The Challenges and Rewards of the Virtual Educational Community
The days of the traditional classroom are numbered. A multitude of forces are converging to alter the long held view that education takes place inside a self contained classroom with a teacher who engineers a curriculum and holds students responsible for meeting goals not necessarily connected to a larger learning community. The three factors most responsible for the educational redesign in California are Internet connectivity, standards based education and increased parental involvement. This convergence is what underlies the theme for this year's CEDPA conference. As the capacity to take education outside the four walls of the classroom becomes a reality, the challenges meeting today's educational technologist increase exponentially. In Santa Barbara this November, CEDPA's intent is to bring together speakers, sessions and vendors who will articulate the components for the development of a successful virtual learning community.
The virtual learning community is characterized by a learn anywhere, anytime capacity. It consists of students with personal computers or other connected devices. It is monitored by a staff trained in technology and collaborative across disciplines and grade levels. It is communicative in a multidirectional manner with parents, business persons, administrators and other concerned individuals all contributing to a student's educational growth. It relies on strong and versatile databases, capable of handling any type of student data including performance based demonstrations. It has measurable standards and the expectation of students is that they master certain essential skills before proceeding to the next set of tasks. It includes many opportunities for remediation and review. It informs parents and departments of education how well individual students are doing, measures the competence of teachers and details the effectiveness of schools.
California has launched its version of the virtual learning community with programs like Digital High School, soon Digital Middle School, the California Student Information System and a new round of technology initiatives that push educational strategies into a virtual mode. Vendors have risen to the challenge and wireless technologies will render hardwired infrastructures as tokens of their former selves. Laptops, ebooks, palm devices and digital Internet phones will need sophisticated design, security and monitoring capability to retain their robust capacity in a wireless environment. The State has recognized the power of technology to deliver a world class education to its students and it is counting on the educational technologist to grasp the significance of these educational programs to create a better learning community.
This virtual learning community will need technologists to attend to educational as well as technological innovation. They must be aware that parents want access to student information - grades, attendance, schedules, performances, sports - at any time of the day. They want their students to research from home or a friend's house as well as at school. Online resources can't be restricted to labs or LANs. Licensing and security issues take on new meaning. Parents also want access to schools and the resources there. Why should tax money investments be restricted to a six hour day? Many schools are now opening up in the evening for parents to learn the stuff of the WEB. Who will teach them? They want data to support a school's contention of good performance. They demand explanations for certain scores on measurement rubrics and insist on adequate electronic resources to insure their student's success. They expect the educational technologist to provide sufficient material online for student projects but not information that could harm. The dilemma for managers of networks is where to draw the line - too little information and teachers complain, too much and parents can become irate.
Student information systems are confronted with managing data beyond the transcript. Data marts are proving to be an effective strategy for keeping disparate systems and databases connected. Portals are designed to allow enduser organization of data elements. Divergent trends lead to terminal based application sets and to faster and more powerful workstations. Support staff must constantly reinvent and redefine its skills set and capability. There is a need for perpetual training in the educational technology profession. The convergence of voice, video in this milieu adds a complexity that provokes anxiety for managers charged with capital equipment acquisition.
While the challenges are many, so are the rewards. The educational technologist is at the forefront of reform and redesign. CEDPA is uniquely positioned to afford the educational technology community a forum for the exploration of ideas. It can afford the attendee many opportunities for sharing and learning proven strategies. We hope you can join us in Santa Barbara as we explore these issues.