Five years ago, Westmoreland Intermediate Unit 7 led its 17 school districts in a joint effort to bring high-quality, state-of-the-art, locally driven cyber learning to students. Today, schools are seeing the impact in a healthier bottom line. Students who want a cyber learning experience are staying with their home schools, and districts aren't spending enormous amounts on the infrastructure and management of 21st-century schooling because IU 7 is shouldering most of those duties.
"To have to replicate the actual management time and technology staff 17 different times at these individual school districts would be ridiculous," says Tim Hammill, IU 7's supervisor of educational technology. "We're doing it once here, and everyone's benefitting from it." The eAcademy was born when school superintendents asked IU 7 for help planning their cyber-schooling initiatives.
While there are many online learning options available for schools to purchase, the superintendents really wanted to build this in-house to educate their students, says Hammill. "They wanted very much to take ownership and use their own resources, their own teachers and their own curriculum," he says. IU 7 hosts the system, delivers the content-heavy programs over its own fiber optic network, and trains teachers to make cyber learning engaging and meaningful.
Two other Pennsylvania IUs are partnering with IU 7 to replicate eAcademy for their districts. Each IU 7 district customizes eAcademy to its own needs - saving money on alternative education placements by keeping students in-house, or enrolling students in courses offered at neighboring districts. More importantly, says Hammill, teachers are integrating cyber learning into the regular classroom. They are posting resources online that complement classroom activities, and they are prompting students to study materials on their own and using class time to explore the subjects more fully.
The eAcademy is "having an impact beyond just the online learning," says Hammill. "In the early stages, we chose to not just look at this as online learning only," he says. "We latched hold of the idea that this is about teaching in the 21st century. This is about teaching teachers how to teach with these elements and integrating them into our schools."