Gov. Richardson Announces Statewide eLearning Plan

ACANS News & Information Center

Gov. Richardson Announces Statewide eLearning Plan

It’s two o’clock on a Tuesday morning.  You can’t sleep.  You crawl out of bed, plod into the kitchen, and sit down at the table.  What should you do?  Watch TV?  Raid the refrigerator?   Log on to your online Statistical Methods class?

Digital education and learning, or eLearning, allows people to take courses online, whenever and wherever they like.  It’s a powerful resource that is allowing technology to reach its full potential in the world of education.  In 2000, almost 3.5 million people enrolled in online courses in secondary and postsecondary schools in the US.  Now New Mexico is poised to enter the world of eLearning in a big way.

On October 27, Governor Bill Richardson proposed his plan for a statewide eLearning program to deliver educational services and courses to students everywhere in New Mexico.  Innovative Digital Education and Learning in New Mexico, or IDEAL-NM, will combine new and existing technology and infrastructure across the state.  The program’s main goal is a coordinated and standardized statewide eLearning system and Cyber Academy.   Once established, they would allow students to take courses from middle and high schools, colleges, and universities across New Mexico, all coordinated by the New Mexico Learning Network Service Center and taught by qualified eLearning instructors.

“I truly believe that we are at a point where we must take advantage of technology that is currently available to our schools,” Governor Richardson said. “It is our responsibility to make sure our kids have access to all of the tools they need to succeed.”

Governor Richardson will ask the legislature for an initial $10.8 million to start the program and begin coordinating existing technology initiatives.   The initial investment will be followed by a proposed $28 million, disbursed over five years, to maintain the program.

Veronica Chavez-Neuman, Chief Information Officer for the State Higher Education Department, says, “Most higher education institutions and some public schools have their own infrastructure for eLearning.  The IDEAL-NM program will leverage existing infrastructure at the larger universities and the statewide telecommunications network to implement and deliver eLearning to more students and staff.”

These existing initiatives and infrastructure include the state laptop initiative, which has provided almost 1,000 laptops to 7th graders in New Mexico, and WireNM, an on-going initiative to create a high speed, high capacity communication network in New Mexico.  Perhaps the most important existing initiative that will be used by IDEAL-NM is the New Mexico Learning Network (NMLN).   NMLN is an existing statewide eLearning service that aims to provide high quality education while minimizing geographic and scheduling barriers sometimes faced by students.  It allows students to enroll in courses offered by any of the almost twenty colleges and universities that participate in NMLN.  IDEAL-NM ’s course offering will be coordinated through NMLN, and will be greatly expanded to include middle and high school courses, including dual credit courses.

IDEAL-NM will institute a standard statewide learning management system (LMS).   An LMS typically includes features like discussion boards, chat, and e-mail to connect students and instructors and engage them in online learning.   Brian Ormand, NMLN Project Director, says LMS programs are very versatile.  “ Instructors can do everything from manage student rosters, to distribute course materials like readings and tests, to design eLearning templates that they can then easily share with other instructors across districts. ”  When everyone is using the same software, it will be very easy to share tools, courses, resources, and information.  The standard LMS will also support live web conferencing between students and teachers, removing geographic and scheduling barriers.

Dirt road in the countrysideIDEAL-NM will bring more learning opportunities to students in rural areas.

IDEAL-NM also calls for a statewide Cyber Academy for middle and high school students that would bring together the resources, courses, and instructors of schools throughout New Mexico.  A statewide Cyber Academy will greatly benefit students in rural areas that don’t always have the resources, or enough qualified instructors, to offer higher-level AP and college courses for their high school students.  The statewide Cyber Academy will be modeled after the Rio Rancho Cyber Academy, which opened last year and has since enrolled over one-hundred full-time students and several hundred part-time students in online courses.  The state Cyber Academy also includes plans for teacher professional development and training in teaching and facilitating online courses, ensuring that students get the best instruction and guidance in eLearning.

Governor Richardson expects IDEAL-NM to have a “major impact,” and he is confident that within five years all New Mexico students will take at least one eLearning course before graduating high school.

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