I’m not really sure how a “congressional caucus” begins in the U.S. Congress but I’m glad to know that one has developed around eLearning (hashtag: #elrncaucus). The E-Learning caucus is co-chaired by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Co) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), and there are 10 other representatives who have signed up to be part of the caucus as well (they are listed at the end of this blog post).
I was fortunate to be in the area and able to attend the inaugural caucus meeting on July 11 in the Rayburn Building in Washington D.C. I was impressed that the meeting began on time at 10am and ended right on time at 11am. In the room were 4 panelists, 2 moderators and about 50 other people including staff members representing congress members, educational organizations, and individuals interested in discussing and sharing ideas about current and future eLearning, online learning and blended learning (I attended on behalf of iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning along with two other colleagues).
First up was Rep. Jared Polis who welcomed everyone and shared how eLearning is developing at every level of education. He stated, “There are as many versions of eLearning as there are insects in the jungle.” Then, Rep. Noem’s staffer shared how Rep. Noem completed a college degree online while she was also a Member of Congress, so she understand firsthand what eLearning is like and the flexibility it can provide for students at all levels.
Next up was Mike Kowalski who represented the K-12 E-Learning perspective. Mike is the administrator for Online Campus in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. He shared that he has been a member of iNACOL, the International Organization for K-12 Online Learning since it first began over nine years ago. He shared how the part time blended learning program he oversees allows students to learn in a variety of ways that leads to more students earning a high school diploma. I talked with Mike after the session and he said that Fairfax County Schools funds the program through a yearly allocation. His teachers are all teachers who also teach in face-to-face classrooms in the district.
There were then three higher education representatives from Colorado State University, the Western Governor’s University, and Career Education Corporation. First, Becky Takeda-Tinker from Colorado State University shared how the CSU Global Campus is the first 100 percent online public university in the U.S. She went on to explain how the Global Campus uses adjunct professors as instructors and how 95% of students who have taken courses report that they are well prepared for their careers. Second, Scott Jenkins from the Western Governor’s University first explained how this online university developed through the support of 19 Governors in the Western Governor’s Association and began accepting students in 1999. One of the several unique components of this program is that they use “competencies rather than seat time as the measure of its outcomes” in their classwork. The school is now graduating over 500 students per month who take one course at a time as they work through their degree. They also have an agreement with Pearson to use their content for many courses, but they only pay for content used by students who successfully complete their courses. The final speaker was Judy Komar from the Career Education Corporation, a for-profit university, who echoed similar findings as the other higher ed institutions. In addition, she added that they realized the importance in creating a culture of learning among their online students and provide opportunities for face-to-face gatherings that lead to increased student success. All of their courses are teacher lead and were developed by content experts.
The speakers then responded to questions from the audience including how they utilize technology to support student learning and retention, what the federal government can do to support online learning, and how current state laws such as seat time in K-12 education and approval processes for higher education institutions are barriers to moving E-Learning forward.
Invite your local representative to join the Congressional E-Learning. They can join those who are already members that include:
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. David Loebsack (D-IA), Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY).