Digital Learning Questions

Themes and questions are emerging after a dozen conversations with almost 100 thought leaders, school administrators, policy makers, online learning providers.
Most Digital Learning Council members want to see all students have broad access to quality digital learning—choice to the course level with money following the student to the best option.  Big questions remain:

  • What about states with big funding inequity?  Will local funding follow students to courses provided by folks out of district or out of state?
  • If kids take units of instruction from multiple providers, who provides the computer and broadband?
  • Should the state provide access devices (like Maine) or encourage kids to bring their own devices and provide a scholarship system?  Could the feds provide matching funds to states (with repurposed eRate)?

If students progress based on demonstrated mastery, it raises some interesting questions

  • How to provide online on-demand end of module/course exams?  Will states still need to give end of year exams for school accountability?
  • If kids move at their own pace, what about social learning, peer tutoring, working in teams, and socialization?
  • If state consortia implement online assessment, won’t all kids need access by 2014 anyway?

It sounds like digital content will quickly move past digital textbooks to libraries of adaptive content including games, sims, virtual environments, and customized instruction.  None of that lends itself to the traditional textbook adoption process. So

  • Should states play a role in aggregating open and licensed digital content?
  • How to ensure quality digital content without blocking innovation?
  • What about internet safety of 24/7 access?

If students have access to lots of providers and some teachers are local and some are remote (like several states remote),

  • How should certification work?  Does it still make sense?
  • What about preparation? Should all teachers be trained to teach online?

The DLC wants to make recommendation not just for a few kids taking online courses but for all kids in a digital future.  So members are asking themselves:

  • To speed the transition to a blended future, should states require an online course every year of high school?
  • What kind of help will schools and teachers need help migrating to a blended future?

The DLC is a project of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and is co-chaired by governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise.  The policy platform will be released November 30.  The DLC welcomes your questions and comments.  You can also find us on facebook.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Ed Jones

I'll put up here Ohio's Credit Flexibility law. It makes a whole lot of sense in the transitional world.
Credit flexibility empowers the student and the local teacher. It also, for my money, empowers content developers--so long as they engage the student and the local teacher.
What the law says is, if a student thinks an activity worth credit, and gets a highly qualified teacher, counselor, or administrator to agree, they get the credit. The law is not more specific about what an activity may be.
Our job, then, falls to giving teachers the power, the marketplace if you will, to make wise decisions about how to seek and award such credit. To allow teachers to work together to evaluate activities, be they online coursework or summer sailing camp or robot competition. If we empower them to work together, we'll also raise the quality bar. It won't be just one teacher working alone, but a group evaluating and passing judgment on quality.
This totally shifts the power center. Questions about certification, teacher preparation and state aggregation of content fall away.
If Ed wants to conduct a class online, it's not the state which will certify it, but local teachers. It's not the textbook consortium which drives the content, but local teachers. And, its not the teacher delivering the content which judges the level, but consuming students and their local teachers.

Rep. Ross Hunter

This is a super-interesting set of questions, questions that need to be addressed. We're struggling with the same problems here in Washington (the other one.)
I'm not willing to give up some level of quality control over where taxpayer money gets spent on courses. It's nice to empower the student, but it's also reasonable to make sure that we're spending money on classes that elp kids make progress towards their diploma, and towards being effective. Not all on-line courses are of equal quality, just like not all teachers are of equal quality. Let's not re-create the same system.
Rep. Ross Hunter
Finance Chair, WA State House of Reps


Tom Vander Ark

Applying traditional content review (ie Textbook adoption) to digital content probably erects a barrier that reduces investment in innovative content like games, sims, virtual environments. Rather than rigorous & time consuming course/content review process, it would be better to do a full program review for providers as part of contracting/charting process (ie content, staffing, outcomes, completion rates, etc).

Dr. Thach Jacobs

Should all teachers be trained to teach online?
I believe teaching is a gift, and it is something that you put your heart, soul, and mind into every day... Certainly, some teachers may be great on-line teachers while others may struggle with this method of teaching. If we provide the knowledge and teachers come to the table with a willingness to learn, then we will see growth in on-line instruction and education utilizing technology in the "virtual" classroom of learning.

Carl Dorvil

"How should certification work? Does it still make sense?"
Certification still makes sense, but online learning allows for the possibility for AP students to take AP and college level dual credit courses taught by college professors. I remember my college economics teacher offering to teach her high school daughter's economics class, but being turned down because she was not certified to teach high school.
“What about preparation? Should all teachers be trained to teach online?”
Requiring all teachers to be trained to teach online maybe not be necessary but all teacher should have access to online training. A large number of the professional development courses for teachers are not good and even the good one's often take teacher away from the students for far too long. Digital learning has the ability to bring quality training on demand and support to teachers at a low cost.
“To speed the transition to a blended future, should states require an online course every year of high school?”
If the goal is to speed integrate, I would suggest that every high school require a portion of their class be held online. For example, a math concept could be taught through digital learning. This may be easier than an entire course to get off the ground.
“What kind of help will schools and teachers need help migrating to a blended future?”
Access to quality material is a huge bottle neck in my mind. If a committee could be created to help recommend quality digital learning sources, schools and teachers would be able to transition to the blend future much easier.

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