DA) cover the GOA tuition, so there is no additional out-of-pocket expense for families. Students and their GOA teachers conference with one another throughout the semester, so there is an attempt to make the experience “close and personal,” if that’s possible via an electronic interface. Also, we can cap the number of DA students who take GOA courses (for staffing and budgetary purposes). Our cap is currently set at 20 students. DA’s student participation during our first year as a member of GOA was small, which we expected. We joined midyear, so most of the courses were already filled (GOA’s registration process mirrors our own). Three intrepid students — junior Abu Swaminathan and seniors Kristen Wade and Rasika Ramanan — elected to take GOA courses as part of their normal course load. When I asked the students to comment on their experience, they spoke passionately about what worked and what didn't. “The best thing about the GOA course was examining [international macroeconomics] from the perspectives of students all over the world,” said Abu. Rasika, who, like Kristen, took bioethics, raved about the flexibility of online classwork: “I didn’t have to be in class at a set time every day — I could complete the work on my own schedule.” In addition to these benefits, I also can’t shake the notion that exposing our students to online education will make them more competitive college applicants — or at least more effective college students — since the number of colleges and universities requiring an online component for graduation is increasing each year. To that point, Kristen noted that the most important benefit was “learning how to take an online class. While I think the information that I learned was very intriguing and helped me connect a lot of classes that I had previously taken,” she said, “I think the skills I learned for taking an online class will help me in the future the most.” My instincts tell me she’s right. The students encouraged their classmates to take GOA classes, but they were quick to note that online courses aren’t for everyone. For Abu, keeping up with the work of the GOA course was tough at times, especially “toward the end of third and fourth
quarters, when work at school is at its most intense.” Rasika sometimes found it hard to stay engaged with the material. “The lack of a [brick and mortar] ‘classroom environment’ makes it sometimes easy to forget that there are others who want to know more about the same topic, and a teacher who wants you to excel,” she said. Not surprisingly, there were also technical glitches and hiccups that created mild frustrations. Scheduling “live” time with classmates all over the word could also be challenging. Finally, Abu advised students to “assess whether you can handle the rigor of the online course with your traditional coursework, because once you proceed with the course, you cannot withdraw from it.” In the end, though, all three participants found the experience positive. Kristen said, “I would strongly recommend that other students take a GOA class. The class I took was not nearly as time-consuming as a DA class, and it's cool to get to take courses that are not offered at DA. … My bioethics class introduced me to new topics and then, based on what was interesting to me, we got to do more research. It was a very interesting class if you made the most of it.” The GOA model seems to be taking root at DA; 14 students signed up for classes next year, in courses as wide-ranging as medical problem-solving, app design and abnormal psychology. In addition to the opportunities for students, GOA provides outstanding professional development opportunities for faculty. This year, Chinese teacher Joanne Shang, English teacher Tina Bessias and math teacher Jarrod Jenzano completed a six-week professional development program designed to introduce teachers to online learning environments (OLE). In Jarrod’s and Tina’s case, both of whom will be teaching courses for GOA in 2014-2015, the OLE training also served as a basis for their course development for the coming year. Both will spend a week in Seattle this summer for still more training. Still, questions remain and qualms linger. Jarrod noted, “A good portion of any math class is skill building. Most of the GOA courses are more discussion or idea based, much like the professional development. I am interested to see how the strengths of an
online environment can be used to teach calculus. I want to be more than just a content provider.” Online education is isn’t always clean and easy, as is clear by Tina’s thoughts: “Ten years ago we began to shift toward blended learning at DA, adding digital tools to the physical learning environment. It was fascinating and fun to explore a new world of possibilities, though it seems old hat now. Online learning is the next frontier. It seems more strange to me than blended learning did; I struggle to imagine teaching a class that can never meet face-to-face, even in cyberspace, because its members will never all be awake at the same time. As a ‘student’ in such classes (through GOA and other professional development programs), I do find that people's personalities and styles come across clearly. Can a series of asynchronous interactions and bilateral or small group video conferences build the kind of cohesive class culture that we aspire to create in every high school class? The official GOA answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ but I won't have my own answer until I've tried it. “Meanwhile, I recognize that it's not right to measure the online learning environment by what it isn't,” said Tina. “It also offers a new set of benefits. I'll be learning more about those, too, in the coming year, but I believe students will gain a broader perspective, learning to question all kinds of assumptions, and a longer reach, using digital tools and resources to collaborate closely with distant classmates.” In the end, the only thing we can say for sure about the future of online learning is that this is only the beginning … probably. As Michael Ulku-Steiner is quick to point out, “Anyone who claims to know the future of online education is either bluffing or trying to sell something. The landscape is just too dynamic to know for sure at this point. Still, we see real benefits now with GOA, immense potential for the future and even more immense danger if we somehow imagine that online learning will just go away.” In any case, I feel lucky we have the institutional support to be a charter member of this brave new world. EDITOR’S NOTE: You can learn more about Global Online Academy at www. globalonlineacademy.org.
DURHAM ACADEMY RECORD | SUMMER 2014 | WWW.DA.ORG
Published on Jul 9, 2014