Sorry to play on the text acronym, but it seemed too appropriate. I am sure there are students who are saying “LMAO” at the fact that states, schools ,etc. are arguing over educational reform and specifically the value of online and blended learning options. Giving students “options” seems like a political nightmare today. Recent articles in Maine’s Portland Press Herald butcher for-profit companies as well as leading political advocates for digital education. The concern . .”divert[ing] precious public education dollars into profits and dividends while providing education of dubious quality.”
The quality of online learning is still debatable as true success indicators have yet to be defined systemically, but national groups like iNACOL are working diligently to define these outcomes-based indicators which should begin to help reshape some of the banter about sacrificing quality for profits. Regardless of whether or not the for-profits are making a difference or just making a profit, why don’t we look at some of the existing challenges facing traditional learning :
- Retention rates still have not increased.
- Proficiency in some subject areas has declined.
- The graduation rate in numerous states is still below 70%.
Couple these with reduced budgets and increasing costs to deliver education that meets the needs of all learners (traditional sense of delivery) and one could surmise that the dubious quality exists in all delivery models. Let me be clear, this is not an attack on teachers (because that is our first approach systemically). I am simply stating that if we are going to bash online and blended learning as an innovation based upon poor quality, let’s look at ALL educational delivery in terms of outcomes and success factors. Sorry, I digress a bit.
My questions still remain . . .what do the students want? What are they saying about our educational system?
I have yet to hear much of the “student voice” in the debates taking place in the media about educational options – whether it is online learning courses, full time virtual options, new charter schools or a mix-match of these. Parents are demanding change and liking educational reform to trying to turn a battleship around in a ditch – it ain’t gonna happen overnight! Many parents and students aren’t waiting around for politics to “work out” or for someone to research and study what is best for students – they are seeking options. Options that provide personalized learning environments, customized learning paths, flexibility in schedules, flexibility in “seat time”, safe learning environments, etc. are all on the minds of students and parents. In an article from MLive in Michigan, students stated that the top 5 things they want in school are:
- Real world application and relevancy
- Teacher mentors
- Interactive technology
I applaud Louisiana’s bold move to a “course choice” model for students. While it is garnering attack from teacher unions and naysayers, the Governor and State Superintendent have listened to the student voice(s) and are providing some choices (options) in their academic careers. Other states are following suit to provide options for students. Before we attack every innovation that occurs just because we are afraid of change or we have vowed to protect the “system”, let’s consider the student’s needs and thoughts on what they want. I have witnessed situations where a student made a C in an online class and it was seen as a negative as far as performance – in truth, the student needed the course to graduate and the school couldn’t offer it to meet the need of the student’s schedule – so was it effective? If the option was not to graduate on time or to graduate with a C – – I would say chalk one up for options!
Let’s start looking at data such as Project Tomorrow’s reports from Speak Up surveys and determine what options we can provide based upon student needs and wants!
In closing, I am currently working on an Ed.D. and the program has allowed me to pick and choose courses and delivery methods, so personally I am LMAO!!