officials hope to improve online learning opportunities for their students during the next few years.
Carol Ann Lee, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, presented an overview of the past, present and future of K-L schools during Thursday’s school board meeting, where she mentioned that the district will participate in a consortium for online learning with high schools in the Putnam/Northern Westchester and Southern Westchester BOCES regions.
The regional consortium includes the districts of Bedford, Chappaqua, Katonah-Lewisboro, Lakeland, Mamaroneck, Ossining, Peekskill and Yorktown.
Teachers in the participating school district will take existing courses and develop them to incorporate online and face-to-face teaching. The courses that will be offered are “Making a Lasting Impression: Architecture Across the Centuries and Today, Art Elective,” “Environmental Physics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Planet,” “Wanted: Solutions to Problems of the 21st Century” and "Take Actions! Support a Sustainable Community.”
Lee said this is part of a larger plan to expand online course offerings in the district. Three years ago, Lee said she was charged with helping to create a vision of what the school of the future would look like.
She looked at examples of schools that utilized technology to bolster education and ways the district was following the standards set forth by the International Society for Technology in Education. But outside factors caused the district to shift its focus.
“By December of 2008, we were faced with a very serious budget development crisis and we made a very serious decision,” Lee said. “In order to preserve positions for both certified and non certified staff— to preserve program and class size— we would see reductions in the area of technology.”
In the 2008-2009 school year, the district had employed 19 people in the area technological development. That number has now been reduced to 12.
“I can say honestly that it hasn’t had a significant impact on the day-to-day operations of the network,” Lee said. “Our network support staff has been able to maintain that through our support with BOCES. Our data analysts have been able to keep our data going.”
But, Lee said the impact has been felt instructional side of things. In 2008, there were 11 computer aides in the district. There are now two aides apiece in the high school and middle school and two aides that are shared among the four elementary schools.
“I would say that it’s because of the professionalism of our teachers and our computer aides that they’ve kept this program together as best as they can,” Lee said.
Lee said the district is in the process of researching ways to use technology to enhance learning in the district, including online learning at the high school, allowing students to bring their own mobile devices to the school, remote access to school networks for students, cloud computing and staff development. The district also plans to do an audit of its technology.
Lee said some of the postive impact of online learning on the district includes the ability to expand course offerings, remediation courses, address the needs of home-schooled students, increase graduation rates, provide an alternative learning environment and provide professional development.
Challenges that exist for the district’s ability to provide online learning include state regulations, network configurations, the need to establish policy and regulations and contractual concerns.
This state is one of handful of states in the country that doesn’t have online initiative in place, according to Lee.
“New York state is working rapidly to bring us up to snuff with rest of the country,” Lee said.
Sarah Martabano, the regional distance learning coordinator for the Lower Hudson Regiona lInformation Center, said she expected the state to have an online learning initiative in place by September.
Martabano said about one-third of the 62 districts she worked with in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties are actively engaged in some form of online learning. She said all those school had different ways for implementing their on-line learning programs.
“This isn’t cookie cutter,” Martabano said. “In higher education, it’s pretty common. Kids take courses and they’re very motivated, usually by graduation or financial need. We don’t have that same motivation in K-12.”
Regionally, Martabano said there are three pockets of need for online learning: credit recovery, credit accrual and electives. The state has created policies for online learning as a tool for credit recovery and independent study, according to Martabano.
But Martabano said what doesn’t exist is a policy on credit accrual.
“That’s the big push,” she said. “That’s what people in our region are really looking for, credit accrual.”
Martabano said the state Board of Regents has worked on policy for credit accrual and should be ready to adopt it by July.
Although many districts have looked at online learning as a way to cut down costs, Martabano said that hasn’t been the case so far. One reason for this is that the state’s policy for the use of online learning for credit accrual will require that the teacher of the instruction are state certified and employed by a school district or BOCES.
Martabano said the reason for this is that many high school students, unlike their college counterparts, can’t be independent learners in an online learning environment. Most high schoolers need an incredible amount of supervision.
Also, the rigor and academic integrity of the courses can vary by vendor and teacher, according to Martabano. She said requiring that all online instructors are state certified will give school district greater control of the courses that are offered.
“You really need your own people to work with these high school kids,” Martabano said. “What we see time and time and time again is that without local support and local instructions, kids are not successful.”
Peter Treyz, a member of the school board, wondered why the state would require that teachers with more advanced degrees and salary requirements to teach online courses.
“Why can’t we have a teacher with a B.A. teach the course so that we can save that money from the B.A. to the Ph.D., “ Treyz said. “I think that the biggest problem that we have in New York state is that our cost to educate students is higher than virtually any state in the union.”
Martabano said the qualities that make up a good teacher remain the same, whether it’s face to face in a classroom or online.
“It’s not a lesser level of teaching skill as opposed to face to face,” Martabano said. “As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that at the onset it’s a little bit higher, because it’s way harder to teach on-line than face to face.”
Mark Lipton, the board vice president, wondered if administrators have developed ways to use the online experience to enhance what is already being done in the classrooms.
Lee said there are instances in the high school, especially in the arts and sciences, but the full potential of online learning opportunities haven’t been realized.
“What we don’t have is the extension of this beyond the school day...in terms of being able to create that community of learners and extend that connection for our students via our network throughout the school day so they can continue work,” Lee said.