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Local lawmakers want high school students to take an online course

February 12, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — A bill introduced by a Washington County legislator during the current session of the Maryland General Assembly would make it compulsory for high school students to take an online course before they graduate.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, has filed the bill in the Senate, while a similar version of the bill has been filed in the House of Delegates by Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington.

Shank, who is behind the bill, said the legislation was an attempt to harness the power of virtual and blended learning, referring to a mix of online learning and traditional teaching.

“Putting the bill in is an attempt to move Maryland forward ... by all accounts our efforts to integrate virtual learning and blended learning are not as far advanced. In fact, we are falling behind,” said Shank, adding that some other countries such as China are doing more when it comes to integrating technology with teaching.

Shank said Maryland students in public schools “in the most part” are currently taught the same way they were more than a century ago.

“That’s not how kids are learning in the 21st century,” Shank said. “There are much more technologically proficient ways of learning. Sometimes it does involve a teacher standing in front of 30 kids.”

Shank and Serafini are members of the Maryland Advisory Council For Virtual Learning, which is headed by Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery.

The council was created as a result of a bill introduced by Shank, and cross-filed by Serafini, in the 2012 session of the Maryland General Assembly.

Shank said Tuesday that the state could do more with its talent pool of teachers and students.

“What I am about here … is integrating teaching into the learning day in a more seamless way than what we do now. Making sure that the teachers have the access to the professional development that they need in order to teach kids the way the kids are learning,” he said.

Shank said he wanted to make sure that Washington County and the state have access to the best possible learning environment “that still involves having a teacher.”

“Clearly, they will have to do this when they get to college,” he said.

Serafini said that virtual learning is already here and the bill, if it becomes law, would be a tool for the state to encourage and do more with online learning in public schools.

“We are saying that incoming students … somewhere in their course will have to have one online course,” Serafini said.

“To ignore these invaluable learning tools that are out there to me is not something that is acceptable in the 21st century,” Shank said. “This is the way that we can help our children be ready for the workforce of tomorrow.”

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