Turn snow days into e-learning days with these 6 simple steps
The latest winter storm to pound the Northeast left a foot or two of snow in its wake, in the process shutting down much of the tri-state region, limiting access to roads, flights, and, of course, preventing schools from opening.
While the amount of snow needed for schools to close varies by region, there is no denying that excessive snow days have begun to bleed into summer vacation over the past few years. Luckily, some school administrators have found a new approach to end snow days for good.
The solution is called “e-learning days,” or days dedicated to doing schoolwork over the internet.
E-learning brings massive benefits to any school district. They have the potential to save schools lots of money—buses don’t need to be deployed extra days at the end of the year, the school building doesn’t need additional heating, and hourly staff have the day off. Online learning also helps teachers reduce their stress load. It provides a predictable avenue for educators to budget their curriculum goals with available teaching days. Finally, e-learning days provide students with academic consistency and predictability, eliminating any snow day confusion.
E-learning is already becoming increasingly popular. Twenty-seven states offer online classes and 24 states (along with the District of Columbia) offer full-time virtual schools—as many as one million children in K-12 are already participating in these programs. Many well-respected schools are quickly making use of e-learning, including Stanford University Online High School, VISNet, and Laurel Springs. It’s time for e-learning to become common place in public schools, starting with snow days.
Of course, detractors are quick to point out that not every school can provide a virtual alternative to in-person instruction. Their most potent point is that not every child has equal access to the internet. For example, as of 2013, 75.6% of American households had a computer in the home and 71.7% had Internet access. The two largest age demographics of those with internet access are generally the same age of those raising children in K-12—18- to 29-year-olds (80%) and 30- to 49-year-olds (78%).
(Next page: 6 steps to put e-learning days into practice at your school)
While relying on the internet to facilitate e-learning days is realistic for a strong majority of school districts, it could still mean abandoning one-in-five students nationwide. Perhaps that’s why Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are the only states to provide e-learning options for their public schools to date.
Indiana's Department of Education requires that all districts participating in e-learning days “can prove all students and teachers have the ability to access the Internet when they are away from the school building.” Indiana has several other standards for teachers and students, including requirements for IEPs, and acts as a great reference that can be consulted nationwide.
Are digital textbooks worth it?
It has been nearly three years since the FCC and Education Secretary Arne Duncan rolled out the Digital Textbook Playbook and challenged schools to go digital within five years. It’s safe to say schools are not there yet. While going digital looks certain, arrival in two years looks doubtful.
The potential benefits for schools transitioning to digital curriculum—specifically, replacing their print textbooks with digital ones—remain compelling. As schools move to the Common Core, and Pluto shifts in and out of planetary status, information can be updated on the fly. Interactive quizzes, comments, and discussions live within the text itself. The addition of video, audio and interactivity allows for multi-modal, personalized, accessible and interactive learning; it's lightweight for backpacks; and there are cost savings down the road from not printing.
Of course, widespread adoption relies on a robust infrastructure. Wireless bandwidth must be able to handle the load, and filtering must let advanced material through. Students need reliable devices at school and home, and the content needs to be designed for whatever platform they might have. Importantly, teachers need time to learn a new way of running a classroom.
Here, three early adopters of digital textbooks share their experiences, from conveniences and triumphs to pitfalls and setbacks. Their stories provide a glimpse into the present, still-evolving world of digital textbooks, and a hint into where it may be headed.
The Fairfax Learning Curve
Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, with 12,000 students per grade level, is a pioneer in the digital textbooks space. Craig Herring, the director of Prek-12 curriculum and instruction, explains that they started using some Pearson online textbooks in 2009, back when they were essentially PDF versions of the printed books. The next year, they flipped that model by buying online social studies books with some hardcopy backups. Those online textbooks included some new features, and they rolled that out to all grades, 7-12, in 2011.
Maker movement front and center at EDexpo
Makerspaces will be showcased at EDexpo 2015 with a unique exhibit area and education offering to help dealers and manufacturers tap into this growing opportunity surrounding hands-on learning.
Syliva Martinez, the co-author of Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, will present a General Session on February 21 entitled: “Makerspaces – The New Trend that Can Add Dollars to Your Bottom Line.”
Martinez is the preeminent expert on Makerspaces working in schools around the world to bring the power of authentic learning into classrooms, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects. She will be sharing her knowledge on these do-it-yourself spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn, and share strategies on how to capitalize on this trend in education.
