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Online Education: Working With a 'Net

by Michael Leppert

It is amazing how rapidly the Internet has swept over our daily lives! Just 12 years ago, in 1994, the World Wide Web was an exotic, mysterious concoction of the military-university complex, rumored to be offered to the public free-of-charge in the very near future. At that time, hints of “the Web’s” ultimate value would be tossed around excitedly by tech-savvy university students who came in contact with it in their research work and then told their non-tech or non-university friends about all the things it would make possible. The Web was as remote to daily life as the molecular transporter on the Star Ship Enterprise . . . it made great sci fi, but what did it have to do with the “price of beans”?

Now, in 2006, thanks to the ubiquitous World Wide Web, one can check on the price of beans minute by minute; purchase clothing, CDs, movies, musical instruments . . . virtually anything one could want. What is even more relevant is the value of the Internet to our world of knowledge.

And, to the relief of many prospective students (and parents), within approximately the past five years, the Internet has provided the ability for one to attend elementary school, high school or college, online. For the high school student, online classes are often flexible, allowing a very motivated student to complete two years of work in one calendar year or to work a full-time job and complete schoolwork at night and on weekends. Generally, for the college student, online programs mean no more stress of trying to register for a “required” class and finding it full or having the only open session be at 7:00 a.m; no more struggle to find parking in urban institutions – actually, an elimination of congestion altogether in urban areas! The cost of most online programs is very competitive and when one factors in the savings in gas, time, parking permits, meals, etc., these programs may become very economical.

In this regular feature, we intend to bring you pertinent information about some of the excellent online programs available for both high school and college students. Some programs offer high school to those students who may have dropped out and wish to return to complete their work. Others offer regular high school classes for high school-age students, as well as tutoring services and other study aids. There are programs with assessment tools, remedial testing and follow-up courses to alleviate any number of difficulties. There are courses that require “real-time” attendance online and others that allow complete flexibility (within reason) in the completion time of a course or assignment. Some of these online programs are offered by “bricks and mortar” schools that have added an electronic wing to their institution and other programs are purely electronic in nature. The list of online offerings grows nearly every week and it is virtually impossible to keep up with the rapid changes on the Internet, but we will do our best! All of the entries in this article are accredited, unless otherwise noted.

ONLINE ELEMENTARY – HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMS
These online programs offer full elementary and high school programs, so that a student can electronically attend the same school from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Progress Academy, www.progressacademy.org – Based in central Ohio, this K-12 online school is owned and operated by founders, Tim and Niqui Chatfield, a homeschooling couple, with six-years’ experience teaching their five children, ranging from 14 to 4. The Chatfields understand the issues that are important to homeschoolers and Progress Academy reflects it. They offer the new homeschooling family an abundance of information on state-by-state (and local) support group contacts, state legal requirements, curriculum guidance and everything else a family needs to begin immediately using Progress Academy for its primary homeschool resource. Families already experienced in homeschooling and in online schools, can simply “plug right in” to Progress Academy and start to work! (Transcripts for college entrance are available upon request.)

The Chatfields partner with an experienced Ph.D. in hiring knowledgeable educators to consult them in choosing curriculum and other materials, providing testing services, ensuring that Progress Academy satisfies each state’s requirements and providing the other services one would expect of a full-service online school. With over 120 courses available, Progress Academy has courses to fit any child’s needs with flexibility and sense. Mr. Chatfield advises that if a child is doing 5th grade level language arts and 7th grade math, they can accommodate his academic needs and adjust to fit the individual student quickly and easily. Progress has students who complete two years of work in one calendar year, as well, further enhancing its aura of flexibility. They are adding new courses regularly, with the most recent ones being chemistry, current events and a geography class.

