Over 2,000 conferees assembled in New Orleans, Louisiana for iNACOL’s edition of its Virtual Schools Symposium held October 21-24, 2012. Across the program, presentations looked at research in the field, instructional models, administrative successes, and policy proposals.
This year’s conference focused on the trends in the field that includes blended (hybrid) learning. In their session iNACOL’s Rob Darrow and Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn clarified that in blended learning models, teachers have the ability to look at student achievement data daily, a feature not available in traditional classrooms. Blended learning is a mix between traditional instruction and student control and self-pacing.
In the opening general session, iNACOL CEO Susan Patrick and Gates Foundation Stacey Childress discussed the trends in non-traditional learning:
- Student-centered personalized learning. In this view, students have the ability to learn at their own rates and choose their own learning paths.
- Students will receive credit when they learn a major concept, not at the end of the course or semester.
- Smart learning systems will be developed that learn as students use them.
During his presentation, John White (twitter: @Louisianasupe), Louisiana Superintendent of Education described the tension between traditionalists and reformers. He asked that both sides come togther and develop a system that meets today’s needs. The workplace and the family have changed so schools should follow. He cautioned technologists that schools are not ready to implement technology. Infrastructure is not ready in many parts of his state and across the country. White thinks that control needs to be local, that other forms of schools can be successful (vouchers and charters), and certification stops innovation.
In research provided by the Marzano Research Laboratory and Plato Learning students in online courses have greater success the more time that teachers are in the courses interacting with students and their work. For teachers who are logged in for over 530 hours, students’ end of semester score averaged 81% compared to 62% for teachers who logged in less than 39 hours.
In a session about quality, Susan Patrick and Evergreen Education Group’s John Watson outlined the issues. Quality has been defined as course inputs; that is, quality courses have certain features. Patrick and Watson described the move to performance metrics, such as portfolios, individual growth, college readiness, career readiness, and others. They called for pilot programs to test these ideas, and to influence policy and legislation.
In another general session, Karen Cator of the U.S. Department of Education described the need for high end assessments, multiple measures for success, and multiple proof points specifically calling for policy makers to focus on educational issues that is about individual student learning.
The student panel always highlights valuable statements from students about how they are learning in online and blended models. In these settings, it appears that nobody speaks for them. The discussions are usually around adult perceptions and views.
In my all-day preconference session, Judy Bauernschmidt (Colorado Department of Education), John Canuel (Blackboard), Holly Bryzcki (CAIU), and Phil Lacey joined me in taking participants through the process of starting an online program. Our slides follow.
The field is beginning to mature in its thinking. Policies, practices, and results will determine the success of this innovative movement.
Next year’s VSS is in Orlando, Florida.