Rep. Williams: Online, distance learning studied by House

By Rep. Danny Williams

Last Thursday, I held an interim study before the House Technology Committee to consider opportunities to advance educational achievement for children and adults through online and distance learning.

When I previously served in the House during the early 90s, this was a topic we were considering even then. At the time, we wanted to explore the connections for colleges, vocational schools and K-12 schools to enhance learning opportunities for all students, although the tools available at our disposal at that time were vastly different than we have today.

In Thursday’s study, two representatives with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education said the appetite for online learning is growing in the state, accelerated even faster by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. In 2020, the state’s higher education system transitioned 173,000 students from face-to-face learning to online.

We heard from numerous presenters about the challenges in connectivity to affordable, high speed internet within the state. Currently, Oklahoma is ranked only 26th nationally for most connected in broadband access. Rural areas are especially difficult to reach for high speed internet, making it a struggle to reach online and distance learning.

While online models were necessary during the onset of the pandemic and are gaining in popularity, several of the presenters said a blended model, where students meet with the teacher and peers at least part of the time, is best for students. This also allows teachers the opportunity to identify issues a child may be facing at home, such as food insecurity or abuse, which are much more difficult to spot through a computer screen.

There are about 300,000 Oklahomans who have some college credits but did not complete a degree. Convenient and affordable options are ideal for these Oklahomans to help them finish their degrees quickly and with a lower financial burden. Two suggested ways to incentivize people to finish their education is by offering scholarships and working with potential employers to develop internships or provide jobs upon completion.

We also heard about the need for increased access to distance and online learning opportunities for those who are in juvenile justice or adult correctional systems. Inmates with certifications or degrees will have an easier time finding jobs after leaving incarceration, thus reducing the likelihood a person will reoffend.

It was a very insightful study, and we learned a lot about how Oklahoma’s common and higher educational systems and CareerTech are currently offering online and distance learning and how they hope to take their options to the next level.

Providing options like online and distance learning will allow more Oklahomans to access education and improve their economic standing for themselves and their families.

As vice chair of the House technology committee, I will continue to work with stakeholders and my fellow legislators to craft legislation to help Oklahomans more easily access online and distance learning.

As always, please feel free to reach out to my office to ask questions or share thoughts on legislation. My office phone is (405) 557-7372 and my email is danny.williams@okhouse.gov.

Thank you for the honor of representing House District 28!

Rep. Danny Williams, a Republican, represents House District 28 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. His district includes Seminole County and northern Pottawatomie County.