By Christine Kern, contributing writer
Technology is becoming an invaluable tool in today’s classrooms. Yet, there is a lot more to education technology then just ensuring every student has access to a computer. Teachers need to be adequately trained in incorporating technology into the daily curriculum and instruction. Students will be better served if they are using technology as an on-going part of the learning process, rather than a separate activity. And while states are improving the infrastructure for education technology, some communities are still lacking the necessary capacity.
Advancements in technology and productivity over the last decade also demand new ways of integrating current and future technological innovations into public education. Policymakers are working to provide all students with high quality learning options, regardless of where they live or what school they attend. The expansion of digital and online learning can begin to alleviate inequalities that currently exist between students who have access to high quality teachers and a diverse array of courses and those who lack such access because their schools struggle to attract talent or lack the resources to provide a variety of options.
Law makers are recognizing the need to create legislation to help navigate through the technological landscape. Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures reveals the new education technology policies that were passed into law in 2014.
It is clear that virtual education programs are on the rise. In 2014, 12 states passed 17 laws relating to education technology. The foremost goal of this legislation in many states was to strengthen existing online education programs in both K-12 and higher education. States enacted reforms related to distance learning or virtual schools, from tweaking attendance requirements for brick-and-mortar schools to removing caps for attendance of virtual charter schools.
This year, North Carolina passed two reforms relating to education technology. H23 directs the state board of education to develop and implement digital teaching and learning standards for teachers and school administrators, as well as ensuring all students in school administrator preparation programs demonstrate competencies in using digital and other instructional technologies. This law becomes effective on July 1, 2017, and it requires the North Carolina State Board of Education to “develop and implement digital textbooks and learning standards for teachers and school administrators.”
A recent national survey found that 46 percent of teachers reported “lacking adequate training on the technology they use.” North Carolina also passed H44, which announces the transition from traditional textbooks to digital learning platforms. A statewide shift to digital education would represent a huge effort that could fundamentally change how students learn in North Carolina.
Oklahoma passed OK S 267, which relates to sponsorship of a statewide virtual charter school, a limitation on enrollment, State Aid funding for virtual charter schools, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the geographic boundaries of virtual charter schools, activities participation requirements, a prohibition against school districts from providing full-time virtual education to certain students, and certain charter school contracts.
Virginia’s new H115 is a particularly innovative new virtual education law that allows the department of education to contract with schools that create their own online courses, allowing the state to make these courses available to other schools through the Virtual Virginia Program. The legislation also created a system for school boards to charge a fee to other schools to defer the costs of creating online courses. Ultimately, this program should encourage schools to have their best teachers work on developing virtual content and then spread it throughout the state.
Seven states in all, including Colorado, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Washington, each enacted legislation governing or redefining virtual charter schools or virtual education, while six states — Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee — have each passed bills regarding distance and higher education, demonstrating a trend towards cyber learning and educational technology, creating a need for VARs and other IT solutions providers to fill.