Delivering “education for all”—despite barriers such as distance, time, and accessibility—remains one of the biggest challenges facing our industry. Going forward, technology will play a significant role when it comes to enabling distance learning on a large scale. In the state of Alabama, the ACCESS (Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, and Students Statewide) distance learning program, implemented in 2006, is a powerful example of technology’s impact on student success.
In 2006, the state of Alabama was facing funding concerns. The state’s rural population wasn’t large enough to receive funding beyond what was required for basic school programs. This meant there were fewer resources available to keep students engaged and heading towards graduation. Not all students across the state had access to critical Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which were designed to help prepare high school students for the experience they will face when attending college. Rural schools also had problems attracting and retaining teachers—in certain cases, there weren’t even enough students to justify the expense of a teacher.
The ACCESS team partnered with D2L to provide online learning solutions that would help high school students throughout the state. Now, students in rural areas have access to enriched resources—including valuable AP courses. The Discussion and Dropbox tools within the Brightspace platform allow for improved student interaction. Online quizzes help ensure students are progressing. Students can even fulfill most of the requirements for graduation online.
Before ACCESS, it was easy for high school students to drop off the radar, especially in areas where there wasn’t enough faculty support. Brightspace has helped educators to pull students back in when they fall behind. Now, high school students in the state have more ready access to courses—and also to great teachers. Video conferencing, for example, allows teachers to inspire and motivate students in rural areas. Since a teacher can’t be onsite, local schools employ facilitators who monitor students, help with technical issues, and provide assistance to the teacher when it’s needed.
ACCESS on the Brightspace platform is changing education in Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Education, since launching the ACCESS program, the number of students taking AP exams in Alabama public schools has almost doubled. In the same time frame, the number of African-American students taking those exams has more than quadrupled and the number of qualifying exam scores has more than doubled. Five times more low-income students are now taking AP exams.
ACCESS gains recognition – and support
ACCESS has grown significantly since its inception. When it began, the distance learning program served 450 students in 24 schools. Now, more than 27,700 students in over 400 schools participate. Some milestones and highlights for the program include:
- Over $18 million in state funding
- Over $1 million in federal grant dollars from the Appalachian Regional Commission
- More than 92 ACCESS courses are currently available, including five foreign languages, eleven AP courses, and nineteen credit recovery courses
- Reports from the International Society for Technology in Education show that over 75% of students and 82% of teachers involved in ACCESS feel that their virtual school experience was as good as or better than the experience they would have had taking traditional courses
- More than 1,000 Alabama teachers have been trained in e-Learning course delivery