Lately, I’ve found myself, quite by accident, thinking a great deal about what an “online school” might look like, were I to have the opportunity to be involved in the creation of one. I’m watching this process unfold in my school district, and it’s started some wheels a’turning.
And this is thinking that, while I’ve done peripherally off and on over the last several years, has been persistently in my head these last few weeks. So it seems reasonable to try to write some of it down before it slips away, or as an opportunity to bettter understand what’s going on in my head. So I imagine this will be a few posts over the next few days, as I flesh out various ideas. If you don’t want to head down this road with me, here are some links to other distractions that you might enjoy.
First draft thinking. But thinking I like and find useful.
To begin with, any online school that’s worth building won’t be a district-branded school in a box. You know what I mean when I talk school in a box, right? One purchases the curriculum and coursework and so on and replaces the curriculum company’s logo with their district logo. This is relatively easy to do, and results in the ability of a school board to say “Hey. Look. We have an online school.” But doesn’t really result in a change to, well, pretty much anything, or any advantage to the home school district other than a slight financial one.
So that’s not good enough. And it feels, well, funky. At least to me. So that’s not doable, in my mind. Not in totality. But there are other ways.
In our school district, in the face of a change in state standards, the curriculum team has been working with select teachers to map our standards into a curriculum framework. The next step is to begin to map out what new common district assessments might look like and then to give examples of what exemplary work looks like and to build all of those standards, assessments and exemplars into a curriculum map that makes it pretty transparent about what’s up with teaching and learning in the district.
That’s good. But let’s try to tie in a few other district projects. For one thing, there’s a real sense of excitement about the possibility of digital and/or open source textbooks here in the district. Both the board and the curriculum team and others are beginning to realize that there’s a big opportunity to save some money and to create better materials at the same time through the curation of digital texts.
I imagine that we could double our curriculum expertise here in St. Vrain, have folks work regularly on curating resources by hanging the good stuff from elsewhere on our curriculum map and writing the rest, and save money in the process. The distribution model for what folks produce is a bit muddled, but it’s doable.
Let’s suppose, though, that the aims of creating digital textbooks that are mapped to curriculum and building an online school weren’t disparate. In fact, I think they’re complimentary.
Suppose, instead of going after a school in a box, you took the opportunity to think of an online school as a lab school, a place of possibility and “what if-edness” that you might use for R&D into new methods, practices, and opportunities for partnership. Suppose the goal of such a school included being the development and testing ground for the digital resources that you wanted to build? And furthermore, suppose that you hired teachers to both teach and curate curriculum, so rather than teach full time, or curate full time, they did both things together.
This would give you a space in which to create resources and to, with the aid of students, who would be partners in the work, fieldtest and improve them?
Doesn’t that have a nice sound to it? I think such a school would need to be a high school to begin with, but that might be an irrational bias.
And now that we’ve opened the door to cross-purposes, I’d like to explore a few other ones. There are plenty more. What might an office of professional development as a partner in an online school look like? How might an online school be a school-within-a-school that lives across a school district? What are the essential physical spaces in an online school? How do you build community in such spaces?
But those’re posts for other evenings. For now – might something like this make sense? What places do you see that look like this – online schools with experimental purposes? Lab schools? Online?
I’ve not yet mentioned that, as I wrote and wondered a little while back, it would be essential that there were democratic structures built into the school. And, although I’m not sure I’ve said so, it would be essential in any online school, that there be advisors in place and an advisory period of some kind that made sense for all students. Students are less likely to get lost when there’re always folks looking out for you.
More soon. Let me know what you think in the comments.