College-Ready E-Learning in the Sunshine

When it comes to education improvement, do little things happen in small packages?  Thanks to the past two years, we are used to looking for megadeals.  Race to the Top offered up four billion dollars; i3 another $650 million.  The Gates Foundation often drops tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars on the latest and greatest.  Even the recent News Corp. deal for Wireless Generation caught many by surprised, based solely on the size of the deal.

So why is Eduflack so taken by a couple of million investment that crossed the electronic desk?  Today, the Florida Virtual School announced a $2 million award from the Gates Foundation.  The project?  Florida Virtual School will use the funds to develop four college readiness courses in English and math.
In its announcement, Florida Virtual states, “the courses will emphasize 21st century skills such as authentic skill development, critical thinking, contemporary research opportunities and real world experiences.”     
Most who follow digital education know that Florida Virtual School is the king of e-learning.  So it should come as no surprise that it is trying to get out in front, developing the next generation of college-ready K-12 curriculum.  So why is a $2 million announcement so interesting?
1) It appears Florida Virtual is trying to get out in front of the Common Core Standards effort.  If Gates is funding this, it is a relatively safe bet that the courses developed will align with the new CC standards (particularly since Florida has to adopt them as part of its RttT win).  So after all the hand-wringing on how far behind we are in moving the CCSSI into practice, Florida Virtual is now planning to beta test its ELA courses by January 2012, with math coming the following year.
2) Surprise, surprise, but 21st century skills may not be dead after all.  With STEM coming forward a few years ago and the Obama Administration now pushing college and career readiness, most assumed that 21st century skills had gone the way of the dodo.  But by emphasizing curriculum based on such skills (with Gates money no less) it seems the softer side of instructional improvement — 21st century skills — may be back for a second policy go.
3) We are reminded that e-learning is not just about delivery.  Florida Virtual is reminding us that content remains king.  The leader in digital education continues to make clear that buying curriculum off the shelf is not how you build a world-class e-learning platform.  Florida Virtual is not just teaching it, they are building it.  Faculty will have ownership in it.  It will be relevant to the program and to its goals.
It is rare for Eduflack to truly embrace something, praising virtues instead of picking on failings.  But this is one instance where I want to accentuate the positive.  Julie Young, the President and CEO of Florida Virtual School may just be right here.  If done correctly and with fidelity, this effort could be “a win-win, especially for students.”

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