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Georgia Task Force Issues Recommendations for Achieving Digital Learning

The state of Georgia needs to increase broadband capacity to schools and wireless connectivity and device availability in schools and the broader community if it expects to improve educational achievement through digital learning. Those are the first three recommendations of 12 that appear in a new report issued by an education task force that has been working since November 2012 to examine the status of digital learning in that state. The findings, which touch on infrastructure, digital content and courses, and blended and competency-based learning, could have come from almost any state.

The task force was formed by Governor Nathan Deal in April 2012 and consists of 14 members, including district superintendents, principals, teachers, a grants specialist, technology leaders from Georgia's Department of Education, state legislators, and representatives from major corporations. Starting in November 2012, the group met eight times, toured successful school implementations of technology, and received presentations from education experts. The final result is a concise 22 pages.

"Digital learning has the potential to leverage technology to transform our educational system by providing students, parents, and educators more flexibility over the time, place, path and pace of learning," the report's authors stated. "In other words, it individualizes each student's educational experience and shifts the teacher's role from being the source of information to being a guide alongside students."

"Georgia students need 21st century skills to succeed in our economy, and digital learning can help provide those skills," added Deal in a press release. "The task force recommendations provide a strong framework for digital learning that will increase student achievement and broaden choices for Georgia students and parents."

The 12 recommendations offered by the task force are to:

1: Increase statewide broadband capacity to schools, using as a target the recommendations developed by the State Education Technology Directors Association in its 2012 Broadband Imperative Report: By 2014-2015, 100 megabits per second per 1,000 students and staff members on an Internet service provider and a gigabit per second per 1,000 students and staff members for an internal district and school network. That's increased for the 2017-2018 school year to one gigabit for external connectivity and 10 gigabits for internal connectivity.

2: Increase districts' ability to expand wireless connectivity and device availability within schools by providing financial support in several ways, including increasing the full-time equivalent allotment for classroom technology.

3: Increase availability of wireless connectivity in communities, to allow students to access learning resources outside of school; this includes encouraging local businesses to provide free Wi-Fi and publicizing discount options offered by Internet providers.

4: Support the transition to and acquisition of digital resources at the state, system, school, and classroom level, such as exploring collaborations with other states in sharing open education resources and diverting a portion of professional learning dollars to training teachers on the use of digital learning resources.

5: Remove barriers to online learning by finding new uses for existing funding streams to encourage participation among families and schools and providing student access to postsecondary courses for credit.

6: Develop a communication strategy to inform people in and outside of schools about digital learning and its potential to transform education.

7: Provide blended and competency-based learning opportunities at both the preK-12 and postsecondary levels in order to emphasize content mastery over seat-time based education.

8: Develop assessments that demonstrate mastery of "business required" skills by Georgia students and that tie into the competency-based model.

9: Pull together into a single resource all of the options for dual enrollment and competency-based learning already available in the state so that students and families can easily understand what's available.

10: Design a funding mechanism that provides flexibility to foster blended and competency-based learning while balancing the operational needs of districts. The concern here is to eliminate barriers in laws and policies that prevent districts and schools from adopting alternative forms of instruction, such as blended or competency-based learning.

11: Find ways to incentivize experimentation with blended learning and competency-based courses, for example, using money available in the Innovation Fund to support pilot projects and the scaling up of innovative programs with promise.

12: To promote 21st century learning, rethink classroom design and furniture to accommodate flexibility.

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