EDexpo attendees will get to experience a Makerspace right on the exhibit floor as Atlanta area Makerspaces (or Maker communities) participate in a contest to see who can create the most innovative education-related project. The Education Market Association (EDmarket) has partnered with Decatur Maker, a non-profit in the Atlanta area, to organize the space.
These projects will be demonstrated during show hours so that attendees can interact with the makers and try out the equipment. The participating organizations will display typical tools found in Makerspaces along with any other displays that capture the spirit of making such as a 3D printer, laser cutter, robotics demonstration, woodworking equipment, prototyping demonstration equipment, and more.
“The Maker movement represents an opportunity for growth by combining the tactile resources our members already provide with new and exciting products that are needed to meet the demand for STEAM and Fab labs,” says Jim McGarry, EDmarket President and CEO.
For more information on EDexpo 2015, February 22-24 in Atlanta, please visit www.edexpo.com.
Will big data jobs go unfilled?
Students at both the K-12 and university levels should learn how to handle and interpret big data, but to do this, educators at both levels must be comfortable using and teaching about big data.
Big data is quickly becoming one of the most important fields, and workers who are able to handle, analyze, and interpret data will be in high demand in the workforce. And this need is critical in education, from students who must know how to use data as part of learning, to educators who should be able to interpret student data.
“At the university level, [professors] see this huge need for people who have the training to work with big data, so they’re creating training programs, certifications, graduate programs, and even whole new departments,” said Ruth Krumhansl, director of the Education Development Center's Oceans of Data Institute (ODI). “What they’re saying is that this is a whole new field requiring knowledge from many different disciplines.”
ODI helps students and educators learn about big data, from its potential, to its importance, to the need for professionals to have data skills.
Krumhansl said there is a “huge amount” of data analytics training at the community college level, but not a lot at the K-12 level. Because these skills are lacking at the K-12 level, many students often are not interested in pursuing data-heavy fields of study when they enter higher education.
“Basic skills in working with data, which every person should have, are not being taught in K-12 school, so they’re lacking at high levels in data-driven professions,” Krumhansl said. “Teachers and administrators need the same skills they have to be teaching to their students.”
ODI recently created a job profile for a “big data specialist” to help students, educators, and policymakers understand the skills needed, on both the student and educator side, to produce workers with high levels of data know-how.
The organization gathered a panel of big data experts from businesses, government agencies, and universities to create the profile, and panelists agreed that a big data specialist should:
Identify problems and questions necessary to solve those problems
Develop deep knowledge of data sources
Manage data resources
Be able to critically evaluate the results of analyses to determine the level of confidence
Have strong soft skills such as analytical and critical thinking
Cogent Education wins 2015 FETC Goldfish Tank Innovators Competition
Cogent Education: Interactive Cases is the winner of the Goldfish Tank Innovators Competition during the 2015 Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida.
The Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN) of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the principal trade association for the software and digital content industry, and 1105 Media, Inc., which provides integrated business-to-business information and media to qualified professionals in the public, academic and private sectors focusing on technology, made the announcement during the conference.
“This year’s Goldfish Tank competition was the closest ever,” said Karen Billings, vice president and managing director for ETIN-SIIA. “The educators in the audience had a really tough decision because all of these innovators are really harnessing technology in new and engaging ways. Cogent Education has the potential to engage students for years to come.”
A panel of ed-tech experts selected Cogent Education: Interactive Cases as a finalist for the Goldfish Tank Innovators Program, and conference attendees voted it most innovative and likely to be used in the classroom.
(Next page: Additional winners in the education competition)
“The Goldfish Tank competition is one of the highlights of the Incubator Pavilion at FETC,” said Patrick Gallagher, event director, education events at 1105 Media. “The Incubator Pavilion, co-sponsored by ETIN-SIIA, FETC and the National Science Foundation, provides attendees the opportunity to explore emerging K-12 technologies and ed tech companies. Cogent Education is a great example of the innovative work that is being done in the industry.”
More than 20 applicants were assessed for the Goldfish Tank Innovators Completion on a broad range of criteria by both industry leaders and educators around the globe. Five participants were selected as finalists for the program, and educators at FETC chose the winner.
The full list of finalists includes:
Cogent Education:Interactive Cases
Teachley: Teachley Analytics
The Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN) of SIIA serves and represents more than 200 member companies that provide educational software applications, digital content, online learning services, and related technologies across the K-20 sector. The Division shapes and supports the industry by providing leadership, advocacy, business development opportunities, and critical market information. For more information on ETIN at SIIA, visit siia.net/etin.