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Education Reform: Chalk It Up To Technology - By Benita Dodd

May 31, 2013 J

It’s big. In fact, “massive” is a more apt description of the change overtaking education in Georgia. Some are hanging for dear life onto the “old school” ways, but technology is dragging them, kicking and screaming, into approaches that will forever disrupt the class.

In just the month of May, even as schools closed for the summer break, three “massive” announcements shook the education establishment:

Georgia Tech, one of the nation’s top research universities, announced that in the next semester its College of Computing will offer the first online Master of Science degree in computer science that can be earned completely through the “Massive Open Online Course,” or MOOC, model. The degree’s cost is expected to be less than $7,000, a fraction of the traditional campus-based program. The program, a collaboration with AT&T and Udacity, is also expected to help address the growing shortage of qualified workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Just this week, the University System of Georgia announced it is one of 10 state university systems and public universities nationally that will partner with one of the leading platforms for MOOCs, Coursera, to explore how to use the technology to improve academic quality and achievement, both on campuses and in Coursera’s global classroom.

This month, also, Georgia’s parents, students and teachers got access to a catalog of more than 100 digital courses and 20,000 instruction resources. The courses are available through the state’s online charter schools, including those in Cobb, Gwinnett, Fulton and Forsyth, or through the Georgia Virtual School, where courses are free but there is a charge for anyone seeking academic credit. The resources are both global and Georgia-developed, but all were reviewed to ensure they meet state curriculum standards. This is a prudent step; not all online courses are created equal.

The factory model, cookie-cutter approach to learning is fast becoming history in Georgia. The vast array of online resources can help schools, teachers and parents customize education to the child’s learning style, and children will be able to learn and advance at their own pace versus the pace of the class as a whole.

The questions about whether a child is learning and where that child is experiencing difficulties in grasping a subject are being answered with the state’s innovative Longitudinal Data System being rolled out. All teachers will soon have access by computer, through the school district student information system to historical student data, curriculum standards and instructional resources. Even better, as Georgia Tech’s $7,000 degree demonstrates, technology can help deliver education more cost-effectively.

As Georgia moves forward into new territory, there will be hurdles, but they are not mountains. For example, many Georgia students have no access to the Internet or a computer at home; many schools have insufficient bandwidth to serve all students. Many older teachers may not be tech-savvy enough to use the online resources adequately as a teaching tool. That won’t always be the case; access is spreading and broadband and wireless technology are advancing. Plus, the younger generation of educators understands the digital world in which most children are operating, too.

The Internet will never replace the teacher in the classroom, but online education is no longer a “virtual” thing. It’s a reality, one that should not be viewed as a threat. It must be embraced for the learning tool that it is, opening up the globe and a whole new world of possibilities in school choice, in assisting in the education of Georgia’s children and in ensuring a skilled workforce. And goodness knows, Georgia education needs all the help it can get.

For information on Georgia’s K-12 online courses, go here.

For information on Georgia’s online learning resources, go here

For information on the Longitudinal Data System, go here

Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

Reprinted with permission from GA Public Policy Foundation. Copyright May 31, 2013.

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