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Indiana Tries Online Teacher Communities to Help With Shift From Common Core

Atlanta

The Indiana state education department recently launched dozens of new online teacher communities, part of a mad scramble to help educators transition to new academic standards that will take effect in September, just six months after the Hoosier state became the first in the nation to ditch the Common Core.

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"It's been a wild ride," said Candice Dodson, the state department's assistant director of e-learning, during remarks made at the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, being held here this weekend.

While the timeline for switching standards has undoubtedly been "hectic," Dodson told Education Week in an interview following the panel discussion in which she took part, the transition has also brought together a wide range of state education officials in an "all hands on deck" effort to make life easier for teachers. The state deparment's Office of eLearning has been integral to that effort, Dodson said, creating 52 new virtual "communities of practice" intended to help educators share resources and discuss common questions. Within two weeks, more than 1,000 teachers have signed up, she said.

In March of this year, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, announced that he had signed legislation voiding the state board of education's 2010 decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Oklahoma and South Carolina have since followed suit, leaving just over 40 states plus the District of Columbia still poised to implement the common core during the coming school year.

The standards, developed by the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and indirectly supported with billions of dollars in funding from the U.S. Department of Education, have provoked sharp resistance from factions on both sides of the political spectrum. In Indiana, concerns centered around the role of the federal government and a potential loss of local control of what is taught to schoolchildren. 

Dodson said that shortly after the state adopted the new standards in April, the department conducted a statewide needs assessment. A major concern among teachers, she said, was how they could find and curate digital instructional content tied to the new standards.

'That was when we knew having the online communities of practice would be a great [strategy]," she told Education Week.

In September, the state education department had launched an online community for e-learning coaches around the state, an initiative that Dodson described as "successful right off the bat." More than 130 coaches signed on to that effort, she said, quickly embracing the community as a vehicle for sharing strategies, information, and materials. 

That effort served as the model for the new online communities, which are essentially grade- and/or subject-based groups created in Google+, a social networking platform owned by the Mountain View, Calif.-based online-services behemoth. 

So far, Dodson said, there has been heavy activity in the new communities despite it being summer break, with teachers creating their own subgroups dedicated to specific topics and probing the community for lesson plans related to specific standards.

"It's not a new concept, to have educators join together virtually in a professional-learning network," she said. "It's an amazing way for teachers to support each other."

The long-term hope, Dodson said in the interview, is that educators will move beyond seeking information about Indiana's new academic standards and use the new online communities to improve their work across a number of dimensions.

But for now, she said, the transition to the new state standards is demanding the bulk of people's attention.

"Because of the timeline, it has been a very urgent process," she said. "But it has brought everyone together with a very focused mission."


Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekSCavanagh for live updates from ISTE 2014.

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