Now a couple days removed from the 2012 Virtual School Symposium, let's take a look at some of the key lessons learned from New Orleans:
1. 'Blended' is the New 'Virtual': The 2012 VSS brought a far-greater focus on blended learning than in past conferences, between featuring folks such as the Innosight Institute's Michael Horn and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Stacey Childress as keynote presenters, and dozens of sessions focusing on the various steps along the way to establishing and growing blended programs.
Many virtual and blended education leaders have predicted that blended learning would eventually have the greater impact for K-12 education, especially given one estimate out there that at the very most, the ceiling for students who would receive education in a fully virtual environment is about 10 percent of the public school population. But maybe it's possible that leaders in the community have also tried to speed along that process, given that it was during the 2011 VSS that full-time online education appeared to be coming under attack from all sides.
More on this in next week's print edition of Education Week.
2. Let's Not Forget About Access: Some folks were eager to remind conference-goers that just because virtual and blended learning are making more headlines in the news and creating more opportunities in schools doesn't mean the majority of students have access to the myriad of online or blended learning opportunities out there.
As we noted before, the "Keeping Pace" report issued earlier this week noted that only Florida provided the full range of online and blended learning experiences to the full range of its K-12 students.
This argument can become political, however. Some folks on the right would contend access would improve with a greater focus on allowing for more student avenues for school choice, while some folks on the left would counter that access could be driven by centralized government investment, particularly in digital infrastructure.
3. Communication Is Key: Leaders stressed to each other and to practitioners that it's the virtual school community's responsibility to communicate transparently with the public, not only about the success stories in virtual education but also the failures.
Without that communication, work such as iNACOL's ongoing efforts to improve quality evaluation measures for online learning programs would lose credibility, said iNACOL President Susan Patrick. And while outside observers may not always share as optimistic or favorable a view of virtual education as its practitioners, those views will only become more knowledgeable with deeper relationships with those working in the field, said iNACOL Director of External Affairs Jonathan Oglesby.
4. What Did You Think?: Were you there among the more than 2,000 attendees? What sessions did you attend, and what were your impressions of the keynote speakers and panels? We'd love to hear from you.