Question of the Month: Online Classes
A computer screen can never replace a real, live teacher talking to the class, but there are some circumstances where online education can enhance a school experience. In your district, where and when are online classes appropriate?
Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools
Online learning for students is a growing trend in education today. Universities have been doing it for some time, and K-through-12 schools have started to embrace it. I believe online learning has a place under the right circumstances and must be tailored to the needs of the students. Some students would thrive with minimal direction while others need more instructor involvement to make online learning effective.
School districts in Ohio started using online learning last school year as a pilot program to make up days of school missed due to inclement weather. These days are generally referred to as “eDays” where instructors post lessons on the district’s web site. Students are expected to complete the requirements and provide evidence of their work to the respective instructors.
The Ohio General Assembly approved Ohio Revised Code 3313.88 which grants school districts permission to use up to three online makeup days to replace days missed due to calamities. Such days may be used only after a district exhausts the five calamity days permitted under state law. Students who fail to complete the online assignment are counted absent on the calamity day. Students who fail to complete the assignment but then make it up are given credit for their work and counted present for the day.
In order to make eDays work successfully, parents, students, and instructors must work together. The expectation of completing the assigned work must be embraced by all. Some students need face time with the instructors in order to complete the work successfully. Students in rural areas with fewer connectivity options will have to be more creative in completing the work.
Online learning is perhaps even more important to adults. Many times adults have more difficulty finding time to further their education, and online learning is a viable option for many. Commitments such as a job and/or taking care of children and others many times interfere with a typical school schedule. Working on assignments at their own pace, adults can complete required coursework if given the flexibility by educational institutions.
As with their K-12 counterparts, some adult students need face time with the instructors from time to time. Face time with the instructors could be in small groups or on an individual basis. Even though I think online education is a good thing, I believe some time in a classroom setting is necessary. I think students need the interaction with fellow students to get the most from the material that is presented.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction
Brighton Central Schools
Currently, my district does not support the use of online courses for students. It’s not that we haven’t considered it. As a matter of fact, last year, we had an entire committee of educators research the topic and consider its feasibility for our students. Through this work they learned that many states as well as individual districts have adopted online learning solutions for students in K-12 education. They reviewed the success stories as well as the not-so successful attempts and came to the conclusion that for our students and our district, online courses were a solution to a problem we didn’t have.
In other words, our students already have access to a plethora of educational opportunities, including 18 advanced placement courses, core courses designed for all levels of learners, and electives ranging from leadership development to jewelry making and everything in between. They have dedicated teachers who are willing to accommodate their learning needs by differentiating material and instruction and help labs and support structures to assist them in real time, when they need assistance. Our students are offered a rigorous curriculum in which our staff takes great pride. The belief that being taught by a real person who can build a relationship with a student and respond to the classical mood swings of an adolescent will go further in helping our students be successful than any online experience can afford. Our teachers work very hard and our students are extremely fortunate. This, I believe is what our staff would say if asked why we do not offer online courses.
I cannot argue with many of these beliefs. I do know, for the majority of our students, our current practices work, and work well. Our students are routinely accepted into four year colleges and universities, including many of the Ivy League schools. For me, though, I think about the outliers; those students who don’t really respond to the rigorous curriculum or the caring teacher willing to drop almost anything to invest in their success. I also think about the student who may be so bright that the enriching opportunities and possibilities for advancement we do offer still are not enough.
School should be a place where all students feel valued and connected. Can we really afford, as a society, to raise another generation of students who are disenfranchised from this system? Can we afford to allow students to drop out, or even settle for a GED, when we know the eventual cost to society this means? While I don’t purport to make the case that online solutions are the panacea for these students, but I believe for some, they may provide additional opportunities for success.
Instead of choosing to view the issue of whether or not to offer online learning as an all or nothing decision, we should instead, be focusing our energies on identifying those situations and learner types who may benefit from this mode of instructional delivery. We should be spending our time identifying which online curricula to align with our own so that we can be ensured that the rigor of the educational experience will not be jeopardized by the method of delivery. And we should work with our faculty to reassure them that the addition of online courses is not the district’s attempt to reduce their jobs, but rather, expand our abilities to help every student meet his/her potential.
In today’s modern school, the decisions should not be “if” we offer them, but rather “how” we offer them that should be our focus.
Executive Director for Technology
Kansas City Public Schools
Kansas City, MO
We are using on-line programs. Success Maker and Plato are two of the most widely used. We use them to provide additional learning opportunities for our students. The computer programs offer the ability for students to review class material as well as learn new information at their own pace. This opportunity allows our students to catch up with classroom instruction and to better understand the course material.
The programs do offer a different way of learning as compared to the teacher lecturing in front of the room. These programs offer interactive and fun exercises that can offer a more personal experience to student. We have found that some students associate with interactive technology better than the traditional classroom environment.