Last Thursday at the EDUCAUSE 2007 Annual Conference, held in Seattle, WA, well over 100 higher education CIOs and e-Learning experts gathered to learn about and discuss a topic not frequently addressed during higher education IT conferences: a continuum of education from kindergarten through college, or “K-20” collaboration.

Although conversations about K-20 collaboration (being referred to as the “education pipeline”) were previously unusual for such gatherings, when Blackboard announced the “Blackboard K-20 Connection” on Thursday, the meeting room at EDUCAUSE was filled to capacity.  The Blackboard K-20 Connection is a new initiative designed to foster collaboration between higher education and K-12 institutions worldwide.

On the same day last week, K-20 collaboration was being discussed in Tucson, AZ, where 250 people from across that state had gathered for the Arizona Summit on 21st Century Skills, a meeting sponsored by Governor Napolitano’s P-20 Council, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and hosted by the University of Arizona, College of Education. 

And the discussions continue this week, as 300 IT and e-Learning specialists will gather November 1–2, in Somerset, KY, for Kentucky Convergence 2007 to discuss their craft, and the benefits and positive impact of K-20 collaboration.

What exactly is K-20, and why has it become the hot topic of conversation amongst educators?

The concept of K-20 (also referred to as “P-20,” “P-16” or “PK-20” in various states) encompasses multiple key components:

  • The term refers to initiatives and programs which involve both a K-12 school component and a higher education aspect, such as high school–community college dual enrollment programs, middle colleges, or special programs in which middle school and high school students are exposed to college courses or study.
  • In the most recent discussions of K-20, the term also involves online aspects of learning and teaching, which serve to bridge the K-12 segment and higher education segment.

It is the second, more recent definition of K-20 that most greatly empowers this collaboration between K-12 and higher education, at the intersection of face-to-face classroom teaching and e-Learning.

For the last decade, IT experts, CIOs and academic technologists have built incredible technology infrastructures that assist, support and enhance education, but these efforts were not married to the delivery of the central missions of institutions (whether K-12 schools or in higher education) . . . until now. 

By combining two or more (vertical) education segments with a (horizontal) e-Learning “pipeline” of teaching and learning, difficult problems faced by K-12 districts and colleges and universities can be addressed and the obstacles they face overcome: from the needs for both accelerated education and remedial education, motivating K-12 students to contemplate and apply to higher education institutions, and retaining students in both high schools and colleges and universities.

The concept of K-20, a continuum of teaching empowered by e-Learning, now resonates from the classroom to the boardroom, from school trustees to state legislators and governors.

At Blackboard, we hear the early signals from our clients in K-12 and higher education who are the pioneers in the use of online technology.  We also hear from government officials who are trying to solve the difficult problems of rising drop-out rates, falling retention rates and the decreasing numbers of graduating students.

So, during EDUCAUSE last week, when Jessie Woolley-Wilson, president of Blackboard’s K-12 group, and Peter Segall, president of Blackboard’s North American Higher Education group, addressed a packed room, as a team their timing in surfacing this issue was right on target.

Their joint address was part of this new wave in education: collaboration that makes the boundaries between K-12 schools and higher education institutions less formidable; that enables middle schools and high schools to be discussed in the same conversation as higher education; and in which online teaching and learning become part of education policy and standard practice.

The message of Jesse and Peter’s address was not missed by the higher education trade press: both Inside Higher Education ("Online Education: Tailoring, Measuring and ‘Bridging’") and The Chronicle of Higher Education ("Managing Learning from Kindergarten Through College") filed stories from EDUCAUSE about K-20 collaboration.

Look for “K-20” to rank alongside “NCLB” as the hot conversation topics in education during 2008.  In the mean time, Blackboard has begun work with its clients in K-12, higher education and government sectors across the globe to explore how a durable pipeline can be created online to accompany what is occurring in, and between, all types of classrooms across the country.  In this, as in NCLB, the U.S. is once again an education pioneer.

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