Exploring North Dakota

ND Center for Distance Education’s State Director charts a quality course.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT ND Center for Distance Education Alan PetersonIt may be telling that explorers Lewis and Clark spent more time in what is now North Dakota than any other place on their journey. To this day, the area still maintains an aura of ‘unexplored territory’ with more wildlife refuges than any other state. But whether or not it’s from a sense of place or simply a mindful intention, such a quest for knowledge is something a native son of the state, Alan Peterson, supports only too well. As State Director of 
North Dakota Center for Distance Education, Alan is a proud product of a rural upbringing here, and his education – elementary, high school, junior college and university, resulting in a Masters’ Degree in English, was provided by North Dakota schools. After serving as a junior college teacher and department chair for several

A sense of accomplishment and a job well done is often expressed by students when they complete a course from The Center for Distance Education.

years, including serving one term in the North Dakota House of Representatives, he was awarded a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellowship, which he used to pursue his doctoral studies in education at the University of Minnesota. Prior to coming to NDCDE, Alan was the president of a multi-national company that provided organization development consultancy to automotive, aerospace and communications companies worldwide. Here, he reflects on the origins of the ND Center for Distance Education, how they ensure quality of curriculum, and what brings students the kind of joy that makes them want to spend more time on their own personal learning journey.

The North Dakota Center for Distance Education has been around for a very long time, can you share how the school has kept up with education and remained relevant?

Alan: When Dr. T.W. Thordarson established The North Dakota Center for Distance Education in 1935, his solid plan was more about the students than the methodology. Dr. Thordarson’s vision to provide every student the opportunity for a quality education, no matter his or her location, has endured through the efforts of The Center’s administration and staff. These dedicated people have reorganized to adjust for the shift taking place in education; continually requested stakeholder input; upgraded methods and technology; and sought guidance from experts such as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL); all to ensure that student learning is at the center of everything that NDCDE does.

What type of student do you serve and what prompts a student to attend The North Dakota Center for Distance Education?

CREDIT ND Center Distance Education Learning Lab Boot Camp 8-12 (2)Alan: Students anywhere in North Dakota or the world who attend a public or private school, are homeschooled, or wish to earn their high school diploma can take one or more courses from The Center for Distance Education, an AdvancED-accredited public school in North Dakota. NDCDE is both a supplemental provider of online courses and a diploma-granting high school. Students enroll in courses at NDCDE because they have a choice of what they can take from almost 300 semester-length core and elective courses for grades 6-12. [Pictured above are students from a recent SmartLab boot camp, an NDCDE program.]

How does The North Dakota Center for Distance Education differentiate learning experiences that promote a variety of student interest?

Alan: The key thing The Center for Distance Education does to differentiate learning experiences for its students is to buy its curriculum from providers such as eDynamic Learning rather than try to create the curriculum itself. The Center uses a versatile learning management system that can support courses from any number of vendors, giving students a chance to explore myriad topics. The addition of a hands-on learning lab at its offices has expanded NDCDE’s scope and given students even more opportunities to learn.

What is your strongest asset or differentiator that you offer students?

Alan: Choice in quality curriculum and a chance to establish a relationship with an adult/teacher are key for a successful student learning experience. All of the teachers at The Center for Distance Education begin developing a relationship with each student they work with as soon as the student enrolls. Open lines of communication between the teacher and student, including the use of email, phone, texting, and a virtual classroom, continue throughout the enrollment until the student completes the course. Differentiated instruction and personalized feedback are provided for teacher-graded assessments.

What types of courses does the North Dakota Center for Distance Education offer and what keeps them engaged in this type of learning?

Alan: The North Dakota Center for Distance Education offers almost 300 semester-length online courses in the four core areas—English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies—as well as elective areas such as Art, Agriculture, Business Education, Computer Science, Family and Consumer Science, Health, Health Careers, Music, Physical Education, Technical Education, and World Languages. Advanced Placement, College Lab for English and Math (CLEM), and Credit Recovery courses are also available. Students particularly like the elective courses from eDynamic Learning, which introduce them to a wide variety of subjects and careers.

All of the courses are housed in state-of-the-art learning management systems and use effective and efficient online learning techniques and tools.

What about the North Dakota Center for Distance Education brings students the most joy?

Alan: A sense of accomplishment and a job well done is often expressed by students when they complete a course from The Center for Distance Education. They know that in order to take a course online they must exhibit self-efficacy, be able to manage their time, and be committed to learning and succeeding at their work. Their work in an online course will serve them well in their future educational and career experiences.

The Center for Distance Education recently expanded Dr. Thordarson’s vision by adding a hands-on, project-based SmartLab to its site in Fargo. This lab encourages students of all ability levels to become self-motivated lifelong learners. The Smart Lab has given NDCDE staff the opportunity to actually see the joy that learning can bring to a student.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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