infographic by Joy Park
Since Columbia Public Schools first offered online courses to high schoolers nine years ago, the district has made a number of internal improvements, Online Program Coordinator David Bones said.
One of the several changes, which Bones said came through school administrator and student feedback, was changing the company that high school courses are based off of. The school district previously used Aventa but switched to using the Apex Learning system this year.
“That’s a minor change,” Bones said, “but really, it’s just minor tweaks along the way to what we can offer CPS students.”
With the format of online classes evolving, English teacher Jennifer Black Cone is one of nine instructors at RBHS who has educated students on the two different learning platforms of online and in class courses.
Cone, who teaches Creative Writing and Debate as well as online AP Literature, English 3 and English 12, said the varying class operations was a balancing act.
“Being a veteran teacher, I have long since mastered the art of balancing work. My teaching career was mostly comprised of having multiple preparations, so that was all I really knew,” Cone said. “Currently, my schedule works very well with having varied types of courses. It is actually more interesting than teaching the same thing all day.”
She, however, said the computer screen that separates the teacher and student is what makes online classes difficult for students without an inner drive.
“I spend most of the time trying to motivate reluctant learners to complete the course,” Cone said. “Students in the online courses must be readers, writers and self-motivated.”
First-time online student senior Andrew Zynda said he understands the importance of productivity, something he experienced in the online Digital Media class.
When he fell behind in class work last semester, he said it was because of his busy schedule, but once “everything died down” he was able to catch up.
Although he enjoys the flexibility that comes with taking a class without a designated period, he remains skeptical about the lack of teacher presence.
“The class … works around your schedule, and the content is really beneficial., [but] it is easy to get behind in the class if you forget to check every few days,” Zynda said. “When you have trouble with something you have to figure it out because you don’t have a teacher next to you to help you out.”
Despite the innate flaws in online learning, he said he finds the class beneficial. Even though he doesn’t want to work with cloud programs in the future, he believes it paves the way for broader educational opportunities.
“I have enjoyed it a lot because I get to work on my own schedule for the class and I learn a lot of useful tools,” Zynda said. “A lot of the things we learn in this class will come in handy in college and after college. The class does a really good job of helping me use a computer as a tool instead of a distraction.”
Throughout Cone’s 31 years of teaching in class courses and two years of educating students behind a screen, she has noticed a stark division between the two and how she operates them.
“I am at the mercy of whenever the students decide to turn in work. Even though I send out reminders, and sometimes threats, there are those that turn in a lot of work at the last minute,” Cone said. “Then I need to scramble to get it graded in time. I do not allow this in my traditional classes.”
Similar to Cone, Bones also sees the differences in learning techniques between online and in-class courses. However, he believes students can learn to make this distinction a benefit to themselves rather than an adversary.
“[Online classes] free up time in their schedule … to get help in classes that otherwise they might be struggling in. Some students may have outside obligations so taking an online course may help them to manage their time better,” Bones said. “A con is, of course, less interaction with a teacher and online learning does require really strong time management skills. At the same time, that can be a pro because these days after high school, there are many programs and college classes that are taught online, so it helps to prepare [students] for that as well.”
Even with the 12 different categories of online classes CPS students can choose from, Bones said it is ultimately up to the student to make decisions that are best for themselves and their future.
“I think it is a skill that is increasingly important after high school, but I also think it’s something that students should discuss with their parents and their counselor to see if it’s the right situation for them at the time,” Bones said.
Have you ever taken an online course? Did you find it beneficial? Leave a comment below.