By 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 digital 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 – 2015 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.
This 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.”
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 at the Georgia Tech Research Institute in midtown Atlanta adjacent to Georgia Public Broadcasting. 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.
As an employer, and a parent and a graduate of Georgia public schools, I am pleased that the Foundation has undertaken this project. (The report card) provides an excellent tool for parents and educators to objectively evaluate our public high schools. It will further serve a useful purpose as a benchmark for the future to measure our schools’ progress.