Innovating with online learning

Online learning will help schools innovate and save money, argues Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and charter school advocate. Hastings bought the education software company DreamBox Learning for $10 million and donated ownership to the non-profit Charter School Growth Fund, reports Educated Guess. He believes tech-savvy charter schools will expand, showing school districts how to use “innovative technologies that will improve learning.”

Rocketship Education, a San Jose charter school organization, is Hastings’ model. Rocketship’s first elementary school, which serves low-income minority students, earned a very high 916 Academic Performance Index score last year.

Rocketship has incorporated a learning lab into a quarter of the school day;  the savings from the hybrid model of online and direct instruction reduces the number of  certificated teachers from 21 to 16,  saving each school $500,000 annually – a huge amount in low-funded California. That money is plowed back to raise teacher pay, improve instruction and pay for the next Rocketship’s building. Rocketship is opening a third school this fall, with the fourth in 2011.

At a Rocketship strategy meeting, Hastings said DreamBox offers adaptive math software for grades 1 to 3. “It can identify areas that individual students aren’t getting, then diagnose and break down the problem areas into pieces that the students will understand. Students go at their own pace.” Rocketship hopes “improved online software and assessments can provide close to 50 percent of instruction.”

But Don Shalvey,  the co-founder and board chair of Aspire Public Schools and now  deputy director of the Gates Foundation, cautioned that students will still need the social and emotional support of adults in school in ways that cannot be done from distance learning. Non-teaching adults in schools will play larger roles. School culture will remain critical.

Some teacher unions will see online education as a threat to their jobs and fight its inclusion in district schools.

But Shalvey said online learning, by freeing teachers to teach critical thinking and problem solving and by creating savings that can be directed to teachers’ pay, has the potential to “raise the dignity” and respect for teaching as a profession – an exciting opportunity.

The Gates Foundation is looking for high-performing charter schools that serve as “lighthouses of cooperation,” Shalvey said.

Online schooling is attracting special education students, especially those who have trouble functioning in a classroom, reports Education Week.

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  1. I couldve sworn you recently reported a school that did use online teaching/technology and it still failed. In any case, I get weary of approaches that emphasize technology as the end instead of the means, especially when there are examples of such approaches not being successful.

  2. Online schooling will thrive–when the technology is new. As it ages and develops wear and tear from heavy, hard student usage, it eventually falls apart and becomes useless.

    Kids are hard on computers. Maintaining appropriate computer handling behaviors so that they don’t trash the computers eventually becomes an issue. Once the novelty of having the computers handy is over, then kids and less-sophisticated adult users end up doing things which end up making the computers less and less useful.

    I’d like to see reports about the cost of what it takes to properly maintain the tech equipment for online learning for more than carefully controlled small groups. My guess is that maintenance costs will end up being higher than many of these studies project.

  3. Online education is also as good as conventional education but interpersonal interaction might be limited.-,’


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