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Distress Signals from Canaries in the Data Mine

Posted on Feb 16, 2015

Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities Summit Series

During 2016 the Center will hold a summit related to the benefits and challenges of online learning for students with disabilities. To prepare for that meeting, The Center’s Blog and other venues will publish articles and position papers designed to frame the Summit agenda.

Canaries in the Data Mine: Who are they, where are they, and what are they doing there?

Bar graph

Level of agreement by state special education directors with the statement, Most students with disabilities who enroll in an online course complete it, as measured by total number of responses. From Perspectives from State Special Education Directors on Online Learning, 2013

When we ask education administrators  “How many students with disabilities are enrolled in online learning, which of these students do best in which types of environments and how are they progressing?” we are met with blank stares. They simply do not know. They may be able to tell us how many of these students were enrolled at the start of a semester, and whether the academic outcomes for these students were positive or negative.  Are these student still engaged in online learning? Do they complete and online course of study once enrolled?

Beyond enrollment and persistence, determining which factors actually promote learning – pathways, media, supports, activities, technologies, interpersonal connections (virtual or face to face) – is a more significant challenge.
The education personnel charged with reporting on the progress of students with disabilities really do not know.  They don’t know because they cannot get that information, this despite the fact that the patchwork of entities holding the data sets within which that information exists are unable or unwilling to share it, or unaware that the data they hold, when combined with the data held by others,  could benefit them and every other stakeholder in the education system. Read More..