Reprinted from the September 18 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Bob Swiggum
Digital education is the use of technology to deliver instruction. Technology allows teachers to shift away from requiring all students to learn at the same pace and with the same style. Every one of us has been in a classroom, frustrated by the fact that some of our classmates seem to understand a topic with ease as we struggle with the concept. Many of us also have had the experience of easily understanding a concept while some classmates lagged behind.
For me, it was math. The abstract nature of ninth-grade algebra was mystifying to me, but along came 10th grade geometry. I outplaced my classmates.
Teachers simply don’t have the time or resources to customize education for every student. That’s why Georgia has invested in creating a statewide Longitudinal Data System and an array of virtual classes to help teachers serve our students.
(Learn more in this video on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation YouTube channel.)
It was built by the Georgia Department of Education and implemented in 2011. This system provides teachers with the ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of students so they can determine each child’s learning style with the click of a mouse.
No more waiting for students’ paper files to be delivered from another district, or having to spend hours learning each child’s academic history. Now teachers have their students’ academic histories at their fingertips and can access a set of digital resources aligned to the state’s academic standards. Those resources can be assigned to students to allow them to progress at their own pace.
More than 70,000 teachers have been trained to sue the system. We are working to reach every teacher in the state. Few states have developed and implemented these types of tools at the state level. The Longitudinal Data System gives classroom teachers the tools to deliver personalized learning for each of their students. Teachers can now use the hours previously spent in a school’s transcript vault to develop innovative lesson plans and brush up on teaching techniques.
Georgia has three full-time virtual schools and several part-time virtual schools that students and parents can use to supplement classroom work. One of the part-time schools is the Georgia Virtual School operated by the state education department. It has more than 130 courses for middle and high school students.
Since all the courses were developed by the department, we also make these resources available to our classroom teachers via the Longitudinal Data System portal. Teachers can access digital content instantly to help supplement classroom instruction. The Georgia Virtual School is the fifth-largest state virtual school in the nation, with more than 17,000 students taking courses last year. Find out more at gavirtualschool.org.
(Bob Swiggum oversees technology improvements as Chief Information Officer at the Georgia Department of Education. Click here to watch him in this YouTube video from “Georgia’s Digital Economy,” a half-day conference sponsored by Google and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation on September 16, 2013 at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center.)
The Foundation’s Criminal Justice Initiative pushed the problems to the forefront, proposed practical solutions, brought in leaders from other states to share examples, and created this nonpartisan opportunity. (At the signing of the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform bill.)