Monday, March 30, 2009

IAAE - Day 2

Day 2 of the conference was slimmed down for me. I missed Dr. Richard Kay's presentation having some other meetings to attend. And, the second day of the conference ended at noon.

I did, however, get to meet and listen to Layne Henn, technology director for Sioux City Community School District. Sioux City is experiencing what Des Moines Public is experiencing: higher number of dropouts and public pressure to do something about it (this pretty well describes all the Urban 8).

Layne has spearheaded the district's movement to develop online content. Much like other large districts, they have several layers of alternative settings, be it alternative schools or summer schools or such. Layne mentioned that the biggest weakness he sees in their traditional system is every time a student changes placement, they in essence have to start over.

Sioux City has looked at having other vendors (in fact, they use PLATO software for credit recovery). But Layne mentioned there was a very big drawback to using PLATO, or other vendor products. None of them came with the teacher component so badly needed in alternative education. As Layne said, they are basically electronic packets that alternative schools have traditionally used. And in his words, nothing tells the student "We really don't care about you" more than "Here's another packet".

Well said. Online education offers some great opportunities to students at-risk, but one of the main reasons they are at-risk to begin with is the perception that their school does not care about them.

Sioux City is closely adopting Iowa Learning Online's model, which incorporates that teacher component. However, unlike ILO, they are trying to do so not in a "course" model, but rather a "credit recovery" model, which is more difficult to do.

At Heartland, we have a similar desire to make online content, but for a different reason. Our Shelter Care alternative placement program serves students on a transitional basis (usually moving from or to another temporary placement, such as another shelter or a juvenile detention placement). With having students on a limited basis, Shelter Care teachers have the dilemma: How do you provide quality education that won't be lost once students transfer to a different place?

Shelter Care, under the direction of Steve Iverson, like Sioux City, is looking at online content in a component recovery model, but something that would be teacherless. And a lot less expensive than the annual fees of PLATO.

Susan Walkup, At-Risk Educational Consultant for the DE, is coordinating a statewide effort to develop online content, which was announced at the conference. Using grant money, the DE is gathering teachers from different districts to develop content in four areas: 9th grade English, American History, Algebra 1, and a science course to be named. Also, students in placements across the state would use a common student information system to track registration information.

Some of the details, including how the courses will be coordinated and structured, are yet to be determined. Also, it is interesting to see how other district efforts, such as Sioux City and Heartland's Shelter Care can fit in with this system.

And, this is where we need to go. Much like the Virtual High School, we need to look at a consortium of offerings, where we can have multiple partners developing content, all that is aligned to the Department of Education's efforts, which would be at the center of the consortium. And, the offerings could be in a variety of formats, all along the spectrum of online offerings.

There already are many partners involved in addition to the three above. The Iowa Association of Alternative Education, Iowa Learning Online, Kirkwood High-School Distance Learning, and DMACC all are eager to provide more offerings. And there certainly is plenty of room at the table for other districts. But the first step is to decide what the goals and parameters of the consortium would be. And, those discussions need to happen soon as different organizations are looking to create content.

Still, an exciting time to be in online learning for alternative education.

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