Online courses offer rigorous educational opportunities

January 12, 2015 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years | with 0 Comments

Technology is expanding educational opportunities and could, to some degree, level the playing field for college-bound students from lower-income school districts.

New York State Education Department several years ago launched a statewide virtual learning initiative to support school districts that wanted to provide online and blended learning opportunities. As part of that effort, the state made a series of grants available to districts, and in December 2012, a virtual learning grant awarded a consortium of Capital Region BOCES and seven area districts the ability to offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes that otherwise would not be available to their students.

“We never had AP Statistics before,” said Marc Weiss, a social studies teacher at Cobleskill-Richmondville High School, one of the districts in the grant consortium. “The program really opens up the students to having more Advanced Placement classes. It puts small schools or rural schools like us on par with urban or suburban districts.”

Districts facing financial challenges are often forced to cut AP classes. Yet, colleges frequently consider the rigor of a student’s coursework in the admissions process. The consensus is that if a student can handle the demands of an AP class, they are better suited to the challenges of college academics.

As districts look to expand educational opportunities for students, virtual classes may become more the norm. Educators and students say the format and rigor of virtual AP courses is excellent preparation for college. Students meet with their teacher once per week via teleconference, then are responsible for performing the work on their own.

“It puts the onus of education on the students completely,” said Weiss. “Virtual AP classes help bridge the gap between high school and college because the hand-holding is off.”

Kirsten DeMento, director of curriculum at Watervliet City School District, said the classes also help students learn to budget time. “They have to plan ahead to get all the work done. They have to learn to communicate with fellow students in the virtual world to get projects done.”

Colleen Sheehan, a Spanish teacher at Cobleskill-Richmondville, said the VAP program teaches students to advocate for themselves. “If they have a problem, they can’t just find their teacher in school,” she said. “It teaches the students how to be much more organized. Those who are successful figure that out very quickly.”

Anna Sager, a senior at C-RHS, said she knows she will have a foreign language requirement in college, and the AP Spanish class offered the opportunity to earn those credits before leaving high school.

“It challenges you and shows you what an online course is really like. It brings you to a whole new academic level,” she said. “I learned that if I just apply myself, it’s not as difficult. I pay attention to due dates, and work little by little, day by day.”

Weiss said the experience has helped him gain perspective on distance learning as a teacher. “The VAP program really shows you and the students the power of learning on the internet and the world that’s out there, that students can learn on their own and gain knowledge with a guide to help them on their way,” said Weiss.

Watervliet students had some advice for others thinking about an online class.

“Waiting until the last minute is not the best strategy with a class like this,” said Justyn McHarg. “You can’t procrastinate and expect to be successful, especially with a college-level course.”

“Keep up with the reading,” added Sarah Luce. “There’s a lot of reading involved so being able to manage your time and get all the reading done can be a challenge.”

NYSED lists the following benefits of distance learning:

  • Enables districts to offer courses to their students that they might not otherwise have access to.
  • Provides flexibility in scheduling of courses.
  • Allows students to take college level courses without leaving their building.
  • Expands course offerings to students through videoconferencing or online courses.
  • Enables students to learn and operate in a setting that is comfortable to them.
  • Enhances creativity and collaboration.
  • Encourages differentiated instruction.
  • Allows students to be exposed to experts around the globe.
  • Breaks down geographic barriers to education, bridging communities together.

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Copyright ©2015 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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