Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Priorities in K-12 Distance Education: A Delphi Study Examining Multiple Perspectives on Policy, Practice, and Research

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Priorities in K-12 Distance Education: A Delphi Study Examining Multiple Perspectives on Policy, Practice, and Research

Article excerpt

The landscape of K-12 public education is changing substantially. Recent trends in United States policy (Hassel & Terrell, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2004) support the continued expansion of distance learning opportunities aimed at elementary- and secondary-school students. As pressure on decision-makers to implement distance learning opportunities for K-12 students continues to grow, so do questions concerning the effectiveness and scalability of existing programs, and the costs, needs, and barriers in creating new programs (Freedman, Darrow, & Watson, 2002). The decisions made today have lasting impact not only on our educational system but also on the individual students served. Therefore, it is imperative that development and growth occur in a thoughtful and systematic way (Blomeyer, 2002). Long-term strategic thinking about how best to adapt, adopt, and implement distance education into existing educational structures is necessary to ensure the most effective use of institutional resources and optimal outcomes for student success (Sarason, 1990; Verduin & Clark, 1991). The purpose of this three-round Delphi study was to identify and facilitate the prioritization of issues surrounding this rapidly evolving field.

Background

Distance education as defined by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NOES) is "education or training courses delivered to remote (off campus) location(s) via audio, video (live or prerecorded), or computer technologies, including both synchronous and asynchronous instruction" (1999, p. 2). Web- or Internet-based education is a form of distance education that uses the Internet for content delivery. Virtual schools and programs that utilize Internet-based technologies often fall into these pre-existing definitions of distance education. E-learning or online learning is a subset of distance education that specifically incorporates web-based or Internet technologies (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2006).

Distance education in the form of online courses and programs targeting grade levels K-12 are often referred to as "virtual schools" or "cyber-schools" and operate in a variety of ways. They can be operated by public school districts and other local education agencies, by state education agencies, by colleges and universities, as cyber charter schools, by regional agencies, by consortia of educational entities, and as nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Regardless of how virtual schools are operated, the rise in the number of virtual schools has been dramatic. Forty-two states currently offer either state supplemental programs, full-time online programs, or both, with enrollment growth between 25 and 50 percent (Watson & Ryan, 2007) and indications that every state now has some form of cyber-school operating within its boundaries (Long, 2004).

Distance education programs may provide additional choices for high educational achievement of every child, but the challenge is to ensure that this alternative form of instruction increases the quantity of educational opportunities while maintaining or enhancing the quality of those opportunities (Roblyer & Marshall, 2003). Educators and policymakers look to researchers to provide evidence of effectiveness to assist in planning for future events and to inform classroom practice (Roybler & Knezek, 2003). Researchers may follow the lead of visionary policymakers in defining research agendas. And neither policy nor research will be effective if there is no perceived value in the adaptation and application of policy and research decisions in the classroom. Whether or not K-12 distance education programs improve educational opportunities provided to students will depend upon the identification of priorities from the multiple perspectives of these critical stakeholders.

Methodology

This study used the Delphi method (Linstone & Turoff, 1975; Ziglio, 1996) to identify priorities for K-12 distance education policy, practice, and research over the next five years. …

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