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Articles: Virtual

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis observes students and educators participating in the Open Campus PA program.

This past school year has been a little less hectic for busy juniors and seniors at Hempfield High School, thanks to a new, unique online course-sharing initiative.

The Hempfield School District is in a suburban-rural community outside Lancaster, Pa., and is one of three local districts that have implemented Open Campus PA, a program that unites its high school with the nearby Penn Manor and Manheim Township districts’ high schools. The goal is to share teachers and selected online courses, allowing participating students to take online classes on their own time.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 91 percent of adult internet users in the United States rely on search engines to find information, and 78 percent get news online. Similarly, among teenagers, where smartphone adoption increased substantially and mobile access to the internet is pervasive, one in four is a “cell-mostly” user who accesses the web through a cell phone. Online resources continue to shape every aspect of our lives, and are enriching, extending, and transforming schools.

To prevent high school students from dropping out, many districts nationwide are giving them the chance to recover credits via online classes, such as through Aventa Learning, Edgenuity, Pearson, and Plato, and seeing results.

“One of the biggest benefits is it provides schedule flexibility for the student,” says Gregg Levin, senior vice president of school solutions for K12, Inc., which offers online credit recovery courses through Aventa Learning. “This empowers them to learn with interactivity and multimedia, and more closely mirrors what they do outside the classroom.”

More than 50% of teachers say that almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools at school, but only 18% say students have access to the tools they need at home.

The Pew Research Center survey of over 2,400 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers also found that 84% of teachers believe today’s technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and districts.

iCreate
myCreate iPad App
The myCreate app is based on Stop-Action Movie (SAM) Animation software. Students can edit videos by slowing down or speeding up the delivery of frames, duplicating frames to lengthen scenes and adding music or audio recordings to their videos. Completed videos can be saved to personal albums and/or shared with family members and friends via Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, or HapYak.

Despite my time being cut short at TCEA 2013, thanks to a huge winter storm slamming into the Northeast where I live, I was still able to learn about a variety of new products for the K12 world. Many products come together to form a modern, 21st century classroom: hardware, software, mobile applications, even furniture, which were all showcased at TCEA.

Cloud computing is growing in districts nationwide, with 42% of K12 schools implementing or maintaining cloud networks, which use the internet to store data. This is up from 27% in 2011, according to a 2013 report from technology solutions provider CDW-G. And 76% of IT professionals in K12 schools acknowledged that their use of the cloud at home has influenced their recommendations at work about moving to the cloud.

A class at Jamestown Elementary in Arlington, Va. after presenting their favorite apps during Discovery Education’s webinar celebrating Digital Learning Day.

On Feb. 6, over 25,000 teachers and millions of students in all 50 states participated in the second annual Digital Learning Day, a national campaign promoting digital learning and shining a spotlight on successful classroom technology initiatives. Though the event lasted one day, educators are encouraged to engage with technology year round, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy organization that hosted the event.

Five years ago, the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina went digital, with laptops and MacBook Air computers districtwide.

The district has not purchased a textbook in over five years, with the exception of those required for high school Advanced Placement classes.

A Griegos Elementary School student in Albuquerque uses an iPad in the library, which has a portable cart of about 30 iPads—known as Computers on Wheels.

For years, there’s been an ongoing discussion about the digital divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.” As technology has advanced, so has that gap, which is driving fundamental changes in how we work, learn, and live.

Administrators, educators, and nonprofit entities nationwide have been trying to lessen that gap over the past decade. With newer, lighter technologies like tablets and ultra-light laptops like the MacBook Air, some schools are considering getting rid of textbooks altogether and going digital.

Helen Gooch, middle,  the instructional technology coordinator for Clarksville-Montgomery (Tenn.) School District, is with two technology integration coaches at the Kilobyte training lab at Greenwood Technology Center, getting quick tips for using Windows 8.

The Windows 8 operating system, which splashed on the market in October 2012, is changing the landscape of Microsoft-based computers. The once traditional PC operating system is making the move toward a more mobile, tablet-based environment in schools. With it comes a drastic change that will affect how educators interact with computers in a Windows-based system. The last major change in Windows OS was in 1995, says Cameron Evans, Microsoft’s chief technology officer for U.S. education. “The world has changed,” Evans says.

Five years ago, a pair of science teachers at Woodland Park (Colo.) High School turned their pedagogical approach upside down. Rather than stand up in front of the classroom, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams sent their respective students home with videos of themselves lecturing. And rather than assigning traditional homework, work that most students could get tripped up on if they are not sure about a certain topic, the teachers gave students time in class—with their close supervision and help—to put their learning into practice.

Socializing with classmates online gets homework done faster.

I recently asked a group of middle school students to name their favorite use of technology for learning. An eager eighth-grade girl said, “My work has gotten so much better since we started using Facebook to do homework at night in my math class. We’re all online together, so if I have questions, I get them answered while doing my homework, instead of the next day or even later. Sometimes my friends even explain the math better than the teacher, and we send each other links to stuff online.” Wanting to learn more, I asked her which teacher had set up the group.

Students at Weller Elementary School use Avatar Kinect for learning.

Students at Steuart W. Weller Elementary School in Ashburn, Va., toss darts, play guitar, dance like rock stars, raft down rapids, and talk to youngsters in Romania. Yet there are no darts, no instruments, no DJs, no white water and no expensive international plane tickets involved. Instead, the students use their arms, legs and body movements to do the activities through a video game system, which also allows for live video chats around the world.

How successful are your Google searches when looking for instructional resources? If your results are subpar, you’re not alone. According to a survey that assessed how educators search for online materials, only 25 percent of educators described their searches as “usually successful.”

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