Blended Learning in the Sunshine: Our Visit to iNACOL in Orlando

| By Tatyana Dvorkin, Associate Director, DigitalJLearning Network

iNACOL logo via

Continuing our “tour” of educational conferences, DJLN paid a visit to Orlando, Florida to attend iNACOL’s annual conference. iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, hosts the industry’s leading event for K-12 online and blended learning. Experts, educators, practitioners, and researchers gather at the annual symposium to work on innovative ways to transform education, network, and gain access to experts in the field. This year’s symposium consisted of over 200 sessions, on a wide variety of topics including innovative assessments, students with disabilities, professional development, and more.

This year’s symposium included four keynote speeches. The opening keynote on Monday, November 8th was given by Susan Patrick, the President and CEO of iNACOL. Ms. Patrick highlighted the emerging shifts and identified trends in the future of global education and voiced her hopes for empowering practitioners and policymakers to prepare our students to be globally competitive citizens in a 21st century world. It was the luncheon keynote, by CEO of Mindset Works, Eduardo Briceño, that stood out as particularly exciting for the education community as it addressed not only the minutia of implementing educational technology, but a fundamental shift in the way we approach education in general. Briceño’s talk referenced Carol Dweck’s research, which defined a “growth mindset” as the view that a student’s abilities are not static, but can be developed and grown. The growth mindset focuses on creating students who believe that intelligence and skills can all be developed throughout life. The crux of the keynote was that in today’s classroom we must harbor the power of this approach to create active, deeper learning experiences and to empower students to own their learning in the classroom and beyond. All of the conference’s keynotes were taped and can be found on the iNACOL site. If you didn’t have a chance to be at the conference, I highly recommend checking them out.

There were many noteworthy sessions at this year’s event, but several were particularly useful in our own development as educators. My favorite session of the symposium was Accessible Documents and Apps: Experience the Difference led by Joann Roe and Ashley Menefee of the Education Service Center. Taking a very hands-on approach to learning, this workshop had each of us work through a standard word document to make it accessible by adding descriptive text to images, shortening links, and taking other steps to make the document more smoothly readable by text to speech software. In addition, we went through some of the popular educational websites available today to evaluate them based on their level of accessibility for the blind, the hearing impaired, students with epileptic disorders, or other physical disabilities.

The Jewish day school world at large has often been notably behind in addressing the needs of students with physical disabilities and DJLN has been cooking up a series of blog posts about using technology to create more inclusive classrooms. My time at this session was perfect for helping us learn more about this issue, and I’m excited to pass on some of what I learned to the community in our forthcoming posts.

Our director, Gary Hartstein, was also in attendance and had a chance to check out sessions and learn. His favorite was Mastery Models in New York City, presented by Jeremy Kraushar and Joy Nolan from the New York Department of Education. This session focused on 8 exemplary middle and high schools in New York City that have recently adopted competency-based models of assessment. The structure allows students to progress at their individual pace towards full mastery of academic content rather than setting up specific timetables and risking students falling behind if they cannot complete the objectives by the deadline. Competency-based strategies use online, project-based learning, and other tools to engage students in more personalized learning leading to improved learning outcomes. The student population’s test scores and academic achievement improved after the schools implemented mastery-based learning and began to reward students for learning rather than for simply complying.

iNACOL’s yearly symposium is a definite must-visit both for educators interested in getting started with blended and online learning or for those who are already pros and want to share their knowledge with others and perfect their craft! Next year’s symposium will take place October 25-28th in San Antonio, TX. We hope to see you there!