If the pandemic taught us one thing, it's that robust-and-engaging options for learning outside of brick-and-mortar buildings will become an integral part of our educational framework, complementing face-to-face learning and preparing students for our technology-driven world.
It was in that spirit that the Iowa Department of Education established Iowa e-Learning Central, a voluntary online exchange for Iowa educators, students and families that:
- Houses high-quality courses and units,
- Supports content creation and collaboration,
- Expands statewide access to courses and units across all grade levels, and
- Facilitates online course sharing between schools.
Courses and units in Iowa e-Learning Central are designed to be led and facilitated by educators locally. Schools can download the content they need to design interactive and collaborative in-person or online courses for use in their classrooms. Using Iowa e-Learning Central is entirely optional. Content is available free of charge to all Iowa school districts and nonpublic schools.
So who developed the content that is available in Iowa e-Learning Central? Iowa-licensed educators with content-area expertise! To create this content, they receive training in online instruction and ongoing feedback from both content reviewers and instructional designers until the course meets the requirements of a high-quality course.
One of the expert content developers is Ann Van Etten-Janey, who has taught a wide range of courses in the Cedar Rapids Community School District including high school and middle school English language arts (ELA), and U.S. Humanities and Perspectives in Literature. She developed first and second semester ELA for eighth graders and first semester ELA for ninth graders. We asked her about her work in developing the content.
1) Why did you choose to develop content for Iowa e-Learning Central?
I viewed working on the Iowa e-Learning Central project as both a developer and an English language arts (ELA) content lead as an opportunity to continue to engage meaningfully with content for students in ELA, an area that I have been dedicated to teaching for 20 years. My two greatest loves are serving young people in the classroom and developing instruction, curriculum, and strategies that provide access to a wide range of diverse learners. I was ready for a new type of challenge in developing content in an online setting and wanted to take part in a project that was meaningful to the educators and students in the state of Iowa. I wanted to be part of a project that insisted on high expectations in creating instructional content for the good of our students.
2) In creating content, describe the process that was used to ensure that it was high quality, rigorous and standards-aligned.
By using vetted open education resources (OER) content, we created a strong starting point for course development. We utilized these OER resources as building blocks for our learners, adapting and developing content to be flexibly used effectively in a wide range of instructional environments, ranging from face-to-face instruction, to hybrid settings, to completely virtual classrooms. As we developed content, we used a series of check-ins with in-depth feedback from both reviewers and content leads, using the Quality Content Rubric as a means for rigorous checks on course criteria, all for the benefit of strong and robust learning materials for students and instructional support for educators.
3) As a classroom teacher, how do you think this would be helpful for other educators? How about for a new teacher, a veteran teacher, a teacher creating a new course?
The teacher materials we have developed provide guidance for a wide range of teaching interests, styles, and expertise, all while adhering to academic standards that provide an optimal learning experience for students. Suggestions for teachers within the materials provide a framework for instruction, while still allowing for teacher choice in the implementation of coursework. The course and teacher materials are beneficial for educators in that they are built with the intention of teachers using knowledge of their students to make meaningful choices and adjustments to meet the needs of their diverse learning communities.
4) Why would you recommend educators, administrators and curriculum directors to check out Iowa e-Learning Central?
The courses on Iowa e-Learning Central provide students and educators with a standards-aligned, meaningful learning experience that is ready to be used. Daily demands on teachers are high, and time for educators to plan often falls well outside their work day. Iowa e-Learning Central courses can help! Not only do these courses provide a framework to help teachers plan, they provide a substantive and rigorous learning experience with trusted and carefully vetted content for students.