What Is Iowa Learning Online

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Iowa students are turning to Iowans for help, and it’s all happening online.

Iowa’s Education Commissioner, Rob Neu, has been in the public eye for a variety of reasons, most of which are good. Last year, he was in the national spotlight after he received death threats for speaking out against President Trump. And while the state’s rural population is important to Iowa’s economy, and several of Neu’s policy stances have been criticized in other areas, Neu deserves more credit for driving the state’s education policy.

Neu has put a focus on making sure schools are working together to make sure students graduate ready for college or the workforce. And the state’s expanded adoption of the Common Core has had a number of positive consequences. Iowa students from sixth grade through 12th grade have graduated from high school with better grades and tests results than ever before.

Neu is now credited with helping to increase the percentage of Iowa students taking online and on-site courses—17 percent of sixth graders now take online courses, for example. These online courses are scheduled in the day, requiring less time away from home. In July, Neu announced that Iowa’s online education offerings will improve and become more flexible. And he joined the growing number of education administrators who want to help schools better understand students’ needs.

Neu wants to help schools identify students struggling at a certain age, get them closer to traditional education options, and make sure they can take the courses that are right for them.

He met with Governor Kim Reynolds to discuss the state’s commitment to student success and education. Reynolds described the two-day meeting as a “comprehensive discussion on reaching higher educational goals, improving our STEM-based workforce, and ensuring all Iowa students and families have access to the tools and support they need to be successful in life.”

Here’s what a live discussion about his vision of Iowa’s future looked like:

Iowa teachers and educators should be excited about the promise Neu’s vision of Iowa holds. His goal is to get more students outside the school day to spend more time in learning environments that help them grow up confident, healthy, and gain confidence in themselves and their skills.

Much of Iowa’s success when it comes to educating students comes down to “every student bettering himself” through graduation and re-entry to the workforce. Teachers and administrators are required to make sure all students achieve. Iowa students need assurance that their educational experience will help them be successful in the future. Neu wants Iowa to be a destination for a wide variety of educational programs that will help students meet these goals.

Connecting students with the right teachers

Building on Neu’s vision, educators, policymakers, parents, and students in Iowa are teaming up to identify K-12 students and the learning environment that is best suited for their needs.

In July, Neu visited Iowa City High School, where students are spending more time and attending more classes online. The effort to improve student outcomes and make curriculum more accessible is “part of an ongoing movement to reach a diverse range of students,” Neu said.

Along with his team and students, Neu has created a resource guide for Iowa teachers in designing learning environments for all students. This guide highlights projects teachers can do to align learning styles to meet the needs of their students and incorporates online learning. The resource offers teacher resources that reflect online learning settings and other ways to leverage technology for student learning. Teachers can share their ideas and resources with colleagues online. The guide highlights internet privacy and security concerns and also discusses things teachers should consider before they start using online learning sites to enhance their students’ academic experience.

Tentative plans for the future

Neu spoke at the Iowa Online Learning Coalition Summit, which was hosted in Iowa City in September. Leaders from public and private organizations discussed goals for Iowa’s K-12 education system in the next decade.

The summit provided a forum for educators to connect with each other to find ways to grow teaching practices and to develop a better network.

More than 150 educators, administrators, policymakers, and leaders from a wide variety of fields attended.

Ten of them suggested state and local guidelines and standards for better online learning. The task force will meet again in February.

Neu said he wants Iowa to become a global powerhouse for online learning. We can all be proud that he is leading the way in ensuring that Iowa students have a greater opportunity to become more successful.

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