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Disruptive Innovation 23

Running head: DISRUPTIVE INNOVATIONDisruptive Innovation: A Review of the Literature Regarding a Superintendents Response to Online Learning

Washington State University

Glenn E. Malone

April, 2009

IntroductionIn their recent book Disrupting Class, Christensen, Horn, and Johnson (2008) project that by the year 2013, ten percent of all instruction in our nations high schools will take place online and within 10 years, they predicts more than half of all instruction will be delivered online. They make these bold claims based on research in the business world. They studied the patterns of new and innovative business development that regularly emerges parallel to traditional business models. Usually these models fill a missing gap in the market without initially causing much of threat or disruption to the traditional systems. The new models provide an innovation that improves the traditional service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being designed for a different set of customers. Likewise, K-12 online learning vendors are similarly a threat to public school systems; they are successfully competing for and gaining students at an shocking rate. This disruptive attack on the traditional system was unanticipated and has blindsided most school districts from an unexpected direction. Christensen et al. (2008) caution that schools had better get into the online learning market or risk losing a significant number of students to other for-profit providers. This review of the literature will explore the most recent thoughts on the impact of online learning on American K-12 education and the superintendents role in leading a school district during this time of disruptive innovation.

The research questions embedded in this review ask: How do Washington State superintendents currently respond to the current trend of student migration out of their districts to private online options? How do Washington State superintendents currently spend their limited resources to contend with this competition? What characteristics associated with online learning do Washington State superintendents believe impede or facilitate it being used as a viable public high school alternative to the traditional high school classroom? Themes have emerged from the reading and will form the framework for this examination. These themes include K-12 online learning effectiveness as compared to traditional classroom instruction, superintendent technology leadership, and the disruptive innovation theory.Organization of the Review

In this review, I describe findings from the most prevalent areas of research literature essential to investigating the topic of K-12 online learning and a superintendents response. The body of research is growing and includes much on the effectiveness of K-12 online programs but very little research has been done on a superintendents leadership in technology and less still regarding a superintendents response to K-12 online education.

In Section 1 I provide a brief historical context on K-12 online learning with a focus on Washington State including helpful definitions of key terms found in the literature.In Section 2 I review the theoretical framework of disruptive innovation initially provided by Christensen (1997). I specifically look at this theory in relation to K-12 online learning juxtaposed with the need for superintendent leadership in this area.In Section 3 I summarize the research from major studies in the K-12 online arena, including a meta-analysis of the comparative distance education literature between 1985 and 2002 comparing distance education with classroom instruction (Bernard et al., 2004). Moreover, I examine one of the most often cited studies in K-12 online learning; a meta-analysis on the effects of distance education on K-12 outcomes (Cavanaugh et al., 2004). In addition, I examine a synthesis of eight more research projects on K-12 online learning submitted to the North Central Regional Education Laboratory which is focused specifically on the issues of online challenges, school change and educational reform (Smith, Clark, & Blomeyer, 2005). Finally, I review the no significant difference phenomena research by Russell (2002) and the oversold and underused claims of Cuban (1986, 2001).

In Section 4 I examine the role of superintendent in the K-12 online learning environment. Specially, I review a qualitative study on superintendent conceptions of institutional conditions that impact teacher technology integration (Shuldman, 2004) and a study of Appalachian Ohio public school district superintendents and high school principals and their perceptions of and experiences with online courses (Robison, 2007). In addition, I review the work of Augustine-Shaw (2001) and her dissertation on online learning environments in Kansas K-12 public schools. This work provides insight into leadership perspectives and policy issues for a superintendent.In Section 5 I provide a summary with reflection including specific recommendations for superintendents and further research.Section 1: Online Learning in the K-12 ContextDistance learning is not a new phenomenon in K-12 systems. In fact, elementary and secondary students have learned through the use of electronic distance learning systems since the 1930s. It is the development of the online, Internet method that is new and has caused this recent stir.

To better understand the online vernacular, let us examine the definition of online learning and differentiate it from distance learning or distance education. Distance education is most commonly defined in the literature as formal study in which the teacher and the learner are separate in time or space (Smith et al., 2005). Distance education includes classrooms using the radio, television, and even the postal service for instruction. Correspondence courses are a form of distance education. With this definition you can see that distance education has been used for quite some time, while online learning on the other hand is unique and relatively new to education. Online learning is a form of distance education in which instruction and content are delivered primarily via the Internet. Online learning is sometimes referred to as Web-based distance learning in the literature.

The recent explosion of online learning in K-12 education is a direct result of what Friedman (2005) calls the perfect storm; the triple convergence of key factors. The creation of the Internet led to our current global, web-enabled environment that allows for multiple forms of collaboration. This setting further promotes the sharing of knowledge and work, without regard to distance, geography, or even language. With this, new opportunities were created for individuals to compete against anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world. The rise of online technologies allowed innovative entrepreneurs worldwide to participate in a global marketplace and K-12 online learning entrepreneurs were no exception. K-12 online learning is big business and financially profitable, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen joined the K-12 online learning business in 1997 when he founded Apex Learning, an online learning provider that originally began offering test preparation and advanced placement courses online to high school students. Apex Learning has expanded to offer over 100 courses worldwide today. Since its inception Apex Learning has provided over 1 million students courses in over 4,000 school districts. Likewise, in 2000 former United States Secretary of Education William Bennett started his own K-12 online learning business by founding K12 Inc.; currently our countrys largest K-12 online learning provider with a total revenue in 2007 of over 140 million dollars. K12 Inc. reported that operating income for the first nine months of fiscal year 2008 grew 54 percent to $13.7 million, compared with $8.9 million for the first nine months of fiscal year 2007. Based in Virginia, K12 Inc. came to Washington State in 2005 as the parent company for the Steilacoom School Districts Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA) which currently attracts over 40 students from my school district along with the $200,000 in revenue those students generate. Washingtons online programs vary greatly in their structure and services. Some are developed and run by district employees themselves while others are operated by nonprofits. The largest are run by publicly traded companies. In addition to K12 Inc. mentioned earlier, Arizona-based Apollo Group Inc. has partnered with the Quillayute Valley School District to provide Insight School of Washington while Illinois-based DeVry Inc. has partnered with the Marysville School District to offer Advanced Academic online curriculum. All are heavily, professionally marketed at strategic times throughout the year and as a result are growing at breakneck speed.In Washington State, legislation in 2005 paved the way for our states rapid online expansion by giving online vendors the same per-pupil funding as traditional schools. This legislation created the nations least regulated K-12 online system of all 50 states. The consequence has hit Washington public school districts hard, with the loss of revenue for each student to the tune of $5,000 per student per year. The problem is so severe that superintendents are scrambling to add online programs to their offerings at a time where most other programs are being eliminated or reduced due to the most drastic, K-12 financial reductions our state has ever seen; while competition for children and the dollars that come with them is the fiercest it has ever been. K-12 online learning providers have seized a profitable opportunity in Washington to meet a need that most school districts have left unmet.

The combined effect ha