According to a new report from Blackboard Inc. and Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing students to become tomorrow's leaders, "Learning in the 21st Century: 2010 Trends Update," 27 percent of high school students and 21 percent of middle school students took at least one online class in 2009, nearly doubling the 2008 numbers of 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively. But the report documents that this still falls far short of meeting student demand, since the majority of high school and middle school students see the availability of online courses as part of an ideal education experience.
"Fifty-one percent of high school students told us that the greatest benefit to online learning was the ability to work at their own pace," explains Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow.
In addition, district and school administrators "need online learning to be able to offer courses in areas that are hard to find teachers for," says Evans, such as math and science, advanced placement, and foreign language, as well as courses that simply aren't offered in local schools.
Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACO L), points out that one in four college students takes an online course, so it's certainly a skill that will be tapped into in future schooling as well as the workforce. "Students need to be able to collaborate and be academically appropriate using technology and the Internet," Patrick says.
Online education isn't just a peripheral form of learning anymore; students from all corners of the country want to take part in it. So does that mean districts nationwide are ready to start ramping up their offerings of online programs? Not yet. Two important issues must be addressed first, according to the report.
The first issue speaks to the importance of preparedness; it is unwise to establish new programs if the stakeholders involved aren't prepared for the changes at hand. Teachers are a good place to start; after all, if teachers aren't able to utilize the online resources, courses will be of a very poor quality.
"Every college of education should be teaching the skills for online instruction," Patrick says. "It's outrageous that teachers are coming out of their colleges without these skills in 2010."
Outrageous or not, the 2010 Trends Update reports that just 4 percent of teachers in training learned how to teach online classes in instructional methods courses. And that's where the change has to occur. Teachers need to know how to use the technology and collaborative tools to ask stimulating questions online as well as when to cut off discussion, Patrick says.
The second issue pertains to policy. The 2010 Trends Update reports that 40 percent of district administrators and 35 percent of principals fault limited state funding as the reason why they can't provide online courses.
"One of the challenges is that policies always assumed education would take place in the classroom," Patrick explains, and consequently "most funding is allocated based on seat time." She uses Florida as an important example, stating how because of the enabling legislation in that state, no student can be denied access to online programs. As a result, over 150,000 students are taking online courses. Most states, though, have waiting lists for these small programs, often with enrollment caps despite the large demand.
To view the full report, visit www .blackboard.com/k12/education21c.
More data can be read at www.tomorrow.org/speakup/speakup_your_data.html.