Ed. Anywhere, www.edanywhere.com – (middle & high school) in Virginia, is operated by Mr. Philip Singh, an experienced teacher who has a day school in Sterling, VA. He and some of his school faculty also staff the online school. All of the day-school teachers are Special Ed certified, because many of their students have those needs and this makes Ed Anywhere very attractive to those parents who are homeschooling children with special needs. Of course, all students can benefit from the services offered by E.A. One of its strong points is its (voluntary) assessment testing program. A student who has failed a high school course can take an exam demonstrating what s/he does know from the course; then the E.A. course is geared to teaching the student that which was not learned the first time, instead of wasting time repeating what the student knew. Upon course completion, a follow-up exam is given and if the student passes it, a final exam is offered with the grade on the final replacing the failed course grade! Homeschooling families realize that lack of respect for a student’s time and energy is one of the most glaring deficiencies of all institutional schools. Mr. Singh obviously knows this and has made intelligent and sensitive adjustments in how his online school operates! E.A. offers its enrollees complete tutoring services and Mr. Singh is implementing job aptitude, assessment and counseling in June, 2006, which will provide students with job placement assistance! Ed Anywhere also offers adults the chance to complete high school work and graduate.

Mindsprinting, www.mindsprinting.com – (K-12 tutoring service) offers supplemental assistance and tutoring online in the form of reading and math assessment testing and then follow-up worksheets and direction from their staff. The programs include K-12 math, K-3 Reading Excellence and K-3 Reading Comprehension, but high school reading and math are also offered. Mindsprinting is a great way to obtain help in a specific area at a specific grade level without having to leave home.

ONLINE HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMS

Compuhighwww.compuhigh.com – offers the oldest online program, having begun in 1994, in the infancy of the Internet! This fully-accredited and very affordable school focuses on student responsibility for study and completion of his/her coursework. Each course begins by explaining what the student must do to successfully complete it and receive credit and s/he has one year from the beginning date to complete the work. Compuhigh’s Marianne O’Doherty informed me that the school focuses on developing the student’s writing skills and the majority of their grades are derived from tests that take the form of essay-type answers and research papers. With the advent of the written portion of the SAT, the ability to write well and quickly has never been more important. Compuhigh strives to have its students achieve grades of B’s or A’s and the school does not grant many C grades because usually, when a student misses a significant portion of questions on an exam, the instructor reviews the material to bolster the student’s knowledge and thereafter, re-test until mastery is achieved;. Nearby Fairmont State Univ. in Fairmont, WV, has a collaboration with Compuhigh that students in the junior-senior years of the high school diploma program can take Fairmont courses online and receive college credit. Compuhigh also accepts those credits toward their requirements of graduation. Compuhigh offers year-round enrollment and if the student wishes to take a course Compuhigh does not offer, the school will work with the family to ensure that the course conforms with the graduation requirements and is credited. Their Course List contains basic topics plus a variety of electives that are very appealing, such as Native American Lit. and Hebrew I.

Excel High School - http://www.excelhighschool.com founded and operated by Rod Clarkson is an example of the public school system’s failings producing a benefit, nonetheless. Rod felt that the system failed him in the schools he attended in a poor area of Minneapolis. However, he persevered, achieving success in college and later in the software business. After a few years he founded Excel because he saw the value of online education and wanted to help others who were struggling with the public school system. He gathered together an excellent group of educators to handle the academic chores at Excel, while he manages the business aspect. He is working with students in China who are hungry to take American academic courses and Excel already has a number of foreign and American ex-pat students. Excel is flexible, too, allowing a homeschooling student to be taught English and History by his parents, while taking only Math courses online. Also the school is set up to build relationships among students by having e-mail message boards available. The faculty is comprised of certified teachers and not only is Excel accredited, it is also registered with the College Board, so Excel students can take the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PLAN or ACT test. Excel High School is also registered with and approved by the NCAA for students bound to participate in college sports!

Univ of Mississippi High School http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/youth/indstudy_highschool
“Ole Miss” offers a full curriculum of over 120 quality Independent Study high school courses in correspondence form. In response to the demand for an accredited high school diploma program online, three years ago, the university began to offer some of its correspondence courses on the Internet. While the full correspondence curriculum has not moved online, the existing Online Program offers such courses as Biology, Chemistry, African-American Literature and four Advanced Placement (“AP”) courses: Literature & Composition; Language & Composition; Physics and, this summer, Art History. These courses have been written and developed by certified AP teachers that the university hired for this specific task. In 2007, the online department is also hoping to add Summer School to their menu. The online courses are not self-paced -- as the correspondence courses are -- but the electronic versions are much more engaging, featuring video clips and flash features embedded in the course, instead of merely black & white textbooks. In the near future, the school is planning to add “asynchronous” offerings for students who are capable of accelerated learning, so one can complete two years in one year, for instance.

Futures International High School - www.internationalhigh.org (high school college prep) – Founded as Futures High School in 1985, this school was inspired by the Oxford University system, where students do not meet in classrooms, but rather one-on-one with their professors. Of course, this method is tailor-made for online use and Futures High School is now able to offer their program in this form. To ensure that their graduates have become well-rounded and fully educated, Futures has set five goals for its students to achieve. These are: To be able to communicate effectively, solve problems creatively, direct his or her own learning, participate in the community and be aware of college and career options.

COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES
Now we will cover a few of the many higher-level educational institutions that offer online courses and degrees.

University of Idaho - www.udaho.edu/isi - Independent Study in Idaho (ISI), a distance-learning program, was created in 1973 by the Idaho State Board of Education as a consortium of four accredited Idaho institutions led by the University of Idaho (UI). The other consortium members are Boise State University (BSU), Idaho State University (ISU), and Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC). Independent Study in Idaho offers both online and print-based courses in 25 subject areas with over 100 courses currently online. Courses from the 300- to 500-level are available to anyone in the U.S. or abroad. Courses are self-paced and available anytime, anywhere. One full year is given to complete ISI courses. Although ISI does not offer degrees, credits earned can be applied toward degrees at institutions that accept ISI credits, and can be used for recertification of teaching credentials. Library science courses are available to earn an Education Media Generalist Endorsement for certified teachers who want to work in the school library or in the media department. Students can earn credits toward requirements for Idaho real estate licensure and certification in hotel/restaurant management. Independent Study in Idaho is planning to expand its online course offerings of health care administration. For more information, visit the ISI Web site, www.uidaho.edu/isi/.

Tompkins-Cortland Community College (TC3) - https://www.sunytccc.edu/e%2Dtc3 - Based in Dryden, New York, TC3 offers an excellent Introductory Message from Eric Howd, its Coordinator of Online Services. In it, Mr. Howd provides a short outline of issues one needs to seriously address before beginning a foray into online college-level education at TC3: “Basic skills with computers and the Internet; Strong skills in reading and comprehension; Strong college writing skills; Great motivation and self-discipline and Easy and frequent access to a computer with word processing and an Internet connection.” While one can perform adequately without great strength in all of these areas, Mr. Howd’s advice provides an excellent overall guideline for anyone wishing to take advantage of the huge amount of resources available online. As one would expect from a Community College, TC3 offers a very broad array of “vocational” courses online, including 2 levels of Word Processing, 2 levels of Spreadsheets, Web Page Design, etc., as well as Academic courses such as Academic Writing, Astronomy, Intro to Philosophy, Approaches to Literature, Cultural Anthropology and so on. Many of these academic courses fulfill the requirements of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, making TC3 a very valuable resource for lower-level prerequisites.

Brigham Young University Independent Study - http://ce.byu.edu/is/site - BYU IS was founded in 1921, making it one of the oldest distance-learning programs extant. It currently offers more than 600 hard-copy courses and 400 online courses, ranging from 7th grade to college and also a group of Personal Enrichment courses, such as Parenting, Gardening, and Peoples & Cultures of the Holy Land. The University courses include a set of Engineering classes, General Microbiology, a Survey of Spanish Lit and Playwriting. BYU follows a rigorous process of developing and perfecting its Independent Study courses and places a strong emphasis on academic excellence.

University of Colorado, Boulder - http://www.colorado.edu/cewww/ - The Independent Learning Program (ILP) of the University of Colorado offers both hard copy correspondence and online courses for a variety of college for-credit and/or professional non-credit subjects. These include such diverse course offerings as Economics, Anthropology, Drawing, Argumentation and Masterpieces of both English and American Literature. One section of the Colorado ILP program offers continuous enrollment and most of its courses are self-paced to accommodate the accelerated learner. The Term-Based section is more rigid, following the traditional semester timeline, and specific schedules for assignment completions and exams. There are three topic divisions of this section: English, Communications and Writing & Rhetoric.

If a homeschooling college student wishes to use a cafeteria approach and take a course offered at one university and another course at another university, over a period of years, a very effective knowledge-obtaining program can be achieved – as well as for-credit courses. Next issue we will cover some more online programs and discuss some other aspects of online learning in more depth. ■