A Need for Consistent Online Education Policy

While the U.S. Department of Education has outlined recommendations for states, districts and schools in their National Education Technology Plan (2004), Kerry Lynn Rice (2006) states that only a few states have policies in place for K-12 development, and “further, (Watson, et al, 2004) found that in most cases, online learning is little understood by policymakers.”  Policy created for physical schools may need to be adjusted for online programs in order to better serve students.  There is a need not only for research necessary to form consistent policy for distance learning but best practices associated with them. This current lack of available research is a problem for policy making that is compounded by numerous complex variables that make conclusions regarding distance education difficult to make.

In his Phi Delta Kappan article, author Wayne Journell (2012) cautions school districts to consider more than cost savings when considering development of online courses, stating, “Online learning may be cheaper than traditional schooling, but it isn’t necessarily equivalent ot face-to-face instruction, nor is it an appropriate substitute in every case” for teens. Schools should not assume that a successful classroom or technology teacher will be able to transfer skills to teach effectively online. “Online structure requires a different skill set and dispositions” (Garrison & Anderson, 2003; Journell, 2008; Quinlan, 2011).

Amy Murin, interviewed by Sheila Regan (2012) of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, is a researcher for Evergreen Ed Group and reviews online policy and practice on a yearly basis.

According to Murin, Minnesota is thoughtful in its approach to offering programs online, districts are collaborating and a legislative task force is “promoting a statewide discussion.”  A 2011 state audit, however, showed that students taking online courses were less likely to finish the classes they started, full time online students were more likely to drop out and math scores on the MCA II were lower than for students in traditional school settings.

Several strategies are offered for the improvement of online classes.  Teachers must get used to using technology in different formats.  Instant messaging and virtual meetings to connect with students who use emoticons to help express their understanding help bridge the lack of face to face interaction. Building a constructivist community of trust, facilitating discussion and giving timely, caring student feedback are essential elements for student success in online learning.

A Time (2012) article suggests that teachers need to be trained to adjust to communicating without the advantage of communicating in real time.  Some schools of education and online schools have begun to teach how to instruct online.  Online teachers know that students need to be motivated to self-reflect and become independent.  Teachers also need to connect with other online teachers in order to learn from one another.

This is another article that emphasizes the crucial importance of appropriate training for the teacher and communication between teacher and student.  The courses must be planned in great detail to clarify expectations for learning.  Again, student motivation is a clear factor in whether students will be successful online. They will not succeed if they do not even “come to class,” which indicates that online classes are not a viable option for some students.  More research is needed to find out what constitutes a good candidate for online learning.

Due to scarcity of research in the K-12 distance learning realm, it is tempting to generalize research of adult learners.  It is vitally important that researchers begin the gargantuan task of collecting and analyzing data from K-12 sources not only in order to set consistent policy for improving outcomes but to screen prospective students to determine whether they are good candidates for online learning.  We are obligated to use technology advances to benefit every student in both the cognitive and social formation of knowledge to prepare them to evolve with the changes of an unknown future world.

References

Journell, W.(2012). Walk,, don’t run. Phi Delta Kappan 93(7), 46-50.  Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.bsuproxy.mnpals.net/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=10&hid=7&sid=55c881a9-48e7-4250-8941-2f884136090d%40sessionmgr10

Pandolfo, N. (2012, June 13). The teacher you never met: inside an online high school class. Time. Retrieved July 5, 2012 from http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,2117085,00.html1#

Regan, S. (2012, April 16). Kids online: best practices for teaching and learning. Twin Cities Daily Planet.  Retrieved July 5, 2012 from http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2012/04/16/kids-online-best-practices-teaching-and-learning?print=1

Rice, K.L. (2006). A comprehensive look at distance education in the k-12 context. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(4), 425-448.  Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Publications/JRTE/Issues/Volume_38/Number_4_Summer_2006_A_Comprehensive_Look_at_Distance_Education_in_the_K-12_Context.htm

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