Friday, April 5, 2013

5 Steps to Avoid Legacy Thinking regarding Virtual Learning

You are a member of the state legislature or state Board of Education. You believe in the anywhere, anytime, any pace learning potential of virtual courses and schools. Do your legislation and regulations fully support the transformative power of virtual learning or cling to legacy thinking?  

The rise of virtual learning reflects global trends described by futurist David Houle: the flow to global, the flow to the individual, and accelerated electronic connectivity.  He warns that
legacy thinking undercuts our ability to understand these trends. Legacy thinking, observes Houle in his latest book Entering the Shift Age, “is viewing the present and future through thoughts from the past.”

Avoid confining your view of virtual learning with a legacy perspective that clings to seat-time requirements, start-date regulations, and other input controls relating to topics such as library media resources and the timing of state assessments.

Last week, I shared five recommendations with the Virginia Board of Education as it reviews proposed regulations relating to public virtual schools.
1.       Replace seat time requirements with a focus on student mastery of content and skills. Virginia’s requirement for 140-clock hours of instruction for a one-credit course violates the notion of any pace learning. Tell school divisions that they can replace a seat-time approach to virtual learning with a competency-based learning approach without going through a waiver process.
2.       Use your bully pulpit to explicitly call on the state legislature to provide for local control of the start date of the school year.  The local control at a minimum should extend to school divisions with a virtual school or significant number of virtual courses. Current statutes restricting the ability of school divisions to start the school year before Labor Day violates the notion of anywhere, anytime, any pace learning.
3.       Don’t show favoritism to school divisions that use private providers of virtual courses. The Board’s proposed guidelines for pre-Labor day openings state that school divisions may warrant a waiver in the case of a full-time virtual school with courses from external providers that begin instruction prior to Labor Day. You have authorized our school division to provide virtual courses to students throughout the Commonwealth.  Don’t penalize us by refusing to consider our waiver requests while reviewing the request of divisions that rely on outside providers.
4.       Ask the state legislature to extend flexibility to school divisions in the timing of administering state assessments. With online learning greater flexibility exists in terms of pacing and the timing of completing a course. Students would benefit if they could take an end of course state exam immediately after completing a course rather than months later.
5.       Acknowledge that access to library resources can be provided in a variety of ways, including through digital resources and online resources.  Proposed regulations include a reference to student access in a public virtual school to appropriate library resources so an explicit statement relating to digital/online resources would avoid misinterpretation of this input regulation.
These five steps would help Virginia harness the anytime, anywhere, any pace learning potential of virtual schools and courses.

How can policy- and regulation-makers where you live help realize the potential of virtual learning? In what ways does legacy thinking confine the view of advocates of virtual learning?

Thanks to Reggie Fox (@rfox1210) for his assistance in developing these recommendations.