While most news stories discuss the failures of our education system, there are significant, if lonely, voices that report on the many teaching and learning breakthroughs in schools. Most of these breakthroughs are enabled by tech innovations that move rapidly from the hands of consumers to those of educators and students.
Tom Vander Ark, author of the Vander Ark on Innovation blog from Education Week, explores these breakthroughs and their benefits in a recent blog post titled, “Despite Bad News, Progress is Possible.”
Vander Ark contrasts learning 20 years ago with today with smartphones and tablets giving both teachers and students instantaneous, simultaneous access to information. Using these nearly ubiquitous tools, “the power of adaptive learning tools, of special needs tools, and of language acquisition tools” becomes practical, affordable and possible for broad populations of students, many previously under-served by the system.
Edtech has expanded the spectrum of educational options for students and their families. Virtual schools now offer a real alternative to traditional classrooms: 30 states offer full-time online programs and more than a quarter million students attend these publicly funded online charter schools. Virtual school students complete their studies with a web-connected computer, a learning coach (usually a parent) and online curriculum from a variety of publishers. With online learning, students gain access to experts and expertise, regardless of geography or situation. Many of these students are thriving like never before.
Edtech also enables another solution to a common district-level problem: shortages of highly trained specialists such as speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and occupational therapists (OTs) to work with students with special needs. This persistent nationwide shortage requires school-based SLPs and OTs to manage heavy caseloads and put in significant “windshield time” to help students achieve their IEP goals. Research published by ASHA indicates that large caseloads negatively affect student outcomes and contribute toward high rates of SLP burn-out and attrition. ASHA recommends that caseloads not exceed 40 students, but SLP shortages make this nearly impossible for many school districts. Nationwide, the average caseload for SLPs is nearly 50 students and only seven states have average caseloads at or below the recommended level of 40 students.
PresenceLearning is tackling this persistent shortage with a web-based solution that delivers live experts when and when they are needed via “teletherapy”. PresenceLearning, with a nationwide network of fully licensed therapists, collaborates with districts’ on-site staff to lighten and balance caseloads. PresenceLearning enables districts that have had chronic and acute staff vacancies to gain access to high quality SLPs and better serve their kids with special needs
PresenceLearning will conduct more than 120,000 live online speech therapy sessions during the 2012-2013 school year in public, charter and virtual school districts of all sizes nationwide