A Little Edgenuity

Sari Factor of EdgenuityAn innovative, student-centered approach to instruction goes a long way 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

They’ve built tremendous credibility with their school partners under the E2020 brand, but they’ve also evolved a great deal from their start as a company that provided video instruction for special student populations – those who had dropped out or literally couldn’t make it to school. They wanted a vibrant identity that signaled their aspirations and direction as an organization. The Edgenuity identity builds on their fifteen years of experience driving success for over one million students. They also think it captures the innovative, student-centered approach the company is taking to deliver truly personalized instruction. Here, Sari Factor (pictured) provides a personal tour of the newly re-branded company including her definition of blended learning, her common Common Core sense, and what the future holds.

Victor: What are the guiding principles for Edgenuity?

Edgenuity LogoSari: We talk about four core principles, or the “four E’s” that make our business and products different.

First and foremost, our solution is engaging. We provide more than just curriculum – we also deliver interactive instruction. Our dynamic, highly qualified teachers provide clear, concise instruction and modeling, along with simulations and activities to illustrate the concepts being taught. And we can give students access to interesting course choices that might not be available in their local school, which keeps them motivated to learn.

Our solution is also efficient. Our dashboards give teachers access to real-time data, freeing them up to further differentiate instruction – whether for an individual student who needs extra help or extra challenge – or in small groups.

We’re also empowering. Thanks to the breadth and flexibility of our curriculum, platform, and services, we can accommodate almost any need a school has for online learning. We start with the school or district’s strategies and can customize our solution for a wide variety of programs and settings — whether it’s as the core curriculum for blended learning programs, for electives and career & technical education programs, or for credit recovery.

Finally – and this is really what it’s all about – Edgenuity is effective. We are outcomes and results driven – and are seeing real, positive results in schools across the country. Our rigorous and relevant standards-based curriculum ensures students are well prepared to succeed in college or careers.

Victor: This new student engagement platform you introduced along with the new name – what is it and will it just “show up” within the current offering?

coreSari: First, we are pleased to announce that Edgenuity courses will now be tablet-compatible, which has unquestionably been the top request we have received from schools over the past year.

We’re also excited about the new student-centered tools our new platform offers. This new feature set came out of our research on how the most successful students learn and encourages students to become life-long learners. For example, our platform fosters key study skills with enhanced eNotes that are time-stamped to on-screen content so that students can easily revisit concepts whenever they need to. Our direct instruction videos are now captioned and can be translated into any of 17 languages, so English language learners can read a transcript of the lesson in their native language if the option is activated by the teacher. A new lesson glossary will helps students develop content-area vocabulary and students can build personal word lists to own the responsibility of acquiring vocabulary.

The new Edgenuity student experience will be seamlessly integrated into our solution this summer.

Victor: Beyond this new student experience, what’s next for Edgenuity?

Sari: Our mission is to drive positive academic outcomes, so we continue to research what is most effective in online education – both for students on our platform and those learning through other means – to continuously improve student engagement and encourage more time on task, two very important indicators of successful academic outcomes.

As part of our focus on driving outcomes, we’ll soon introduce some powerful new tools for teachers and administrators as well.

Victor: Do you anticipate solutions like the one you’re introducing to ultimately replace classroom teachers?

instructional-services-iconSari: Absolutely not. We believe that over time most schools will implement blended learning – combining online learning with face-to-face instruction to achieve a more personalized instructional experience for every student. In most middle and high schools, each teacher is responsible for the achievement of 150-180 students, so it is impossible for them to differentiate instruction for every student. By implementing online learning with a system like ours, the teacher’s role changes – instead of delivering direct instruction and grading tests, they focus their time on coaching students, providing intervention for those who need extra help, whether individually or in small groups, or extra challenge for those who grasp concepts quickly. Online learning is a powerful complement to the classroom experience and the role of the teacher is essential for success.

In fact, we’ve been hosting Blended Learning Summits around the country focused on elevating candid discussion and helping people understand the power of the blended learning approach.

Victor: Briefly, how do you define blended learning? What are a few key components of a successful blended learning approach?

Sari: Put simply, a blended learning model is where a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction, combined with some element of student control over time, place, path or pace and at least in part with level of teacher supervision at a brick-and-mortar location away from home.

First, a district or school needs to be clear about what they want to accomplish with a blended learning program. What educational goals is the district trying to address with blended learning? Examples might be to infuse technology into the core curriculum to personalize instruction, to augment course offerings available to students, to allow students to take accelerated or specialized courses without leaving the school building, or to help students recover credits and graduate on time.

It’s important for school leaders to consider which students they are hoping to serve through a blended learning program. Students will need self-motivation, time management, and communication skills to succeed in an online or blended learning environment.

Just as blended learning is transforming the educational experience for students, it is also changing the teaching practice. Although direct instruction and assessments are delivered online, teachers remain central to the learning process as I mentioned earlier. To create a successful blended learning program, it is imperative to recruit the right teachers and provide professional development to enable teachers to effectively mentor, motivate, and instruct online learners.

Rigorous, standards-aligned curriculum is a key component of any successful blended learning model. Content has to be engaging and it needs to be supported by a robust set of student tools to promote learning. And teachers need to have access to powerful tools to customize instruction for a diverse student population and to monitor student progress.

Victor: Tell us more about these Blended Learning Summits.

