By Sarah Beauchemin

There’s no doubt that technology has altered just about every aspect of our personal and professional lives in one way or another.

But technology has also changed the face of education.

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If you or someone you know needs an alternative educational environment, Ingenuity is available to you.

Online learning platforms have allowed students of all ages – from K-12 through graduate school – to successfully complete their degrees when traditional on-campus programs would otherwise be difficult, or even impossible. Family obligations, employment, transportation issues, and health concerns are just some of the reasons that make distance learning an excellent choice for many learners.

For these reasons and more, Ingenuity Charter School opened in 2015 – with a dedicated group of 160 students, and counting – to give San Diego’s underrepresented students access to high-quality online education that fits their unique lifestyle needs.

Ingenuity offers an independent study blended learning program. This means that while students are able to complete the bulk of their studies online 24/7, they are also expected to show up to their assigned classroom hours, which are two three-hour blocks per week. During these appointment times, Ingenuity’s instructors work with the students one-on-one or in small groups to track their progress and offer assistance and mentorship.

Image courtesy of Ingenuity Charter
Image courtesy of Ingenuity Charter

How Technology Changes Education for the Better

Ingenuity’s faculty have witnessed first-hand the ways in which technology has changed education for the better.

“Through the personalized learning approach at Ingenuity, technology has enabled students to take more control over their education,” said Nicole Huerta, blended learning instructor at Ingenuity.

Also, because online learning has become so prevalent in today’s society, many parents are more accepting of the learning structure and recognize its value.

“Think back to the early 2000s,” said John Lee, a second-year blended learning instructor at Ingenuity. “It was rare to see anyone with cell phones, just like it was rare for students to enroll in online courses. But just as cell phone technology rapidly advanced, so did it for online education programs. It works for so many different reasons. Today, it is completely possible to earn virtually any degree without ever having to step foot in a classroom.”

To be sure, online learning is not a trend; it has become a cornerstone of education. Over the past few years, U.S. News reported, “more students enrolled in online courses, more organizations offered alternative credentials such as digital badges and nanodegrees and more employers accepted online degrees from job candidates.”

Image courtesy of Ingenuity Charter
Image courtesy of Ingenuity Charter

Working Through Challenges For Student Success

Of course, technology is not without its challenges. Some could argue that online learning can be complicated or frustrating due to a variety of technological issues that may arise.

However, Ingenuity has worked carefully to anticipate any potential problems and have solutions ready. In fact, the technological advancement of Wi-Fi hotspots in and of itself has been an effective solution to some tech issues that have arisen.

For example, one main challenge that has already presented itself at Ingenuity is accessibility. “Since many students who attend Ingenuity are from low-income families, they do not have access to a computer or internet outside of school,” said Huerta. “To effectively address this, we loan Chromebook computers – as well as Wi-Fi hotspots – to students so that they are able to work from anywhere outside of school.”

Another issue is the reliability of networks. They can be fickle, either crashing or running very slowly. “I can recall on several occasions where the network crashed when I had a classroom full of students,” said Lee. “Ingenuity’s entire curriculum is online, so access to the internet is obviously critical. Our principal, Tiffany Degraffenreid, had the foresight to anticipate this issue by having numerous portable Wi-Fi hotspots at our disposal. In the event of a network crash, students simply access the internet through the hotspot and the learning continues.”

Ingenuity’s faculty also believe that technology has changed education for the better in terms of reaching students on a personal level.

“Ultimately, I believe that the single most important role technology plays in education is it allows for the delivery of personalized learning,” said Huerta. “Teachers have time to tailor individualized plans for students based on their specific needs, and students have incredible flexibility in terms of how they pace their learning. Unlike a traditional classroom, where

everyone must move at the same speed, Ingenuity’s students can dedicate more time to certain subjects without feeling pressured or stressed.”

As technology continues to advance, so will the capabilities of online learning. This could include things like virtual field trips using virtual reality headsets, or using 3D simulation and holograms to explain difficult STEM concepts. Whatever the future may hold, Ingenuity Charter School recognizes the power of technology to transform the scope of education, making it more accessible to a wider population – beginning right here in San Diego.

Sarah Beauchemin writes for Voice of San Diego’s Partner Voices and is a freelance writer and content strategist for nonprofits, small businesses and...

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