With California public schools facing continued cuts and ranking as one of the lowest in the nation, a group of educators and senators gathered at California State University, Fullerton Thursday for Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff's Education Summit to discuss expanding the use of technology in the classroom.
According to Digital Learning Now, California ranked last in using technology in the classroom, achieving only 14 of the 72 recommended categories, which included student access to online courses, funding, and quality choices in digital learning providers.
In an age when 93 percent of children 12 to 17 are online, the lack of digital learning in schools is surprising, said former Sen. Gloria Romero, the California State Director of Democrats for Education Reform. She cited a resistance within the school system to change with the times.
For one thing, California school limits online classes to students who live within the school district that provides the classes. Romero said the educators don't seem to realize that "geography doesn't exist in the virtual world."
"It hurts people in rural areas where online classes aren't as easy to access and the districts don't have the money to invest in resources," she said.
Teachers unions are also resistant to digital changes because they fear losing jobs as more students learn online. But Diane Donnelly-Toscano, Innovative Programs Coordinator at Anaheim Union High School District, believes that instead of losing jobs, the teacher's role will be changed.
Instead of lecturing in a classroom, students can watch instruction on their computers - going back and replaying parts they don't understand - freeing up teachers to spend more time answering individual questions. "[Online classes] don't replace the teacher, we still cap classes at 45 students - that's the regular class size - so teachers can get to know kids more one-on-one."
And while Romero concedes that at the college level, part-time lecturers may lose their jobs to online courses, the interactive learning model could help students get a more complete education, resulting in job creation in other sectors.
"We won't move forward unless technology moves forward," she said. "The rest of the world uses it, so we need to use it in the education arena."
Especially as state colleges face budget cuts, online courses could cut down on capital expenditures like parking, construction costs, and lower demand for on-site services, said Keith Boyum, executive assistant to the president of CSUF. This could allow the school to reallocate that money and provide better education for more students.
Some California school districts have already taken things into their own hands. Donnelly-Toscano started an e-learning program in her district in 2008 that includes 12 virtual teachers teaching a variety of classes from history to accounting to AP psychology. She has also started a program for students who had dropped out of high school, creating a hybrid program of in-class and online learning, setting flexible school hours for those working around jobs and families. "They need to come back to something different, or they won't come," Donnelly-Toscano said.
PTA member Vivien Moreno said she sees the need for more technology in schools. She said her son, who attends Ladera Vista Junior High School in Fullerton, is already very tech savvy.
"We're here because we really believe this is the future of education, not just because of the economics, but because this is best for the children," Moreno said.