Virtual learning expanding in R.I.

When it comes to virtual education using the latest technology, Rhode Island has some serious catching up to do when compared to other states. Progress is being made, however, in the form of initiatives now being proposed and/or refined by the R.I. Department of Education and the General Assembly. More

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Focus: TECHNOLOGY

Virtual learning expanding in R.I.

PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL PERSSON
UP TO SPEED: Joe McNamara, left, principal of Pawtucket Alternative Learning Program, works with a student. Also a state representative, McNamara has proposed a statewide policy for online education.
Posted 2/6/12

When it comes to virtual education using the latest technology, Rhode Island has some serious catching up to do when compared to other states. Progress is being made, however, in the form of initiatives now being proposed and/or refined by the R.I. Department of Education and the General Assembly.

The education department is advertising for a school willing to redesign and transform its educational programs through the use of technology and the department will award a $470,000 grant to that school for first-year implementation. Bills pending or to be proposed in the legislature would set a statewide virtual-education policy and govern the use of e-textbooks in place of traditional books.

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist told Providence Business News that she envisions a statewide, computer-based system effecting “sweeping changes,” where the latest technology is used not only to supplement traditional learning techniques but “to dramatically improve the way we deliver instruction.”

“We’re not just looking at using technology as a tool,” she said, “but how schools can use it to significantly change their daily structure, their practices, so students can proceed at their own levels” of achievement. Schools in some states, she noted as one example of possible benefits, have managed to lengthen the school day at no extra cost through the use of computer-based instruction.

The education department has asked all districts, charter public schools and state-operated schools to apply for the $470,000 tech grant, with a March 23 deadline. The request asks for creation of a “technology-rich learning environment that fundamentally rethinks and restructures teaching and learning” through such initiatives as digital curriculum, gaming and flexible scheduling.

Both elementary and secondary schools are welcome to apply, Gist said, with implementation slated for the 2012-2013 school year and further refinement in 2013-2014. Funds for the grant come from a federal fund for education technology.

In conjunction with this proposal and other virtual-education initiatives, RIDE is holding a conference Feb. 11 at Rhode Island College, open to the public, featuring national experts, including educators from Maine, which aggressively is implementing virtual-education techniques. More information on the conference can be found on the RIDE website, www.ride.ri.gov.

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