The Expanding Learning Opportunities Consortium (eLo) recently completed their first year offering online learning opportunities for students. Indian Prairie School District 204, Naperville Community Unit School District 203, and Community Unit School District 200 joined forces to form eLo in August of 2014. Select faculty from across the consortium teach eLo courses as part of their school assignment coupled with their face-to-face classes.
In this post, I offer a five reflections from the first year. Please advise, these reflections are my own.
Faculty Rise to the Occasion
If you asked 100 people to define a “professional” you might receive 100 different definitions. However, you might receive one commonality—a true professional challenges oneself to grow, and the growth is what allows the professional to become a leader in his/her field. Whether your profession lies in the trades, medicine, law, finance, or education, the growth allows your profession to remain relevant, valuable, and sustainable.
During the 2014-2015 school year and summer, near 30 faculty members accepted the challenge to learn how to teach in an online environment. The faculty embraced the challenges that accompany change—such as discomfort, conflict, and confusion. However, they navigated change with enthusiasm, an open-mindedness, and an astute focus to improve their craft in ways never imaginable. Therefore, my first reflection states, “a profession can’t make substantial advancements without an unwavering commitment to professional growth and the willingness to embrace risk."
Our 30 + faculty members emulated the positive qualities that school districts across the nation desire—a commitment to servant leadership. We are quite fortunate to have exceptional faculty part of the #eLoteam. We look forward to their perpetual growth in the educational technology field, and especially the direct benefit that growth will have on students.
Students Deserve Options
What is the first action most people take when they sit down to dine? After engaging in a few minutes of small chat, most reach for the menu and explore the options.
• How hungry am I today?
• Do I feel like fish, meat, pasta, or poultry?
• Does the menu have choices that meet my dietary restrictions?
We often gauge our dining experience by customer service but especially by the diversity of the menu—assuming the quality of your meal meets your expectation. If you dine at a restaurant with limited options, you become dissatisfied with your experience. On the other hand, when you explore a menu with a wealth of options, your tablemates, and you often comment on how impressed you are with the menu.
Is it not our responsibility to provide students with a menu of learning options similar to the options present at five-star restaurants? In year’s past, high school students have opened their menu of learning options and have seen one—seven courses delivered in a traditional format per semester. Students have amazing variety in that single option, whether honors or advanced placement, career and elective, dual-credit courses, etc. By broadening the variety inside student learning menus such as internships, blended learning, and online choices, we are empowering more students and their families to make informed decisions.
No one learning option exceeds the other. All learning options have limitations but by broadening the base of options we are reducing the limitations some students experience in specific learning environments. My second reflection states, “students deserve options in today’s schools. Students and their families deserve the autonomy to select the best and most appropriate learning environment for their wants and needs. For many, that choice might remain the face-to-face environment but for others it might be a blended or online format. Regardless, by extending the options more students “win”, and we are all in the education profession to help students win."
eLo is thrilled to expand the learning menu for students. We recognize it is not the best option for all but it is the best option for some. The next time you sit down at a restaurant and explore your food choices, take a moment and reflect upon a similar menu for students. I get chills imagining the world of possibility for students when presented with a broader menu of learning choices.
Faculty Deserve Options
Do all teachers thrive in the same teaching environment? Would some teachers excel in a face-to-face environment while others in a blended or online format? Do some want to join the profession but can’t due to travel or family restrictions?
By adding layers of options for students, we are generating options for aspiring and present faculty. By expanding teaching options, we become a more welcoming field to attract and retain the best and brightest educators. My third reflection states, “educators, like students, deserve options. Imagine accepting a teaching position but presented with three choices: teach your course in the face-to-face, blended, or online environment. Personally speaking, that sounds amazing to me and empowers a teacher to share their craft with a student in the environment they feel most comfortable.”
Discomfort is Okay During Change
Change is uncomfortable to many. However, discomfort should not trump the profound benefits reaped through positive change. When transforming change, it is pivotal to keep the value of your change close to heart. 34% of higher education students participate in an online course, roughly 7,000,000 students per year. Over 40% of Fortune 500 corporations use educational technology as part of their employee training. Also, as indicated earlier in the post, some students and faculty simply prefer and deserve, to learn/teach in different formats.
My fourth reflection states, “keep doing what you are doing when you know it makes a difference in the lives of others. Listen, respect, and reflect over constructive criticism. Discourse is okay and to be expected in most fields. But allowing discourse to grip and stifle change prevents your profession from reaching its pinnacle.”
Celebrate the Human Element
We live in a very competitive society where corporations race to exceed earning’s expectations and satisfy shareholders or schools face pressure to achieve specific test scores. As a result, the human element sometimes diminishes due to these external pressures. My final reflection states,“we must never lose focus of the people working together to advance the mission, values, and goals of any organization. We should invite collaboration including discourse, encourage risk-taking, build organic trust, and celebrate people.”
Today, I celebrate the near 30 eLo faculty members for rising to the occasion. Today, I celebrate the hundreds of students who were able to take advantage of a different option inside their academic menu—online learning. Today, I celebrate the future our aspiring educators might experience, one rich in opportunity. Today I celebrate the support and leadership provided by three school boards and district/building level administrative teams across eLo serving as model change agents. Looking forward to another year and the anticipation of what next year’s reflections might bring.