Sari: It was clear the market was hungry for information and clarity around blended learning models and best practices for implementation. We decided to host summits across the country to move the conversation forward. At the Summits, we bring together district leaders to share what they have been doing in their districts, to discuss what’s working well, the challenges they have encountered, and ways to improve blended learning implementations. Although there is no single blended learning model that is right for every district, district leaders who have attended our summits have found these conversations valuable. Each attendee also gets exposed to a practical set of planning tools that they can use to put their own blended learning models to work.

Victor: What does the implementation of Common Core mean for Edgenuity?

edgenuity-credit-and-concept-recoverySari: The goal which drove the adoption of the Common Core standards mirrors Edgenuity’s goal: to elevate outcomes—graduation rates, college and career readiness – and to make our graduates more competitive in an increasingly global market. We have built new courses that are fully aligned upon the Common Core standards.

In English Language Arts, Edgenuity courses build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and engage students in analyzing and making well-supported arguments. We’ve integrated new tools: the CloseReader to assist students with close and active reading of text to ensure comprehension, and eWriting to scaffold the writing process from pre-writing to the final draft. In Mathematics, our courses put a greater focus on fewer topics as called for by the CCSS, coherence within and across grades, and rigorous attention to conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and application.

We include tasks and assessments that are similar to those on the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments that will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year, and will continue to add new assessment formats each year to ensure that students are well prepared for these new tests.

Victor: You talk about your growth and momentum– give us a sense of what you’ve achieved.

Sari: We have helped drive positive outcomes for more than 1 million students in schools and districts across the country. Edgenuity is currently working with 9 of the top 15 school districts in the country, as well as serving the needs of many rural schools.

We have evolved successfully beyond our historical competency of providing curriculum for credit recovery and alternative programs, and now offer one of the largest course catalogs on the market – with standards-based core curriculum for grades 6-12, Advanced Placement, electives and career and technical education courses.

We feel like this is just the beginning. Technology has so much potential to augment what works well in education and to help solve for where the system’s been deficient. We’re excited to be part of that.

Victor: Got any quirky stories to share, something from your travels, conferences, tradeshows, school clients, etc., that would be interesting to our readership and also perhaps illustrative of your plight?

Sari: Returning to the Blended Learning Summits, actually, it’s been interesting to see the range of ways in which schools are implementing blended learning programs successfully.

For instance, at our recent Summit in Wisconsin, we heard from educators at an alternative-education high school where the majority of students are significantly credit deficient due to a range of factors. Most entering students are at least 1.5 years behind grade level. After implementing Edgenuity, the early evidence indicates that our courses are having a positive impact on student achievement. After one year of implementing Edgenuity courses along with other academic and social interventions, the four-year graduation rate of students in this program for at-risk students increased from 16% to 46%, and the drop-out rate declined from 14% to 9%. It’s exciting and rewarding to see the impact we’re having helping these schools and districts.

At the Illinois Summit, one Edgenuity district described a program that required advanced students to take a customized, abbreviated physical science course to ensure that they were sufficiently prepared to take an accelerated sequence of science courses in high school. Most of the district’s freshmen took a full-year physical science course, before going on to Biology in 10th grade, and Chemistry in 11th grade. The advanced students, who began the accelerated sequence with Biology in 9th grade and had never taken physical science, struggled in their 10th grade Chemistry and 11th grade Physics courses because they lacked some prerequisite concepts. The district now requires advanced students to complete the customized Edgenuity physical science course prior to enrolling in Biology as a freshman.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

edgenuity-higher-education-iconSari: Unfortunately we’ve got a long way to go. Over 1.2 million students, about one of every three, fail to graduate with their class every year. Graduation rates for historically disadvantaged minority groups are far lower than that of their white peers. And many of those who do graduate are unprepared for college and the world of work. Frankly, the current model hasn’t worked because it’s just not possible to personalize instruction when you’re teaching 150-180 kids each day. But I’m optimistic that with technologies like Edgenuity, barriers can be broken down, and all students, regardless of their backgrounds, can have access to a high-quality education. We have the opportunity to lead the transformation to a new way of educating students by using technology to create a more engaging, effective, and efficient learning experience.

Victor: What’s your outlook on the future of technology in education over the next few years?

Sari: I’ve long believed that there’s a huge opportunity to improve student learning with technology. After a short career in teaching, in 1980 I joined a company to develop educational technology products, thinking that technology would transform the classroom and the way students learn. Since that time, technology has changed the way the world works – how we communicate, how we shop, how we obtain information – but it has not had the impact I would have expected in schools, but that is finally beginning to change.

While schools have been using technology for many years, too often it has been for technology’s sake, without enough focus on student learning. Today I see school leaders thinking more strategically about how the instructional process changes with the implementation of digital learning tools. I envision the adoption of online and digital resources in schools with better and better tools all the time, not just from us, but the whole ed-tech ecosystem.

I’ve seen the impact that Edgenuity solutions have had with students and schools. Through online and blended learning we are transforming the way instruction is delivered and giving students access to courses that they might never have in their local schools. Through the work that we’re doing, we can impact the lives of millions of kids by offering them opportunities to prepare for college and high-demand careers.

Victor: Anything else you’d like to add or emphasize concerning Edgenuity, edtech, or anything else for that matter?

Sari: We’re very excited to come to market with our new name and platform. We’re looking forward to continuing to make sure our school partners are always getting the most from our solutions, and to helping guide educators as their role in the blended environment evolves. Edgenuity is in it for the long-haul.

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. Get your story told through case studies, white papers and other materials you can share at trade shows and on your website. Write tovictor@edtechdigest.com

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