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Students Speak Up With More Demand for Online Ed.

School districts are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to implementing online education but are still struggling to meet the increasing need and desire of students to learn online, finds a new update to an ongoing research project.

Among its findings, the "Learning in the 21st Century: 2011 Trends Update" reports that two in five students believe online classes are an essential component to education, and that administrators' concerns about funding online courses are (slowly) fading, while concerns about evaluating quality of online courses is rising.

But while the proportion of high school students who had taken an online course as of last fall tripled from the fall of 2008, from 10 to 30 percent, only about 26 percent teachers surveyed expressed interest in diving into online teaching if they hadn't already done so.

The findings come from a survey of nearly 400,000 students, educators, and parents conducted last fall by Project Tomorrow, in partnership with Blackboard K-12, as part of its ongoing Speak Up campaign. The results were released Tuesday morning at a breakfast held near the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, site of the ongoing International Society for Technology in Education annual conference.

"From the Speak Up data, what we're seeing is a disconnect" between students and educators, said Julie Evans, president of Project Tomorrow. "We've got a challenge here in terms of meeting those expectations."

There also appear to be different perceptions about online learning within subgroups of students and educators, especially administrators.

For example, while high school students saw benefits in online learning for practical reasons, like conforming to schedules and earning early college credits, middle school students saw intellectual benefits like gaining extra help for difficult subjects and feeling more comfortable and more motivated.

Meanwhile, district-level administrators were found to be more supportive of online learning than on-campus principals, regardless if the goal was keeping students engaged, increasing graduation rates, offering remediation, providing scheduling alternatives, or any number of other reasons. That dichotomy, Evans said, will lead to further research next year that delineates between district office administrators and on-site administrators.

"We're going to do a special survey which is school-site principal oriented and one that's district office oriented because we think there's actually different questions we should be asking," Evans said. "The district-level superintendents or administrators are much more visionary thinking [about] what the long-term implications are. ... Principals are more narrowly focused on living right now today and dealing with today's issues."

The trends update follows two recent releases Speak Up during the spring, one that updated tendencies in technology use among teachers and other education personnel that came out in May, and one summarizing student and parent technology use that was released in late March.

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