Change is Palpable, Choice is Essential at #iNACOL13. Susan Patrick, President of iNACOL, kicked off this year’s newly named Blended and Online Learning Symposium by acknowledging the history of the organization as they celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Just 10 short years ago, iNACOL was 17 people sitting around a table, determined to further the potential technology holds to change learning for all students.

Numbers Are Up. This week, with over 2,500 attendees- all educators and education stakeholders passionate about the potential digital learning, iNACOL looks very different. When looking for blended school models, the numbers have grown from a handful to hundreds all over the country. Ten years ago it felt difficult to find examples of progress and innovation, now the room can be filled with representatives from multiple successful schools, all achieving great things for students in unique ways.

Key Ideas. The work is just beginning. Yesterday’s opening session featured Rich Crandall, Director, Wyoming Department of Education, Jim Shelton, Acting Deputy Secretary, US Department of Education and Georgia Rep. Alisha Morgan, all voiced their tremendous concern for shrinking the technology gap that too obviously exists in our country today. A call to action through iNACOL for more research on what works for kids, what works best on terms of practice, how practice ties to policy and funding. Crandall spoke of the challenges he faces in his state but was happy for a list of goals.

A lively lunch session moderated by Russ Altenburg of The Broad Foundation featured two education leaders, Alex Hernandez of Charter School Growth Fund and William Covington of Detroit EAA summed up what blended learning advocates need to be paying attention to right now as we continue to push forward. Dr Covington encouraged focus to held steady on the policy work being done and needs to be written and passed in order to open up the doors for progress. Hernandez recognized that it is terrifying to admit that we could have radically different schools but, although it may be terrifying, it is the great opportunity for this generation. Alex gave voice to these words but it’s truly what brings everyone together here in Florida- This is hard, hard work. But we will succeed.

The Word of the Day is Change. It’s pretty powerful when you gather together 2,500 people who are working for change. This is not the typical education conference/ professional development event to build skills that fortify traditional teaching practice. This is not the conference to learn how to use some new Google Apps to use in the classroom. This conference is for those who are seeking to make school better for all students, but not worried about staying with in the status quo.

“School is what school was… but we know it’s going to change,” according to Chris Haskell, Clinical Asst. Professor at Boise State in his session Inside the Game Based Classroom. In the classroom Chris has worked on developing looks very different than what is normally associated with school. No homework, no due dates, gives students choice, give them time to play and change the way learning is tracked, but, in reality, you can not change just a few of these with aspects and have success. Games or digital quests is an effective way teachers can completely restructure how school works for students.

Improving Conditions. Student life is not the only thing transforming within this shift to digital learning. The career of the teacher is also evolving. During the keynote Susan Patrick stated that “the role of a teacher is changing, we now see teachers as coach, designer, conductor and engineer.” In order to support teachers in these new roles, the preparation and professional development is looking different. In the session Improving Teaching Condition and Careers (based on the White Paper) networks like Rocketship and Summit, and Public Impact shared a little of the  “secret sauce” for empowering teachers and extend their reach to more students. The schools that are attracting the greatest talent are creating pathways for teachers to succeed and advance while supporting each other. The consistent resource everyone mentioned was OpportunityCulture.org.

Funding the Shift. When it comes to funding- there is not one answer. Blended learning is a team sport, it’s not just putting computers into classroom. Building support is essential. It can’t happen overnight and needs to be phased in over a few years according to the panelists in yesterday’s session. The trend that is bubbling to the top here at iNACOL is to hold off on choosing the device- that should be close to the last step. Initial focus needs to be on the school/student goals, not the devices. E-rate is being reformed to be simpler and easier for districts to apply. The FCC needs to hear blended learning stories- even the frustrations points. There is an opportunity for E-rate to fund what schools need in order to provide access for students, but they can’t do that unless they realize the need is out there.

With Change, Comes Choice. Blended learning is clearly the theme of this year’s #iNACOL13. In order to be truly blended, there must be student choice involved, whether that’s how you learn, what you learn or when and where you learn it, students have to have some say.  As the week continues, the Getting Smart team is excited to dig even deeper into all these points.

Bringing quality and effective online and blended learning to ALL students is not an easy task. It’s hard, hard work. But everyone here at iNACOL are combining their great energy and are brave enough to take on this work.  Susan Patrick set the tone with a quote for MLK, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” and after 10 great years, it’s obvious iNACOL is on that trajectory.

 

Tom is a director of iNACOL.

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