By The National Forum on Education Statistics Virtual Education Working Group
Rapid advancements and innovations in virtual education are providing education agencies, educators, and students with new opportunities for teaching and learning. That growth increases the need for accurate, high-quality data about virtual education that provides a full picture of successes and challenges. A new resource released earlier this month can help with this important work.
In recent years, virtual education has become an integral part of K-12 education and nearly every student is exposed to virtual learning in some context—whether as a single aspect of a traditional course or program, in an entirely virtual program, or in any combination of traditional and virtual learning.
Virtual education is often a core aspect of curricula and class instruction, and students and teachers are increasingly adept at integrating lectures, lessons, and group work delivered via computers, tablets, and other devices into day-to-day teaching and learning. Moreover, many students and teachers no longer distinguish between virtual and traditional learning—the technology and tools used in virtual education are familiar to them and are no more novel than a pencil.
Despite widespread interest in enhancing and expanding virtual teaching and learning, many state education agencies and school districts do not yet have the ability to collect accurate, high-quality virtual education data. Some organizations have not yet specified the data they want to collect, while others have not developed reliable processes for gathering and managing data. The prevalence of virtual education, the increasing diversity in virtual education opportunities, and the rapid pace of technological change require new ways of thinking about how to modify data elements and systems to effectively identify, collect, and use virtual education data to inform and improve education.
Local and state members of the National Forum on Education Statistics (the Forum) identified this problem and established a Virtual Education Working Group, tasked with developing a resource to assist education agencies as they: 1) consider the impact of virtual education on established data elements and methods of data collection, and 2) address the scope of changes, the rapid pace of new technology development, and the proliferation of resources in virtual education. On February 4th, 2016, the Forum Guide to Elementary/Secondary Virtual Education Data was released.
In the document, the Forum Working Group members identify supports to virtual education data such as the organizational structure of virtual education, user experiences, challenges in collecting virtual education data, policy implications, as well as privacy and confidentiality protections. The document also includes common data elements for K12 virtual and blended data, such as
The working group also identifies elements that exist for traditional schools that are useful for virtual education. Finally, the Guide provides real-world examples and common practices implemented by state departments, local districts, and schools to modify their data systems and add elements that better reflect the needs unique to virtual education.
As virtual education continues to expand in elementary/secondary school systems, education data collection and reporting systems need to evolve as well. It is important for all virtual education stakeholders – teachers, parents, education administrators, data systems administrators, and policymakers – to come together and creatively address the challenges of building a sound data infrastructure that considers the unique aspects of virtual education.
It is our hope that the Forum’s new guide can be a helpful tool in that process.
About the National Forum on Education Statistics
The work of the National Forum on Education Statistics is a key aspect of the National Cooperative Education Statistics System. The Cooperative System was established to produce and maintain, with the cooperation of the states, comparable and uniform education information and data that are useful for policymaking at the federal, state, and local levels. To assist in meeting this goal, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education, established the Forum to improve the collection, reporting, and use of elementary and secondary education statistics. The Forum addresses issues in education data policy, sponsors innovations in data collection and reporting, and provides technical assistance to improve state and local data systems.
Members of the Forum establish working groups to develop best practice guides in data-related areas of interest to federal, state, and local education agencies. They are assisted in this work by NCES, but the content comes from the collective experience of working group members who review all products iteratively throughout the development process. After the working group completes the content and reviews a document a final time, publications are subject to examination by members of the Forum standing committee that sponsors the project. Finally, Forum members (approximately 120 people) review and formally vote to approve all documents prior to publication. NCES provides final review and approval prior to online publication.
The information and opinions published in Forum products do not necessarily represent the policies or views of the U.S. Department of Education, IES, or NCES. For more information about the Forum, please visit http://www.nces.ed.gov/forum and/or contact Ghedam Bairu at Ghedam.firstname.lastname@example.org