As we move into the second generation of e-learning, it is imperative that we have teachers who are qualified to teach in this new and different way. Over the past 22 years of my own education, there have been all sorts of distance learning opportunities. Book study, cassette tapes, early efforts by IPTV to correlate coursework to weekly video programs, WebCT, ICN, Iowa Learning Online; especially for people in remote locations, e-learning is convenient and brings resources to a community that would not be available otherwise.
Out of curiosity, I asked the question on Facebook: "How would you feel if your child could take half of his/her classes in an online environment?" Boy, did I get feedback! Parents and teachers told me that their students needed face-to-face contact, a teacher for motivation, and/or a teacher to help the children understand difficult content. Online classes, they told me, are a problem because kids lack discipline and self-regulation, and they often 'cheat'. Blended classes, including formats like Adobe Connect or ICN, still struggle to maintain connectedness with students, and some parents were concerned that their children would have to do dangerous experiments without supervision in online science classes.
The first factor for Iowa schools, of course, is the parent. Without parental buy-in, we are dead in the water. What good is developing large amounts of courses for the high school environment without considering the comfort level of parents who do not commonly use webcasts or forums in their daily work? I would suggest that we develop a series of 6 hour classes through the DE or through AEAs on common topics and market them to parents. Once parents see a good, interactive, student-centered learning environment, they are more likely to let their children enroll in an online class. While Moodle or Blackboard are often used as large platforms, I would see a value in exposing consumers to a variety of resources; perhaps a combination of Google Forms, Wiggio and ClassMarker can be used for discussion, assessment and interactivity. This could be a win-win for the state, especially if there were mini-courses on Love and Logic, study skills, or 21st century expectations for students.
Secondly, we need to consider the motivation of the student. This is a factor, of course. As we transition to 1:1 environments, we need to realize that the research on multitasking does matter: kids think that they are better at multitasking then they actually are. Social networking during time that should be spent in classwork should be focused ON the classwork, so we need to build that socialization factor into our simulations or discussions, along with other activities that play to the strengths of today's global learner. In addition to video and images, analytical learners could benefit from text, but with the web, this is no problem, as multiple images and formats of the content can be uploaded, and differentiation can naturally occur.
Finally, though, we need to train teachers to utilize the web effectively, and to assess in a variety of ways to remove the stigma of 'cheating.' The Department of Education is piloting this type of teaching option, and I hope it is expanded to each AEA. From robust options like the Certificate in online education available through UW-Stout, or more modest options like the online certification program I am taking for teaching at my community college, teachers cannot expect the online class environment to be the same as the regular classroom. At this point, my own family has taken more than 20 classes online, or through blended environments like the ICN and Moodle/Skype. Many have been effective (my core classes in science education were delivered this way); others have been disastrous for my husband and kids. The complaints I heard were not because of technology (we were able to deal with disruption or glitches), but about the quality of the teacher, or the quantity of homework (in one case, the teacher felt that quantity replaced face-to-face interaction).
Is online education perfect? No, it's not. If it were so, anyone with a DVR could become a gourmand simply by watching Iron Chef. But with a shrinking rural population, it's something Iowans need to take advantage of to prepare their kids for the future. Innovation is where we need to be focusing our efforts in a time of shrinking resources.