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Summer school students in Bedford County got the first taste of the school system’s blended learning program, a program likely to become more prominent in the years ahead.
Simply put, for online learning, the future is now.
The blended learning program, which received considerable attention and few funds during the past budget year, is moving forward in Bedford County Public Schools. More than 150 high school students took close to 200 classes through the program this summer. Many classes which
haven’t been offered in the past could be offered this summer because of the online component.
David Forbes, online coordinator for the summer school program held for high school students, said the online classes offer a variety of activities for students to experience, including interactive labs, lectures and quizzes. Students could use the classes as a chance to recover a credit that wasn’t passed or get ahead in a class for the upcoming year.
“The system directs the students where they have to go (for their work),” Forbes said. That keeps students from skipping over sections, though it does allow for pre-tests on work that, if a student passes, allows him to move to the next section.
Numerous classes were offered online this summer including three sections of English, algebra, world history, Spanish, US history, earth science and biology. “This allows us to offer a number of classes we haven’t offered before,” he said. Students can perform a “virtual” dissection of a frog through one of the labs.
Students could take multiple classes, if needed, with a number taking two during the summer.
Flexibility was a key component.
The online program allowed them to work from home or anywhere the Web was available to be connected to. Some of the students worked on their classes while on vacation and many made use of late-night work sessions to complete their course work. They could work at their own pace.
Exams were proctored.
Going into the upcoming school year, the blended learning program will be used for some students at the Bedford Science and Technology Center as well as through alternative education programs. In addition, some of the high schools may utilize online learning on a limited scale.
“The students like the system,” Forbes said.
Among those were Samantha-Jo Lopez who took a US history course online this summer.
“I could work on it at my own pace,” she said. “I like it a lot.”
The online system chosen by Bedford County for the blended learning program was through the Education 2020 company.
Forbes monitored the students’ progress in their online courses this summer and gave feedback as needed. It allowed for email or instant message communications between him and the students.
“There’s a great deal of monitoring and structure,” he said of the online program, adding that it also helps cut down on distractions. “I think this is absolutely essential for students to prepare (for college).”
School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch said the summer school program was a good place to kick off the online learning program, because of the smaller scale and it was tuition based, which paid for the cost of implementing the program. Online licenses cost $61 per student for the summer school program and tuition also helped cover the staff costs needed.
Dr. Schuch said BCPS staff will be looking for possible funding sources and grants to help fund the blended learning program in the future, as well as through the budget process. A significant budget request for the upcoming year was cut from the 2011-2012 budget and the program received criticism for that request from some members of the School Board and Board of Supervisors.
But the school superintendent believes the program will be important for the school system to offer.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. The goal is getting the students ready for what their future holds—whether in college or at a vocation.
Dr. Schuch added that staff has to look at how the traditional school model may change as the blended learning model becomes more of the norm. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “For the students, this fits into what the rest of their life is (like).”
Added Dr. Mac Duis, director of instruction for BCPS, on preparing students for their future through online work: “That’s a responsibility that we have.”
The program will be discussed further this Thursday at the School Board meeting at 7 p.m.