After Michael Barbour's class I had the thought that we know so very little about distance education for K-12 especially grades lower than high school. However, we are quickly moving to having more and more of these distance programs. I was disappointed that more had not been done to analyze the effectiveness and effects on the students. At first I thought, man our government is irresponsible for pushing some of these programs at times and yet not funding research to find out more about them. Then I thought that perhaps the responsibility falls as much on educators and educational researchers as it does the government. Anyway, my feelings of the need for research were confirmed in this week's readings:
"Little empirical research has been performed to determine [distance education's] effectiveness in elementary and secondary settings. Questions remain about the educational needs best addressed through online learning as well as its impact on school improvement and learner outcomes. Programs of research informed by early lessons learned are needed to inform the future development of online learning. "
As I looked through the conclusions and findings of the 8 research projects that were funded I did not find much that helped answer the educational needs that would be best addressed through online learning. In fact I found that most of the articles said that there was a need for more research or that perhaps there were problems with the random samples or the implementation of the experimental design. I can understand that it could be difficult to do an experiment design in an educational settings. Educators, and parents may not want their children to be randomly assigned to different groups like lab rats if they feel they may not "make it" or that it may not give them the experience they think they should have.
Anyway, the other problem that seemed glaring to me was stated in the article:
"Research on K-12 online learning rarely has been conducted in a sustained, systematic manner. There is a pressing need for efforts to organize and systematize research on the effectiveness of K-12 online learning."
What good is a critic with no better plan right? I don't think I have the answers but it seems to me that there are some great research opportunities here. If a group of experienced researchers could formulate a systematic plan with a set timeline to evaluate the effectiveness of K-12 distance learning based on what we already know and ensure that the studies will really get at what we want--effectiveness then I have to think that our government would take the responsibility to fund such an undertaking. As a tax payer I for one would want to know if these distance educational experiences are going to help our children. I'd also want to know at what point these experiences are most effective and with which content areas.
Quotes taken form http://www.ncrel.org/tech/synthesis/synthesis.pdf