The Remote Education Act, passed in 2009, is under revision to allow school districts to count student attendance in online programs for days that are not in the districts’ approved calendars, such as weekends, holidays and other non-attendance days. [This revision is known as HB3223.] Illinois residents, please send communications of support to your Senator and Representative.
Below are my written comments supplied to the Illinois House of Representatives’ Elementary and Secondary Committee that met in Springfield, Illinois today (March 16, 2011). The comments were accompanied by a very short presentation to the committee.
The written comments:
My name is Jeffrey Hunt. I am the director of e-learning at Indian Prairie School District 204 in Aurora, Illinois. I am an educational technology practitioner with practical experience implementing learning technologies in traditional classrooms as well in electronic settings, such as online learning.
I am here today to speak in support of House Bill 3223 to amend the existing Remote Education Act.
For Indian Prairie, remote education is the district’s online learning program.
The number of online learning opportunities is increasing for the nation’s students. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning reports that in 2009 approximately 1.5 million students were enrolled in online courses nationwide and that 70% of the nation’s school districts offered at least one online course
In higher education, the Sloan Consortium reports that during the fall semester 2009, nearly 30% of all students enrolled there participated in online courses.
Learning in non-traditional formats is an emerging trend in education. From the phone calls I receive, Illinois’ schools are beginning to notice the promise of online learning.
In today’s implementations online learning has different meanings, such as hybrid courses where students attend traditional classes for part of the courses and they complete work online for the other fraction of the courses.
In fully online courses, students may never see the inside of a traditional classroom, except for an orientation to the course and to complete the final exam. Yet, students and teachers interact electronically through electronic mail, video conferencing software, and telephone calls, when necessary. Learning online does not mean that a student learns alone. Quality teachers are essential in learning regardless of the learning format.
At Indian Prairie, we offer fully online courses. Consumer Economics and Health are the most popular courses taken online. We also offer, astronomy, English courses, and US history online. Our students are successful in our courses, with over 90% of them finishing their courses with an “A,” “B,” or “C” grade. Our students follow the same curriculum plans and take the same examinations as students enrolled in traditional courses. We share the concerns that many have about the quality of online courses, and we focus our attention on those issues.
In our end-of-course surveys, our students tell us that they like the reality that they can work at their own pace and that they like the flexibility of time that the courses offer. While they have time in their daily school schedules to work on their courses, about 45% of them work on their courses after school during the traditional homework hours from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Our surveys tell us that about 40% of them would prefer to work on their online courses on the weekend. One student wrote, “I’d like to work on my more difficult courses during the week and then focus on my health course on the weekend.”
We are not suggesting in this bill that students be forced to work on weekends or holiday breaks. Rather schools should be allowed to track students’ participation in their online courses outside the approved school calendars for General State Aid purposes. Many students are telling us that they want to learn outside the traditional time and place of school. Online courses provide them the avenues of flexibility, pacing, and place of learning. A revision to the Remote Education Act will make this a reality.