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Aurora Institute Symposium: Hybrid Learning Needs Policy Support

At a webinar on Tuesday featured in the Aurora Institute Symposium, the Colorado Board of Education's Office of Blended Learning explained a two-year plan to gather research on hybrid learning to inform state policy.

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In a virtual symposium on Tuesday, Renee Martinez, a consultant with the Colorado Department of Education's Office of Online and Blended Learning, describes policy changes that resulted from research and recommendations of the state's blended learning program.
Screencap by Giovanni Albanese
With virtual learning becoming a normal element of the K-12 education space, several K-12 school officials from different states stressed in a webinar yesterday at the Aurora Institute Symposium that policy updates are needed to accommodate this new normal.

The webinar session, “Exploring Flexible Learning and Future Policy Reform through Colorado’s Blended Learning Initiative,” was led by Mallorie Klemm and Renee Martinez of the Colorado Department of Education's Office of Online and Blended Learning, as part of the three-day symposium. Klemm and Martinez discussed their state’s Blended Learning Initiative (BLI), a two-year plan spanning the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 academic years to gather research from academic leaders and stakeholders about online and hybrid learning models, which will ultimately result in the department suggesting changes to the state’s Board of Education to take to legislators to qualify different modes of learning for student funding.

Klemm said Colorado had a blanket waiver for student funding for all districts, but once the COVID-19 pandemic hit U.S. shores, the new “normal” for education was more than just brick-and-mortar facilities. The BLI was created by the school financing unit and auditing office with the hopes of policy adjustments to Colorado's Public School Finance Act, signed in 1994, to include online models or hybrid models when seeking school funding.

“Two years was emphasized to gather data and facilitate research to function in (hybrid and online) models with enough (information) to prepare to provide recommendations to the Legislature,” Klemm said in the webinar.

While Colorado has dealt with the need to make policy changes in the wake of the pandemic, so have other states, like Utah. Katie Dewey Hill, an instruction coordinator with the Utah State Board of Education, said during a breakout session that her state needs to leverage technology for policy change.

“We have the functionality in place, but we have to build around that,” she said.

Also from the Utah State Board of Education, teacher retention specialist Kami Dupree said that from a legislative standpoint, “There’s a willingness to entertain the idea (of online and hybrid learning statewide but) … they don’t have the idea as to how to do it.”

Dupree added that there is greater awareness about digital learning tools now than before the pandemic, but she was not sure legislators are listening to school leaders in the right way to make the necessary adjustments.

“We need solutions to be solutions, and not just Band-Aids,” Hill said.

In a separate breakout session, the Alternative Learning Accountability Manager Liz Quayle of the Washington state superintendent's office said the pandemic had long-lasting implications for students, notably the kids being able to do more asynchronous learning. It’s something that Quayle said should be a norm.

“We need everyone to think more broadly about competency learning, and flexibility,” Quayle said in the second breakout session, which included two other Utah Board of Education staffers, Milo Maughan and Michael Hakkarinen.

Hakkarinen said that educators need to have a flexible attendance policy, develop online learning options and give teachers the ability to “punt” their curriculum to a digital setting if schools shut down again for any reason.

“If you built everything online, you can do that in person but if you had to go online you can do that too,” Hakkarinen said. “(School) mirrors life. It’s all accessible online or on mobile devices.”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.