New REL Midwest Report Highlights Online Course Use in Iowa and Wisconsin

The use of online courses has grown rapidly over the past decade and is projected to increase, yet few states or districts collect data about how and why schools enroll students in online courses. Accurately capturing student participation is complicated by the variety of ways that schools use online learning. As online learning grows exponentially, we need more information about how schools are using it to inform policy and best practice.

Researchers at the Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest within its Virtual Education Research Alliance realized this need and recently published a report examining how and why high schools in Iowa and Wisconsin have used online learning for their students.

Recovering course credit for classes that students had failed and completing core requirements were among the top academic objectives of online course enrollment in both Iowa and Wisconsin. Most of the online courses were in the primary academic subjects: English language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science. Among Iowa high schools that reported using online learning in 2012–13, 71 percent enrolled students in an online credit recovery course. In Wisconsin, 66 percent of high schools using online learning did so to help students obtain credit for courses they had not passed. 

Although the majority of high schools reported using online courses to provide students with opportunities to take advanced courses and earn college credit in high school, how they went about supporting students taking online courses varied. For example, among high schools that enrolled students in online courses in Wisconsin, 46 percent reported that all of their online courses provide students with the opportunity to communicate directly with an online teacher. This opportunity for direct communication was true for 26 percent of the high schools in Iowa.

For this project, the Iowa Department of Education and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction administered a survey to a representative sample of public high schools in each state to gather information about online course use during the 2012–13 school year.

The survey instrument and the knowledge it generated are important first steps in supporting efforts to better understand how and why schools enroll students in online courses and advancing future efforts to improve students’ readiness for college and careers. These results also will be used to inform the work of the Wisconsin Virtual School and Iowa Learning Online.

Read more from the recently released report, which includes the survey instrument.

Authored by Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. 

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