Dec. 23, 2009
By Tim Simard
Could the future of high school education include a virtual and global world where students learn alongside peers from all over the planet?
Students at Champlain Valley Union High School will find out next school year, when they’ll have the opportunity to take online high school courses in a variety of subjects.
In 2010, CVU will launch a pilot program and offer its first online course through Virtual High School, a nonprofit online education organization based in Massachusetts. Students will have the opportunity to log on to a virtual class and complete lessons and group assignments.
A few students have already taken college-level online classes for extra credits in their senior year, but this will be CVU’s first virtual class tailored to high school.
As more and more education, especially college and graduate-level courses, takes to the Internet, CVU officials believe that offering online classes helps students become more in touch with 21st Century learning.
“Online learning is a key component to high school transformation but must be tempered with the appropriate developmental level of the individual student,” Principal Sean McMannon wrote in an e-mail to the Observer. “We must grow our online learning programs with the needs of all students in mind.”
But will online learning replace old-fashioned, face-to-face instruction? McMannon doesn’t think so and believes there may be a way to blend online instruction with traditional classroom learning.
Officials with Virtual High School, also known as VHS, agree, stating online classes are complementary.
“We’re not out there to replace person-to-person education,” said Carol Arnold, spokesperson with VHS.
Arnold said VHS offers 140 courses per semester, most of them advanced placement and enrichment classes. Many schools that become members of VHS generally lack certain AP classes in their curriculums, but want students to get the chance to take these courses, she said.
Only students in VHS member schools can take the organization’s online classes. VHS has 644 member schools in 31 states and 34 countries.
Guidance Counselor Russel Aceto is CVU’s online class site coordinator. He recently completed a four-week instruction course with VHS on how to work with students in choosing the best online coursework that fits their learning. If CVU decides to move forward with VHS on a more permanent basis, Aceto would organize the high school’s program.
“Personally, I enjoy technology,” Aceto said. “I do not pretend to try and understand all of it, though. The concept of online learning and VHS becomes more and more exciting as ease of access and functionality increases.”
The first online class offered by CVU will be international business. Business teacher Tamie-Jo Dickinson will teach the class and is scheduled to take a course through VHS this spring on how to best administer the virtual classroom.
Dickinson said there will be 25 slots within the class reserved for CVU students, with the possibility for students from other VHS member schools to enroll. The number of spaces for students outside CVU has yet to be determined. Students will be required to complete assignments on deadline and work with fellow classmates on virtual projects, communicating through e-mail and online messaging.
Because it is a pilot program, the international business course at CVU will be the only VHS offering at the high school. If successful, CVU may allow students to take other VHS online classes in future years.
Since many colleges are now making online classes a requirement, it makes sense for CVU to offer similar classes, Dickinson said. She said administrators are debating whether the class will be fully online, or something of a hybrid course with some classroom instruction.
Dickinson has experience with online classes; she earned her M.B.A. through Touro University International, an accredited online college. She said taking the online courses allowed her flexibility to choose when and where she’d read lessons and complete assignments.
She was surprised how the course structures made her a more active learner. The lack of classroom discussion required her to delve more deeply into assignments and research.
“I couldn’t rely on other people in the class to fill in the gaps,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson said she’s found that, in the past few years, more and more learning is taking place online. For instance, e-mail and CVU’s online network have made her more accessible to students than ever. She even gives classroom assignments only through e-mail, she said.
“I’ve found I’m doing a lot more of my teaching electronically,” she said.
While she doesn’t foresee online classes replacing traditional classrooms at CVU, she is thankful the high school is offering this unique opportunity to its students.