Now, the bill urges school systems to maximize digital learning rather than mandating that students take at least one online course to graduate.
In presenting his bill, state Sen. Chip Rogers said the legislation was needed to prepare students to work digitally and ready them for “a future outside the classroom. Society is moving in that direction at a rapid rate.”
A second reason to push systems to embrace greater online learning, said Rogers, is that students won’t know if they learn better digitally if they lack the option.
Now, this was the original post this morning:
Senate Bill 289 sponsored by state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, would mandate that all Georgia high school students complete at least one online course starting in 2014.
The problem with the bill is that there’s no reliable body of research documenting the effectiveness of online learning in k-12. This bill seems premature given that lack of evidence.
The bill states: Beginning with students entering ninth grade in the 2014-2015 school year, each student shall complete prior to graduation at least one course containing online learning. This requirement shall be met through an online course offered by the Georgia Virtual School established pursuant to Code Section 20-2-319.1, through an online dual enrollment course offered by a postsecondary institution, or through a provider approved pursuant to subsection (c) of Code Section 20-2-319.3.
The bill will be discussed today at 1 p.m. at the House Education Sub-Committee on Academic Support in Room 506 in the CLOB.
In its own meta analysis of all the research on the issue, the U. S. Department of Education warned that there was a “small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for k–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the k–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).”
More promising than online learning is blended instruction, which combines traditional face-to-face classroom teaching with some computer-based activities. Many schools in Georgia are already doing this.
The U.S. DOE concluded:
In recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies contrasting blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective, providing a rationale for the effort required to design and implement blended approaches. When used by itself, online learning appears to be as effective as conventional classroom instruction, but not more so.
However, several caveats are in order: Despite what appears to be strong support for blended learning applications, the studies in this meta-analysis do not demonstrate that online learning is superior as a medium. In many of the studies showing an advantage for blended learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages. At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.
Finally, the great majority of estimated effect sizes in the meta-analysis are for undergraduate and older students, not elementary or secondary learners. Although this meta-analysis did not find a significant effect by learner type, when learners’ age groups are considered separately, the mean effect size is significantly positive for undergraduate and other older learners but not for K–12 students. Without new random assignment or controlled quasi-experimental studies of the effects of online learning options for K–12 students, policy-makers will lack scientific evidence of the effectiveness of these emerging alternatives to face-to-face instruction.
I often ask education experts about virtual/distance learning in the k-12 arena and routinely hear the same answer: We don’t know enough yet. In a conference call last week on improving high school rigor, I asked Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education, whether it makes sense to mandate online courses as a condition of high school graduation.
“I have been looking into it and one big finding is that we don’t really have a lot data on the effectiveness,” she said. “The ability to work online is a 21st century skill, so I think there is an argument for making online courses a condition of graduation. But we are also dealing with adolescents who are learning how to work independently. It is something they are only developing. When you send kids out to the cyber sea without a lifeguard, I am a little skeptical of what kind of results you can expect. There are some models for what they call blended learning. To me, that seems to make sense.”
The issue also came up during Education Week’s recent Quality Counts panel. Asked about the role of computer learning, Emiliana Vegas, a senior economist in the education research hub of the World Bank, said World Bank had been evaluating the evidence on computer learning.
“It is very thin and mixed,” Vegas said. “Our conclusion is that it is inevitable that schools will use more computer-learning and they probably should because the world is changing in that direction. It is another tool that teachers have at their disposal. But it is not a substitute. It is not solution in itself.”
The research shows high failure and dropout rates in distance learning. Here is an excerpt from a study by University of Tennessee researchers M.D. Roblyer and Lloyd Davis:
Despite anticipated and real benefits of virtual schooling, it is not unusual for virtual schools to report a dropout rate of from 40-70% (Oblender, 2002; State of Colorado, 2006), though some established schools claim a dropout rate from 10-20%. In the case of one program, it was found that virtual students were forced to repeat grades at a rate four times that of students statewide (Rouse, 2005). Some virtual school programs have addressed high dropout and failure rates through front-end means such selecting and admitting students on the basis of identified criteria, instituting required pre-course orientations, and increasing the length of the drop-add period to 28 or more days. Some schools have also increased levels of students monitoring and facilitation. Virtual schools report no data on the success of the latter strategies, but informal reports indicated they have met with at least some success (Pape, Revenaugh, Watson, & Wicks, 2006).
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog