fall 2012 followed by third, fourth and fifth grade upper elementary online curriculum one year later.

Associate superintendent Flynt described starting the online high school as “getting down into the weeds. You need to look at the concept and the big picture items but you can’t miss the details.” Serious planning began two years ago. Public announcement was held until January, Flynt said, because, “We wanted to make sure we had everything in order.”

Gwinnett will combine state-approved curriculum with courses from Desire2Learn, the Canadian company that is a major online player. Online students will take all state tests that are required for traditional high school students. They will earn a Gwinnett County diploma, no different from the diploma earned by brick-and-mortar students.

Ray said Gwinnett will combine existing school district instructors with adjunct faculty, and most will have previous experience teaching in Gwinnett schools. Instructors will be provided with cell phones so they can maintain pupil contact. Students must provide a computer, but Ray said students who cannot afford one will be assessed for help on an individual need basis.

Gwinnett’s expansion might include an opportunity for its online courses to be used statewide. Lilburn Rep. David Casas introduced legislation to create the Online Clearinghouse Act.

“This opens the door for school choice at a micro-level,” Casas said. “This is so new. The only state that’s doing it is Ohio and they just started so this is front-line stuff, really cutting edge.” Under House Bill 175 any school system could offer its courses to the Online Clearinghouse.

The Clearinghouse would operate inside the Department of Education which manages the Georgia Virtual School. GAVS offers curriculum but not diplomas. About 9,000 students per year use GAVS for advanced placement and other courses not offered in their own schools.  Another 20,000 use GAVS for credit recovery, bringing its total impact to about 30,000 students per year.

The biggest difference between GAVS and the proposed Clearinghouse is where the courses originate: GAVS develops much of its curriculum; the Clearinghouse would use local school district content. HB 175 passed the House and a Senate vote is expected before the session ends next week.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment