Ins & Outs at iNACOL

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A curious thing happened this year at the  iNACOL conference: a meeting once devoted to exclusively online learning got a bit more real. Blended--a combination of computer-supported and in-the-flesh instruction--is emerging as the recipe of choice.

Some 2,500 educators convened this week at Disney World for the conference, which is in its 10th year. But this isn't your father's "Virtual School Symposium" any longer. As of this week, the nonprofit iNACOL conference is the "iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium." Many of the sessions were devoted to blended learning. Of participate interest: a two-hour session with practitioners about what they look for in digital curriculum. (Here's our summary.)

And what we heard in the meeting rooms--and the halls? Here you go! 

KEEPING PACE: The 2013 Keeping Pace report, written by the Evergreen Education Group with support from 14 organizations including iNACOL, is chockful of data about how virtual and blended learning are spreading throughout the US. The total number of states that support statewide fully online schools is down by one. (The one VA school that met the criteria now serves only two counties.) Enrollment is up 13%, however, to 310,000 full-time students.

STAND UP, SPEAK OUT: Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton gave an impassioned plea to support the work--and the people leading the charge. "Defend your representatives who do this work. Someone is going to be asked to submit a resignation. It's our fault. We're too damn quiet." Although Shelton named no names, he might have been thinking of LA Superintendent John Deasy who has come under fire for the wobbly rollout of iPads. Deasy is keeping his job, however.

FIRST: DO NO HARM: Dreambox Learning CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson called for a Hippocratic oath for education technology companies: "First, do no harm!"

TOO MANY DEVICES, NOT ENOUGH PLANS: Lots of schools districts have plunged ahead with 1:1 tablets--but still are scrambling to figure out what to do with them. Most iNACOL'ers agree that "technology is just a tool not the solution." But perhaps because it's so much easier to buy tools, there are plenty floating around out there! 

LEARNING ENGINEERS: Expect to see more of this buzzword, coined by Rick Hess and Bror Saxberg in their new book, "Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age: Using learning Science to Reboot Schooling." The engineering approach:

  • Diagnose the educational problem;
  • Determine the non-technology solution;
  • Test the solution;
  • And if good, find technology to enhance the solution. 
  • Technology can make solutions affordable, reliable, available, customizable and data rich. 

E-RATE DOLLARS? "Pay attention to eRate, especially who is requesting changes," advised Shelton. Hint: as schools assess the infrastructure that they will need to provide high-speed bandwidth, rules around how eRate dollars get spent are likely to change. There are plenty of vested interests; sparks will fly.

CUT BAD PERFORMERS: Where blended or online education is flawed, speak up,” Shelton urged. "We have to self-police," Shelton said. "I implore us: if we want [education reform] to flourish, we have to deal with underperformers."  

PERFORMANCE-BASED FUNDING MODELS:


BLENDED NOT STIRRED: The tech should always be secondary to the student learning. Be precise in our definitions when we label programs and practices as blended. Implementing 1:1 personal devices does not make a school blended.

THE TYRANNY OF SEAT TIME: Susan Patrick challenges, “What if all grading were just “A,” “B,” or “Try again?”

ECOSYSTEMS REVISITED: Word from big funders including the Gates, Broad, Nellie Mae, Donnell-Kay and Hume foundations: Rather than just funding "one off" school pilots, the big foundations are looking for networks of players that will create sustainable change across a broader ecosystem.  

TOILETS IN THE TAJ: Pithy line, as always, from Gisele Huff, who directs the Hume Foundation. She is directing the Hume money to support many infrastructure issues, including making available adequate bandwidth and other requirements to support blended learning. "You can't live in the Taj Mahal if you can't flush the toilet. We help by funding the toilet." 

EdSurgent Katrina Stevens and Gee Kin Chou contributed to this piece

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