Schools slowly integrating online learning

Schools slowly integrating online learning

(Calif.) The number of U.S. school districts turning to online learning and teaching resources jumped 13 percent this year, according to an annual survey that also recognizes innovative uses of technology to improve educational outcomes for students.

Sixty-two percent of districts participating in the 2015-16 Digital School Districts Survey reported having a digital content and curriculum strategy in place, with 33 percent claiming to have one under development. Among those programs already established, more than half – 38 percent – included the use of open educational resources, freely accessible, openly-licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning and assessment purposes.

“The results of the Digital School Districts Survey exemplify how visionary leadership in the board room supports the innovative use of technology in the classroom and in the delivery of district services,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association, in a statement. “The annual survey questions incorporate the latest technology trends and allow district leaders to utilize the survey instrument as a quick self-assessment tool to compare their own districts’ use of technology against national trends.”

The survey, conducted in partnership between NSBA and the Center for Digital Education, is in its 12th year but has taken on new import following the roll out of the Common Core State Standards in 2010. The new national education goals in math and English language arts placed a heavy emphasis on the integration of digital technology into classroom curricula, but the significant costs involved have slowed many districts’ progress.

Still, an overwhelming majority of survey respondents said they currently have plans in place to guide the use of technology and digital instructional materials to provide personalized and engaging student learning experiences that align with the more rigorous educational standards.

Many reported using tools for the classroom such as interactive whiteboards, document cameras, display equipment and assessment tools. Thirty-one percent answered that they “will definitely modernize in the next 12-14 months.”

Fifty percent of districts reported completing initiatives to provide every student with a laptop, including the supporting infrastructure needed for successful usage.

The digital survey also ranks the top 10 informational technology priorities for the coming year, as noted by school districts.

Topping this year’s list is personalized learning, followed by digital content and curriculum, professional development/skills training for integrating technology into the classroom, and online testing. Rounding out the top five was mobility, i.e. providing portable devices for every student.

As a way of highlighting practices that “most fully implement technology benchmarks in the evolution of digital education,” the survey recognizes the top 10 districts in three categories based on student population.

Heading up the large district (12,000 students or more) category, Hampton City Schools in Virginia uses technology to encourage student and teacher engagement, according to the Center for Digital Education. In addition to Web-streaming their board meetings and producing a variety of podcasts for parents, teachers and students during the school year, HCS also provides digital literacy training for parents, including Internet safety and privacy, acceptable use policies and more.

Georgia’s White County School District took top honors for medium-sized districts (3,000 to 12,000 students) by moving away from print textbooks. Instead, the district is using e-textbooks, online collaboration, quiz tools, instructional games, simulations, films, TV programs, YouTube segments, music, lectures and podcasts for instruction. A full-time instructional technology director trains every teacher, and there are instructional coaches at each school tasked with helping teachers better integrate technology in the classroom.

District collaborative projects include online courses with North Georgia University, online video conferences and 3D virtual mapping in coordination with the county government.

In the small districts category (up to 3,000 students) Springfield Public Schools in New Jersey ranked number one for its use of technology to improve instruction and learning, the CDE press release stated. Using a robotic camera system and a remote device on a lanyard transmitting to their iPad, teachers record themselves while teaching. The videos are then uploaded into teacher accounts, reviewed and used for collaborative professional learning or self-reflection.

Meanwhile, data analysis is used to inform instruction, personnel and budgeting. A collaboration with another district to share best practices in data analysis identifies students that need improvement in specific areas. Parents can then review academic performance data and learn how to help their child with targeted skills at home.

“School districts, with the support of their school boards, are increasingly focused on learning through innovative technologies,” Dr. Kecia Ray, executive director at the Center for Digital Education, said in a statement. “As a result, students are using all kinds of cutting-edge tools that assist learning, inspire creativity and help prepare them for the future.”