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State and School Leaders Talk About Learning Online

Posted on Oct 14, 2015

The Center continues to reach out to groups who are directly engaged in or impacted by the involvement of students with disabilities in online learning. The presence of these students in full-time virtual, blended or supplemental coursework challenges us to re-consider special education in new contexts. Do practices effective in brick and mortar settings work as well online? If a student takes all of his or her courses online from home is this the least restrictive environment? Is online learning considered a regular part of a free, appropriate public education? If yes, and a school doesn’t provide any online offerings, is that a problem?

These and other questions continue to prompt our inquiries. In 2014, we brought together six state special education directors to address these issues. We wanted to explore what they find important in their states – their responses can be found in the Publications section of our website.

We also held a forum of superintendents and administrators of full-time virtual, blended and supplemental school providers serving a diverse set of students across the country in states that have high levels of online participation. This forum took place March 31 – April 1, 2015. We wanted to explore the same ten issues with both groups about online learning and students with disabilities:

  1. Enrollment, persistence, progress, and achievement
  2. Parents’ preparation and involvement in their child’s online experience and IDEA notifications
  3. IDEA principles in the online environment (e.g., free appropriate public education, least restrictive environment, due process protections)
  4. IDEA principles in the online environment (e.g., eligibility assessment, IEP development)
  5. Access and coordination of related services for students with disabilities
  6. Effective and efficient access, sharing, integration, and instructional usage of student response data among the parties involved in online instruction (e.g., instructor, administrator, provider, and vendor), along with privacy issues
  7. Effectiveness of teacher preparation in the online learning environment, and promising (or negative) practices that facilitate (or negate) professional development
  8. Instructional practices: Integration of optimal evidence-based practices; availability of skill/strategy instruction in online environments; use of the unique properties afforded in online environments
  9. Differential access to online learning within and across your schools (e.g., computer or tablet access, connection speed, district restrictions on material access and assistive technologies)
  10. Local supervision for online learning in general education and, in particular, for supervision in special education

Not surprisingly, opinions flowed closely together and widely apart as we looked at responses from forum participants from the two groups. Their ideas sketched a double helix of an outline depicting the DNA of online learning across its varied contexts. Forum participants helped the Center to identify the elemental structures of online learning in new and unique ways, and we are pleased to be able to share these perceptions in the hope of further informing the field.

We encourage you to visit the Publications section of the website to explore these discussions. Do the perspectives shared match your own?

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