West Virginia has a new champion for distance learning: first lady Gayle Manchin.
During his 2005 State of the State Address, Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said that his wife, a former substitute teacher and college professor, would be working on a plan to promote distance-learning initiatives in the state.
Ms. Manchin says the first step is to take an inventory of current state programs. She is also working to find “shining stars” that have already created innovative programs that could be replicated statewide.
Distance learning is particularly important in a state of small school districts, many of which face consolidation because they don’t have enough teachers to teach some upper-level courses, Ms. Manchin says.
West Virginia is continuing to expand its technology infrastructure to deal with the extra bandwidth needed by schools to handle their general needs and the distance-learning initiatives.
“The need has doubled and tripled in some places,” says Brenda Williams, the executive director of the state’s office of instructional technology.
The state spent about $20 million on educational technology in the 2004-05 school year, compared with $12.3 million for 2003-04.
West Virginia is also in the second year of a three-year competitive federal grant intended to help the state study how educational technology can raise student achievement. West Virginia was the only state to win two of the 10 grants.
The first grant, for $1.3 million, is comparing virtual and face-to-face foreign language instruction. The second grant, for $1.4 million, is evaluating a teacher-trainer initiative, a state-sponsored professional-development program for educational technology.
The state is also venturing into online assessment. In March 2005, students were required to take their statewide writing tests online. The tests are given to 7th and 10th graders. Students in adult, vocational, and technical education courses were also required to take their end-of-course assessments online for the first time during the 2004-05 school year.