Redesigning Learning for the 21st Century Learner - Virtual Schools

I recently read an article about OpenCourseWare as an option for universal education (Caswell, Henson, Jensen, & Wiley, 2008). OpenCourseWare is essentially a platform that provides online classes. Although the time to facilitate the courses and collect, curate, and post materials and course resources may cost an expense, the cost for the face to face component of the course does not. I am currently completing my doctoral degree, which was a 100% online. It is Florida State University’s first online doctoral program and it afforded me the opportunity to do two things: attend the university I always wanted to attend and continue working as an independent consult that travels more than half of the year. I am in my last year, currently working on my dissertation in practice and the experience has been great. It has been intense and more demanding than any face to face class I’ve attended. Things like the discussion board, which substitutes for in person class responses make it so every student responds to a question asked. In past courses I could get away with not having to read the required reading or hide out from time to time when I wasn’t prepared but that’s not the case in our online forum. For whatever reason, I think we have had more assignments that were more rigorous, but that could be part of the nature of doctoral work. A qualitative study about this research topic could be very insightful. At any rate, could distant learning be a more viable education option to K-12 educators in the future.

Florida is a state that has been highly regarded for their K-12 school choice options model, which includes a virtual school option. Through virtual school, students have the capability to do the majority of their schooling online. As politicians and school choice supporters jockey for policies that redefine the traditional dynamic of education, can distant learning be a safer, more objective, more inclusive, alternative to education? Although, I’m not an advocate for this notion, I’d like to practice in an exercise of debate. Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to make an argument for virtual learning. Today’s argument will focus on differentiation of instruction.

Differentiation of instruction is a hot topic buzz word that circles around education communities, but most people don’t have a clue about what it means. Some think giving students more or less work means to differentiate. Others think giving students harder or easier work is differentiating instruction. However, differentiating instruction is providing appropriate learning opportunities customized to optimize the learning experience of the learner. An argument, I often hear from educators, is how do I use this/do this in a class where students’ ability levels are all over the place? What do I do for the struggling readers or students that don’t know have to add but we’re asking them to solve two-step linear equations. All great questions and since the environments aren’t conducive to one learning style or ability level. Since the demands are too complex to inclusively meet the needs of every learner. Wouldn’t a dedicated individualized adaptable curriculum be more beneficial for the student?

Caswell, T., Henson, S., Jensen, M., & Wiley, D. (2008). Open educational resources: Enabling universal education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(1), 11.