Online courses put high school at the leading edge of technology

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Racing into the new millennium, Moffat County High School (MCHS) has become a leader of sorts in the technology dash.

MCHS is a member of the Colorado Online School Consortium that offers students the opportunity to receive credit for "attending" online classes.

Online courses are partially funded with federal money given to the state for education technology. This project, with rural and metro schools, was awarded $500,000 for a two-year pilot program to introduce a limited number of courses to participating schools.

Since it began in 1998, the Moffat County School District has been a part of the Colorado Online School Consortium. This Consortium offers 16 courses to high school students, courses that either were not available in the home school or not available at a time that was compatible with a student's schedule.

According to MCHS Principal Joel Sheridan, there are many reasons why students are taking online courses. They are taking advantage of the opportunity to take courses such as astronomy, Latin, geology, European history and Web page design. These classes would otherwise not be available.

Other classes online or beginning next semester include Introduction to Composition, Reading Writing Workshop, German, Spanish IV, Algebra I, Calculus, Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus, Remedial Mathematics, AP Physics, Earth Science I: Geology, Biology, Health, American Government, U.S. History, World Geography and Contemporary Issues.

MCHS students are participating in the Latin, Biology, Algebra and Spanish IV classes.

According to Sheridan, all courses are developed and taught by teachers from participating districts. They were invited to teach these classes because of their subject matter expertise, successful work with students in the regular classroom, comfort with technology and willingness to try the new format.

"There are some pretty neat classes offered," said MCHS English teacher Susan Whinery, who developed the online class along with MCHS social studies teacher Chris Dralle. "Students learn content and technology."

Schools participating in the program include the Thompson, Cherry Creek, Jefferson, Denver, Boulder, St. Vrain, Cheyenne Wells, Windsor, Summit, Pueblo, Monte Vista, Durango, Custer and Moffat County school districts. The program allows students in each of these districts to take online classes offered in other districts. For example, students in Moffat County are allowed to take classes offered from Cheyenne Wells or Summit, and vice versa. Districts not involved in the Consortium at this time are not allowed to participate in the classes.

Each district is offering a different class. Moffat County offers Contemporary Issues and, according to Sheridan, it is one of the more popular classes in the state.

At MCHS, it was a long summer for Dralle and Whinery who logged between 200 and 300 hours working on setting up the online class over the break.

Enrolling in the Contemporary Issues class at MCHS, students receive one-half credit of English and one-half credit of social studies. The course covers a variety of topics from history after the second world war to the sociology of violent crimes.

At the beginning of the semester, 16 students enrolled in the Contemporary Issues class. According to Whinery, due to computer bugs that needed to be worked out and the amount of workload, the initial number has dropped and six students remain "truly active."

According to Whinery, succeeding in the online classes takes a different type of student.

"It takes a special kind of individual to succeed in an online class," she said. "That person has to be a self-starter and if so your chances of succeeding are really good."

Students have relayed positive comments to Whinery on the classes. One student participating in the Contemporary Issues class, after participating in a statewide school-related competition, was pleased because she could do work from any location and basically go at her own pace. Students keeping up with the course do not get buried with coursework they cannot complete.

According to Whinery, the class is not easy and does require considerable work.

"It really pushes them hard," she said. "It is rigorous and challenging."

Course work includes weekly readings, assignments, message boards and writing assignments, all online. Assignments are e-mailed to the instructors for evaluation and Whinery and Dralle ask students to e-mail them with any questions or concerns.

Problems, as with any new technology, can happen at anytime. Despite these problems, according to Whinery, the Consortium will continue and this first-year experience will allow the class to run smoother.

"We realize there are going to be obstacles," Whinery said. "But we really love doing new things and trying to make them work because education is not going to stand still."

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