By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Webcams and laptops might be replacing no. 2 pencils and spiral notebooks as the school supplies of choice in Michigan.
According to a survey by online course provider Michigan Virtual University, 79 percent of Michigan adults believe online courses are a valuable tool for middle and high school students. The survey also outlined interest in the way teachers are trained for these courses, and how districts support them.
Many of the state’s educators share these parents’ sense of online importance, offering a variety of online learning opportunities. In fact, since 2013, state law has required it.
“[Online venues] provide students with opportunities to access courses not typically offered within our district, such as oceanography, Latin and Japanese,” said Dan O’Berski, an assistant principal and district administrator for online education at Traverse City Area Public Schools.
Michigan boasts close to 900 public schools, many of which are located in small communities where access to these courses can give students a whole slew of opportunities.
“It’s an important tool for the students,” said Linda Forward, director of the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Improvement and Innovation. “There’s a wide variety of programming in the state right now.”
Benefits for Students
Online courses provide new opportunities not only in class selection, but in how material is presented and the freedoms that come with it.
According to John Scholten, superintendent of the Petoskey Public Schools, “credit recovery,” or retaking failed courses, is an online option allowing students who otherwise would not to graduate on time.
“They also provide increased scheduling flexibility for students as graduation requirements continue to increase,” O’Berski said.
With online courses, students are able to do classwork on their own time, at their own pace. Some districts require students to remain on campus during this time; others give students free rein, able to work from home, enjoy later mornings or earlier afternoons, even coordinate with work schedules at part-time jobs.
While online options have been present in many schools for over a decade now, only recently have they been required in Michigan. A 2013 law requires that school districts provide students the opportunity to enroll in up to two online courses each academic term.
Districts are able to choose how they provide these courses, via district-employed teachers or independent online programs.
“Some courses are supervised by an in-house certified teacher,” O’Berski said of the program’s use in Traverse City schools. “Classes offered through other vendors are run by certified Michigan teachers, but they are not employees of the district.”
The new section also details the cost for the courses, which comes out of the district’s budget.
The online class venue varies depending on the district, the course, and the program used, but some tools often included are live class discussion posts, online calendars, recorded lectures and an abundance of student-teacher interaction.
According to Forward, “blended learning,” a hybrid of classroom and online settings, has also become common.
“[We] find most respond best with a blended ‘real time, or face-to-face’ contact,” Scholten said.
Many schools also offer the option of dual enrollment, in which students are able to take college credits while enrolled in high school.
“We have a great community college one mile away from our campus where a good number of students use dual enrollment options for advanced opportunities,” Scholten said.
According to Forward, dual enrollment can be a very rewarding venture for students.
“We have students in the state that are graduating from high school, after five years of high school, with an associate’s degree,” Forward said.
Even proponents caution, however, that online classes will not always work for every student.
“Some kids gravitate toward online and do remarkably well,” said O’Berski. “Others try them once and don’t return.”
By BROOKE KANSIER