I just had a very interesting conversation with Julie Linn, Chief of Staff for K12.com, a private online school which also offers individual online courses to public and private schools looking to supplement their course offerings.
Having read Disrupting Class a few years ago (thanks to Scott McLeod’s fantastic K12Online Conference 2009 presentation), it seems clear that online learning is going to be a powerful catalyst for change in schools, so I was very interested to hear exactly how K12 would pitch their services to an established international school like ISB.
Here are a few highlights about K12 and what they offer:
- They employ over 2,000 full-time teachers.
- They have courses from Kindergarten to grade 12. Wow! I wonder what an online kinder course looks like?
- The k-8 program uses their proprietary learning management system. For all K-8 courses, K12.com requires on-site personal support for the student, like a personal learning coach (who could be a parent or a tutor).
- The high school runs the e-college learning management system and does not require any on-site personal support.
- They use a blended approach for all courses, many include K12-authored, proprietary textbooks and physical kits which are sent to students for, for example, science lab courses.
- They offer a lot of varitety particualrly in specialist areas, like technology; including courses like: Digital Photography and Graphics, Game Design I and II, 3D Game Creation, Flash Animation, etc.
According to Julie, many international schools are already embracing online learning with K12. The early adopters are mostly smaller schools, who do not have the diverse on-site course offerings of larger schools. The larger schools usually start with interest in online courses for summer school, or for students who are in need of higher level course work but are not social ready to be with older students.
In addition to these highlights, there are a few clear reasons why online course offering would be especially attractive to international schools:
- the difficulty of ensuring diverse offerings at international schools (especially smaller schools) because of the limited number of students (and teachers) interested in certain courses,
- the frequency of some families’ needs to move from country to country, and their desire for consistency in education for their children,
- the need for differentiation in content level and offerings, especially when students are coming from so many different schools. What happens to the student who’s been in a Spanish immersion school for 4 years who moves to Thailand, where all that’s on on offer is a World Language course geared towards the students who have taken it as a second language for a year or two?
- the desire for retaining mother-tongue languages in a new country. How great would it be for a Swedish student in Thailand to be able to take Swedish language courses with a Swedish teacher?
All of those factors seem like great reasons to invest in online learning opportunities, even for a large school like ISB that does have a wide variety of onsite offerings.
After chatting with Julie, some challenges or considerations for international schools investigating programs like K12.com also came up:
- Ensuring the integrity of the program (pointed out by Chad): it doesn’t seem like there is an infrastructure for proctoring exams – students just take them on their own, which could lead to cheating or sharing logins to allow students to pose as other students. Maybe this is something the individual school can implement.
- Ensuring correct placement: it seems that the on-site coordinator (a teacher, counselor, or curriculum coordinator employed by the school, who is the liaison between K12 and the school) determines which class to place a student in based on the provided scope and sequence. When interactive testing is so easy and efficient (we MAP test twice a year, but only in Math and Language), wouldn’t it be ideal to have pre-assessments to determine which course a student should enroll in?
- All of the current language offerings seem to be aimed at English speakers desiring to learn a new language. When providing a spectrum of services for an international school population, a more diverse selection of language learning offerings might be desirable.
- Similarly, because K12.com is based in the US, their scope and sequence seem to be very linked to American models, which might not be optimal for international school usage without modification. I’m wondering how their course structure would fit in with the PYP, MYP and DP for example.
- In one of the blended models outlined by K12.com, where some students might be taking some of their courses at a physical school as well as online, the question arises of where and how the online learning will intersect with their daily school schedule. Will students simply be going to the library to work on their online classes at certain points during the day? This seems like an area which might require careful planning and resource management on the school’s part in order to coordinate.
It’s very exciting for me to see online learning becoming more popular in international schools. It might be easy for those of us working in international schools to see our education model as unchanging because there will always be expatriate children needing a global education, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. The ability to keep a consistent educational context for children, the convenience of being able to move from country to country without all of the interviews and paperwork required for changing schools, and the increasingly personalized school programs that can be developed when you can pick and choose from a wide variety of courses all lead me to believe that this is going to have a huge impact on international schools as well.
No matter what, I do think we will need to incorporate face-to-face interaction to help children learn social skills. But it will certainly be interesting to see how these kinds of supplemental offerings can/will become the disruptive innovation that forces schools to make some much-needed changes.
All of this reminds me just how important it is to be able to teach an engaging and interactive online course – we might be doing it more regularly (and sooner) than we think.
Does your school run or offer online courses? What are the most popular or useful offerings? How do you think this shift in the world of education will affect schools and learning in the near future?