The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 6, 2009

Virtual High School is a hit, second time around

How much did the average Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) student use the Internet a decade ago? Greater familiarity with the web may be one reason for the increased popularity of classes offered through an Internet-based program called the Virtual High School. The site coordinator for the program is Brad McGrath, who retired from the Guidance Department last June. At the Regional School Committee (RSC) meeting on October 27, McGrath told the committee, “Ten years ago, we were part of this program but it didn’t gain any traction. In the last few years, online learning has become more accepted. Kids are far more ready for it now.”

McGrath gave some insight into the program and the students that sign up. He said there are a variety of students, some in special education classes, some in honors, some who have struggled in regular classes. Students login and “go to class” online.

Kids will either flourish or drop out within the first three to four weeks. McGrath said, “It’s not predictable who will do well.” In one case, a student is doing extremely well in a poetry class. He said kids primarily drop out because they fall behind. If they are not logging on, they are not “going to class” and soon the work piles up and they have trouble catching up. Some students are over-committed and cannot find the time the online course requires. He said this was particularly true for the Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Students who pass the online classes get full credit for them, 2.5 for a semester course, or five credits for a full year course. There are no costs to the student, although they will have to pay to take the AP exam if they are registered in an AP course. This is typical for all AP students, online or not.

The grade a student gets for the online course is not computed in the student’s grade point average (GPA). Only classes taken at CCHS are part of the GPA. A letter will be added to the student’s file with a description of the course.

Badalament said it cost the Regional School District $6,000 to $7,000 to take part in Virtual High School. Up to 25 students can take classes. A CCHS teacher must teach an online course in order for CCHS students to take Virtual High School courses.

CCHS math teacher Peter Atlas is teaching an AP calculus online class. Atlas said of his 25 students, one is in Nicaragua, one is in Vietnam and one is in Massachusetts. “The whole class is never online at the same time.” He posts course work weekly and checks homework daily. “I feel like they know my online voice.”

Atlas pointed out a few differences between teaching in a classroom and teaching online. “There’s a lot more one-to-one communication with students.” He said it is time-consuming and he spends two hours a day on this class. “I don’t spend two hours a day on my other classes.” Also, there are a number of students in the online class that are on IDPs (Individual Development Plans). Atlas said these students may be uncomfortable in certain social situations and some have school-phobia. They can do well taking online classes.

Atlas said he has to be careful with presentation. There is no video component. Some students may be visually or hearing impaired. He types everything. He said teaching the class is very rewarding.

Rigby hopes more special education students with out-of-district placements will take Virtual High School courses. Also, honors students can choose from a greater number of AP courses than what is offered at CCHS. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito