The traditional K-12 classroom is evolving or should one say expanding? Online learning is entering the K-12 classroom via the Internet. The symbol of the school bell tower could now be emitting wifi signals instead of ringing bell tones. Brown (2012) describes in his article “Rural Districts Bolster Choices with Online Learning’ how this movement towards online learning is affecting the K-12 realm, specifically in rural schools in the Lane County school districts located in Oregon. Unlike online learning in higher education, online learning in K-12 is monitored on cite and highly structured. Students have mentors that help guide their online learning experience. The online learning classes offered are usually ones not taught at the school and are tailored for specific groups of students, which include the gifted, students with high GPAs, and students who need to recover classes for graduation. These students are usually juniors and seniors. In some cases students with IEPs are allowed to take online learning classes like in the Crow-Applegate-Lorane District with 310 students (Brown 2012). Even though online learning is making inroads into K-12 education there is still aspects that can be built on, barriers to get over, and improvement to be made.
It was surprising that the online learning classes were limited to select groups of students. Even in small school districts, like Lowell School District with 280 students, students need to be recommended by a teacher. Brown (2012) states that in the Creswell School District “They established a tiered approach to enrolling students in online courses, with gifted students getting top priority, followed by juniors and seniors who had at least a 3.5 grade point average (GPA) and wanted a course that was not available at their school’ (14). The reasoning behind this is sound, but in a perfect fair world one would hope that a GPA would not be the main deciding factor in limiting or broadening a student’s education. Too much of the time education is crunched down to the numbers and the human element can easily be forgotten. This is where the teacher recommendation helps improve the review process, but it could still be limiting to students who could benefit from online learning. In the Crow-Applegate-Lorane District students with IEPs are allowed to take online learning classes as well as opposed to the students who are gifted and college driven. It is understandable why the GPA is a major factor in deciding whether a student can qualify for an online learning class; the school needs to make sure it is investing its money in the right student. As with many arguments one can see both sides of how openingly available online learning should be for students.
Interestingly in the Creswell School District students’ success in online learning was attributed in part that they had to pay 10% of the online course’s fee. Money can be a motivator, but should students be required to pay for their education when attending a public school? I think for an online learning program to be truly successful there should not be any financial barriers to the students or the school district. Brown (2012) found that in the Crow-Applegate-Lorane School District that “Removing the financial barrier allowed students and staff to try things out and gave them time to develop policies and procedures’ for online learning (16). When money is not the driving force behind education pressure is taken off of teachers and districts. When the financial worry is taken care of teachers can focus on student learning and doing what is best for the students rather than seeing if it is in the budget. This is especially true for online learning courses because materials need to be updated more regularly than school wide curriculums and materials are.
In all the considerations for online learning in the K-12 education system it did not occur to me it might affect teacher employment as Brown (2012) pointed out in his research. In my student centered thinking it never occurred to me that online learning could take jobs away from teachers in the school building. This brought to my attention if online learning is going to be seriously offered in a K-12 setting the teachers employed by the school will also need to be able to design and teach online classes either for the students in their school or students from other schools in the district. In rural schools teachers do double duty as it is. This article makes me appreciate this class even more because me desire to teach in a rural school in Alaska will probably require me to both be able to teach an online learning class or be able to monitor students taking online classes.
The research conducted by Brown (2012) in rural Oregon schools on the use of online learning is interesting, but also demonstrates that there are some barriers to it being a complete success, such a money, teacher job security, and equitable access. Maybe one day there will be an online learning option or track in schools for students to choose, but at least it is becoming more readily available to students. K-12 teachers need to recognize that online learning could have a greater impact on job security and descriptions in the future, especially in the rural school districts.
Brown, D. (2012). Rural districts bolster choices with online learning. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(6), 12-17.