During the 2011 Idaho legislative session, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna proposed successful legislation that is intended to overhaul the way the public education system works in the state.
Among other things, the legislation — called “Students Come First” by supporters, and the “Luna Laws” by detractors — will provide all Idaho high school students in the public education system with a laptop and requires them to take at least two online classes. The legislation is so controversial that next November Idaho voters will have the opportunity to repeal — or show their support for — the three bills that comprise the legislation. No matter the outcome of the vote, however, high schools in Idaho are already adapting how they offer classes to students.
The idea of online classes, of course, is nothing new. In my three years as a journalism teacher, I’ve had several students on my newspaper staff take online courses. The big difference now is that the funding formula for Idaho’s school districts is about to change to a system based on fractional ADA (average daily attendance). The Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell described what this means for school districts in a Jan. 21, 2011, post — ‘Fractional ADA’ plan would shift funding — for her “Eye on Boise” blog.
“The idea … is that if a student takes five regular classes and one online class through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy,” Russell writes, “two-thirds of the funding for that one class would be shifted to IDLA, while the other third would stay with the student’s school to reflect fixed costs.”
The legislation and accompanying shift in the funding formula has quickly made public school administrators believers in digital courses. During this school year, for example, my school’s principal has encouraged the staff to develop online and blended learning classes.
Such as other high schools throughout the country, we are in the process of developing the course catalog for the 2012-13 school year. A requirement from the administration is that each department offer at least one online or blended learning course. Teachers are asked to be creative in the subject manner. The district’s tech team is considering platforms for delivery. Students are being prepped for the classes that might be offered. Simply put, my school district is getting into the business of online learning.
I’m one of three teachers at the school already piloting online classes. Select students had the option of taking an online sociology or history of rock ‘n’ roll classes, while the two periods devoted to my newspaper classes incorporate blended learning.
My students come to class on a regular basis to work on the newspaper, but I require they complete online components intended to compliment their duties. They have the choice of when and where to do these assignments. They can do the assignments in my my room during the assigned class time, late at night at their home, or Saturday morning at a coffee shop. What blended learning means for my class is still being defined. But the idea is when they don’t need to work on the paper, staff members are not required to attend class. Time will tell how well it works, but I am excited about the possibilities.
Over the next semester, I plan to write regularly here at JEADigitalMedia.org about my experiences. (I will also present a seminar about the subject at the Seattle convention. It is at 8 a.m. on Saturday in room 612 at the Washington State Convention Center.) Among the topics I will address in future posts include:
- Making a case for blended learning in a high school journalism class;
- Course requirements and structure for my class;
- My students’ perspectives on the blended learning approach;
- And, the lessons I’ve learned from my pilot class.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Am I crazy for piloting a blended learning newspaper class? Does this enhance or detract from what we are trying to accomplish as newspaper and/or yearbook advisers? Are there other journalism teachers dabbling in online or blended learning classes? If so, what are your experiences?