March 27, 2012

Virtually Normal

Support grows for online teaching and learning

America’s best teachers are no longer limited to a single classroom. To underscore this point, the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) have released this video profiling the 2011 National Online Teacher of Year.

In addition to recognizing great teachers working in web-based classrooms, the award program highlights the value of online teaching and learning, something policy makers and educations leaders across the country are starting to note. Support for online coursework is growing and, in some cases, virtual classes are being incorporated into standards and curriculum at the state level. Idaho recently joined Alabama, Michigan, and Florida in requiring all students to take credits online in order to graduate high school. Meanwhile, select school districts around the country are introducing virtual classrooms into their course offerings. Last year, Florida’s Digital Learning Starts Act even cleared the way for in-state students in kindergarten, 1st grade, and grades 6-12 to enroll directly in its Florida Virtual Schools full time.

Online courses provide a way for students to take classes that their brick and mortar schools don’t offer. In such cases, research has shown that online courses can positively affect achievement and future course-taking patterns. A report published in December 2011 by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) noted that 8th grade students who were “algebra-ready,” but who lacked access to the course in their schools and were offered an online Algebra I course instead, ultimately scored higher on tests of algebra knowledge and were about twice as likely to take advanced math coursework in high school.

What do these online classes and virtual schools look like? We’ll explore that in the months ahead.

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