High standards in education at every level, in every subject, are the bedrock of student success. The drive to implement such standards today involves a variety of programs with various names, including the multi-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and New Jersey’s Connected Action Roadmap (CAR).
In 2015, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) asked NJIT to help advance a new, leading-edge initiative to provide classroom teachers and administrators with professional learning resources essential for guiding students toward achieving goals stipulated for the state’s public schools. The NJDOE requested that NJIT join in developing NJDOE’s Blended Learning modules by utilizing NJIT’s digital learning platform for professional development known as the Online Professional Learning Exchange (OPLE). This partnership with the NJDOE reflects NJIT’s unique role at the forefront of digital learning and STEM education in New Jersey, engagement that includes special programs for elementary and high school students, and their teachers.
The NJIT partnership with the NJDOE, with support from the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), was announced at a forum in Trenton hosted by We Raise NJ, a broad coalition of organizations led by the New Jersey Parent Teacher Association. NJIT funding from the NJDOE, initially some $1.2 million, supported building the statewide OPLE blended-learning community based on a decade of previous work by the university to develop online educational resources.
From Compliance to Blended Practice
Blended learning puts all of the media available for communication in the 21st century at the disposal of users — in this case, New Jersey educators up through the undergraduate college level. An evolution of CAR, the first phase of the new OPLE effort was completed by the end of 2015.
The modules now available online are intended to give educators access to a wealth of best-practice written material and video demonstrations, and the opportunity for personal discussion with community members anywhere in the state. Accessible at any time of the day, every day of the year, this resource will help NJDOE staff to efficiently promote the implementation of consistent standards and reduce the need for numerous face-to-face meetings at New Jersey’s nearly 600 school districts.
In announcing the OPLE partnership, NJDOE Commissioner David Hespe cited the need for a “coherent process of school improvement that connects standards, student learning, assessment, professional learning, educator effectiveness and school culture.” He said, “In order for such a process to take hold, we must refocus and move from compliance to practice. This cannot be done in a vacuum. We are here to talk about a tool that is convenient and sustainable.”
Among those speaking about the importance of such a tool at the forum in the state capitol was Fadi Deek, NJIT provost and senior executive vice president, who joined other prominent representatives from the public and private sectors. In his remarks, Deek emphasized the history and capabilities that NJIT brings to the effort.
“NJIT’s strength in the STEM disciplines, our long tradition at the forefront of technology-enhanced teaching and learning, and our expertise dedicated to pedagogical design and educational assessment make us a natural partner to develop the infrastructure needed to support teachers in helping their students succeed,” Deek said.
An Effective Mechanism
The OPLE developmental work at NJIT was led by James Lipuma, a member of the Humanities Department and director of the university’s Curriculum, Learning and Assessment Studies (CLAS) project, an initiative with goals for online education that anticipated those of the recently launched NJDOE effort. Lipuma, whose academic background is in environmental science and education, earned his master’s and Ph.D. at NJIT, and has been a faculty member since 1997.
Lipuma has been involved with CLAS since it was envisioned by Provost Deek and Professor of English Norbert Elliot, working on implementation with colleagues who include Bruce Bukiet, associate dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts and associate professor of mathematics. Earlier in his NJIT career, Lipuma was coordinator for the university’s pre-service teacher program, focused on educating teacher candidates, especially those from groups underrepresented in the STEM disciplines in college.
As Lipuma explains, the knowledge and skills that NJIT mustered for the OPLE project provided an “effective mechanism” for the creation of a valuable online meeting place for teachers to “assist them in learning how to use the state’s standards, align their lessons, prepare their students for assessment, use the data from assessment and answer their questions. We wanted to help teachers to be better at developing lessons that meet both the state’s expectations and the needs of all the students in their classrooms.”
Lipuma reiterates that the NJDOE asked NJIT to take on this task in recognition of the university’s technical expertise and impartial commitment to best practices in instructional development, curriculum design and implementation of online and blended learning. With his colleagues, Lipuma worked to fit many pieces together to assemble an effective educational environment — coordinating the integration of state-of-the art technology and content drawn from a wide range of sources, including the NJDOE and the NJPSA.
While the immediate OPLE goal was to develop blended-learning modules dedicated to education in New Jersey, NJIT is participating in the creation of a powerful tool for sharing that could benefit educators elsewhere. It could help to meet the highest standards for educational achievement in many subjects across the country. Currently, the NJDOE is working with nearly 30 schools to pilot the OPLE, and over the next few months it will be presented to all schools in New Jersey.
Individuals with a New Jersey public school log-in, can access the new NJDOE blended learning modules at http://www.online-plc.org
For more information, contact James Lipuma, firstname.lastname@example.org
By Dean Maskevich