A recent report from the New York State Online Learning Advisory Council suggests that the use of online and blended learning programs can boost course offerings for students who live in rural areas while at the same time allowing for a transformation of face-to-face instruction, as long as state-level supports such as professional development for teachers and training for pre-service teachers are in place.
Created in 2014, the 11-member council was asked to make recommendations regarding the delivery of online and blended learning courses to school districts across the state. The report states that students today are creating online identities and it is up to schools to offer support and guidance on how best to maneuver these online lives.
According to the council, online learning is considered to be:
“… teacher led education that utilizes technology with Intranet/Internet based tools and resources as a delivery method for instruction, research, assessment, and communication. It may be synchronous (in real time) or asynchronous (separated by time) and accessed from multiple settings (in school and/or out of school buildings). Online learning can be fully online, with all instructions taking place through Internet, or online elements can be combined with face–to–face interactions in what is known as blended learning.”
The report discovered that the majority of schools in the state need to increase their offerings of online learning experiences and work to create a digital transformation with online learning tools in the classrooms.
The council found most schools that were successful with online learning had system-wide planning between administrators and teachers, in addition to school-wide communication between students, teachers, and administrators.
Recommendations made by the council to increase success with online and blended learning include the implementation of professional development programs in an effort to increase instructional skills; offering waivers for regulations as a way to make implementation of online learning programs easier; creating a team of leaders at the New York State Education Department that will focus on online learning and educational technology; and combining online and blended training with the curriculum for pre-service teachers.
The council suggested a need for professional development grants. It says $100 million should be offered in grants that would support multi-year professional development grants to aid in planning and implementation to increase the development of instructional skills pertaining to the use of online tools, as well as for online course availability and capacity.
In addition, the council would like to see an increase in staff members trained in education technology throughout New York, saying that not enough staff members in the state have expertise in the area compared to other states. They suggest that a Chief Digital Officer is placed to lead education technology decisions for the state, as well as a standing committee to make recommendations to the Commissioner concerning online learning programs, with 50% of that committee coming from a rotating pool of PK-12 and higher education.