Are online classes the future for K-12?


Scattered across the desks in one of Yorktown Middle School’s social studies classes are colored pencils, blank paper maps and iPads with sturdy lime green cases. Students have a map pulled up on the devices and are using it to create their own color-coded version on paper.

It could have been a lesson from 10 years ago, or 20, but instead of squinting at a slide projector or flipping through a textbook the students each pulled up a map individually.

In another room students read through worksheets on the iPads, some writing in short answers with a stylus or index finger instead of typing. A couple have headphones in, but most are working together to find the right answer. One by one they are called up to meet with the teacher.

Principal Heath Dudley points out a stack of four or five library books on one student’s desk. This is likely not what poeple imagine when they hear that students are each given their own device in fifth grade, he said.

“They do still have books and pencils,” he said. “People have a misinterpretation of what it actually is. They hear ‘1:1’ and they think, ‘All my kid is going to do is be on the iPad all day long and that’s it.’”

Not close to equal

At this point schools widely accept that technology must be a part of a student’s education, in some form. And if educators didn’t come to this conclusion on their own, state standards — like those that require K-8 to be learning computer science — made it clear.

But the approaches districts take with technology vary, often because of demographics and resources. Schools have to consider: Do students have access to internet? Have teachers received training? Can the district afford to keep buying new devices as they age?

Both candidates for state superintendent have talked about increasing access to the internet and improving cyber security for students. Both say it’s a top priority. During a question and answer event in Muncie on Oct. 18, GOP candidate Jennifer McCormick said only nine districts have access to the amount of broadband that will be needed in five years. Schools need help, she said.

“It’s been a problem for years, it’s just been let go,” she said.

The disparities are clear even when narrowing the scope to Delaware County.

On one hand there’s Yorktown Community Schools, which became a state leader after implementing a 1:1 student-to-device ratio and has started its first required, online-only class this year. On the other there is Delaware Community Schools, which just started piloting 1:1 devices this year. And somewhere in the middle is Muncie Community Schools, which went 1:1 about the same time as Yorktown, but is seemingly still figuring out the basics of using those devices.

Deciding which district’s approach is best, though, depends on who is talking. Some parents and teachers remain skeptical of what schools are doing.

A digital evolution

Over the past six years, 1:1 devices have become the measuring stick by which districts think about technology. When asked about their plans for advancing technology, most local school administrators immediately start talking about either improving their 1:1 program, or starting one.

Using that scale, Yorktown Schools is ahead of its neighbors. The district started by giving iPads to students in grades 5-12. They got a learning management system — which shows up for students as an app where teachers put lessons, homework and readings — and started using the devices in pre-existing classrooms.

Next were eLearning days, which allowed students to make up snow days by completing a day’s worth of lessons, online.

Then, last year, the district switched to laptops for grades 9-12 and rolled out a new management system. The format teachers used to share content with students was mandated down to the specific buttons, which administrators say makes it easier for student and parents to navigate through different courses.

All of this leads to now, when for the first time the district is requiring every eighth-grader to take a high school class entirely online.

Instead of taking the college and career readiness class as freshmen at Yorktown High School, a high school teacher created the class online, for eighth-graders to take. Holly Stachler, the district’s technology integration specialist, helped, and had a freshman pilot it over the summer.

“It’s relatively easy content to share on an eLearning platform,” Stachler said. “Not only that, the information, when you think about preparing a child for college and careers, parents have a role in that as well. So to get a lot of that content into the home, even, that serves like a dual purpose.”

Students were administered a pre-test in August during class time, but from then on it’s up to the students to get the course done. And because it’s a high school course, they will all be earning high school credit.

To help keep students on track, there are suggested deadlines. And Dudley said if a student gets behind, he and the teacher talk to them and send a progress report home. Students are encouraged to use any extra time in regular classes to work on it, and reminders pop up every time they open the app to work on other classes.

But there’s no classroom or designated time in the day to get it done.

Seeing the future?

Yorktown Teacher Association president Kelly Miller isn’t sold on requiring the course. She said the online platform doesn’t allow for the same discussion and connections, and it makes it more difficult for teachers to figure out each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

“The idea of offering online courses is a good one but it really needs to be directed at students who are prepared for the responsibility of an online course, and not something that is required of every student,” Miller said. “Colleges don’t require that students take an online course; there’s always the option of taking the course on campus. Middle and high school should be no different.”

It’s true that eighth-graders weren’t given the option of a traditional class, but Stachler said they could retake it as a regular class in ninth grade, and that the new grade can replace the one they earned in the online version.

Students are also learning time management, and getting exposure to technology similar to what they will use in college, Stachler and Dudley said.

Miller is also concerned about the workload for teachers.

“Creating and maintaining an online course is a big undertaking,” she said. “I’m also concerned about future teaching positions. If more schools begin to implement these online courses, what does that look like for staffing in the buildings? Will schools RIF teachers to bare-bones staff on campus and outsource online courses?”

No one in Yorktown Schools is suggesting that this is the future for all classes. Those who talked to The Star Press all seemed to agree that technology is best used as a tool, not as a replacement for teachers and in-person interaction. But having the capability could lead to using more online classes.

Dudley said he doubts there would be much more opportunity for online classes at the middle school level, both because of the maturity level of students and because of the types of classes they are taking. But at the high school, he said, online classes could be a good solution if a class has very few students signed up.

For example, he said, if seven kids wanted to take German it wouldn’t be enough for a regular class, but could be offered online.

Could the same thing be possible at other districts? That’s an entirely different question.

Stepping back

“It would be ideal to go that route, but it is not practical,” said Anthony Harvey, Muncie Schools’ chief information officer. It would be difficult to work with different students’ needs, like learning disabilities, he said.

Muncie Community Schools started with iPads in secondary schools, which are now at the end of their lifespan. Harvey said Apple no longer offers updates for them. The district has been criticized before for not having a plan for replacing devices. MCS also didn’t have a mandated format for teachers to share information with students. Administrators said they largely used email and individual websites.

Now Harvey, Superintendent Steven Baule and the board have decided to pilot 250 Chromebook laptops, and a learning management system with 20 teachers in the district’s three secondary schools. Harvey has also spent much of the year reworking the wireless network to run more efficiently. Essentially, the district is going back, and relaying the foundation.

The future for MCS is more likely to make up snow days using eLearning, Harvey said, although he has not put out a district-wide survey to find out how many students have access to internet outside of the schools, and in the end it would be a curriculum decision.

“That would be the ultimate (goal,)” he said. “Technically, we have the ability.”

Harvey sees a future for technology in MCS branching outside the classroom. He hopes that as students learn more, they can help their parents, too. That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t limit the guest wifi, allowing community members and students hanging around the schools access.

It could have a “ripple effect” in the community, he said. “It’s an avenue for them to constantly explore.”

[Source:-The Star press]

Related posts