The Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, is making news this week with his announcement that every high school student in the state of Indiana should be required to take at least one online course before being granted a high school diploma. Mr. Bennett explained his rationale for an online course requirement by stating that he felt like experiencing an online course would help to prepare Indiana students for the technology they will be using at colleges and universities, as well as in the workforce.
Several school districts within the state of Indiana are already incorporating technology into the curriculum, thus showing their belief that having technical skills is important for the students they serve. The Evansville Vanderburgh school district provides take-home netbooks to all middle and high school students. This Indiana district also has a teacher placed in the role of “eLearning coach”, responsible for working with other teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms. Other technology heavy programs within this district are its Virtual Academy and New Tech Institute.
Indiana is not alone in its belief that technological experience is important to high school students. The state of Michigan began requiring its students to take at least one eLearning course or have an online learning experience as part of their high school graduation requirements in the fall of 2006. Michigan was the first state in the United States to have an online learning component as part of their high school diploma track. The rationale for this decision was stated in the Michigan Merit Curriculum Guidelines. According to this document, an online experience “will allow students to become familiar with a key means of increasing their own learning skills and knowledge. It will also prepare them for the demands that they will encounter in higher education, the workplace, and in personal life-long learning. While students informally develop technology skills and gain experience through their media-rich lives, an online learning experience will require them to complete assignments, meet deadlines, learn appropriate online behavior, and effectively collaborate with others in an instructional setting.” This is quite a hearty endorsement for the importance of distance learning to say the least.
In 2009, the state of Alabama also added an online feature to its high school graduation requirements. This change was adopted when policy makers realized Alabama students attending small schools were turning to online courses to access subjects that the schools they were attending did not offer. Florida joined these ranks in 2010 when they decided that beginning with that year’s freshman class, all students would be required to take at least one course through the state’s virtual education program in order to receive a high school diploma. Again, strengthening technical skills was the main reason sited for the change. The Idaho state board of education is also considering adding an online course element to its high school graduation requirements. Idaho voters will have a chance to approve this change in an election held in November of 2012.