As the winter of 2017-18 continues to bring heavy snows and unusually cold weather, e-learning programs provide a way for schools to continue meeting their students’ educational needs. The state of Indiana, for example, currently has about 170 public and private school districts approved for e-learning days.
“In the old days, school was just canceled,” said Holly Stachler, director of communications for the Indiana Department of Education. “But now, there may be no school on campus, but it’s [still] an e-learning day.”
The option to provide internet-based instruction has been available to Hoosier schools for six years. Stachler said the formal program was initiated in the 2013-14 school year.
“We had an incredibly brutal winter. Many schools were closed for like 10 days, [and] this was a way to recover that instructional time,” she said. “Many states require standardized testing, often in March or April. If you tack on [make-up] days at the end of the school year, the students aren’t getting that instruction before the high-stakes testing.”
The use of e-learning is not limited to make-up days, Stachler said. Many schools have found it’s useful as a way to schedule teacher training days and parent-teacher conferences without losing instructional time.
“While this program has the obvious impact of allowing learning to continue when the building is closed, it has also been a huge lever in urging districts down a path toward blended learning,” Jason Bailey, senior e-learning strategist at Indiana’s education department, told EdScoop last fall.
The state doesn’t set the requirements for devices or software, Stachler said. “It’s all about access to content. To execute e-learning days, the schools will implement e-learning management systems,” she explained. “Having a good one is critical. It’s a local decision, but we can help them” find a system that fits their needs.
School districts must apply to the state for approval before they can begin their e-learning programs, Stachler said. The districts’ applications are evaluated against nine criteria, including:
- Demonstrated access to the internet for students and teachers away from school buildings.
- Parents and students can reach teachers directly to support e-instruction.
- Students will be informed of their learning targets for the day by 9 a.m.
- Work continuity — that is, lessons cover content that would have been covered in a traditional setting.
- For students with disabilities and limited English-proficient students, teachers will provide parents or caregivers with appropriate materials.
“In the application process, we ask what the maximum number of days will be,” Stachler said. “Some schools will say a maximum of five, others a maximum of 10 — it’s pretty open.”
At the end of the school year, the schools have to provide data on how they used the e-learning days, so the education department can monitor their use.
The popularity of the program is growing, Stachler said. In the 2016-17 school year, 61 public school districts and 44 private schools used e-learning days. For this academic year, 123 public districts and 57 private schools were approved for the program.
Another benefit to e-learning, Stachler said, is that it gives students a chance to expand their experience in online learning.
“In college, students are often expected to navigate online learning,” said Stachler, who previously worked at Yorktown Community Schools in Yorktown, Indiana. “In my district, we’ve had graduates come back and say thank you, because they were more comfortable with” the experience.
“Good instruction, whether in school or at home, is still good instruction,” Stachler said. “E-learning days are most successful in schools that have good digital learning going on every day in the classroom.”
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