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Online Education, Part 2

by Michael Leppert

Between the first and second installments of this article, it is easy to conceive that four or five more K-12 online schools or institutes of higher learning have launched their online programs or full online departments, even! Everything associated with the Internet is lightning fast and online or distance education is no different.

Reliable figures put the number of online students (of all types and levels) at over 2.35 million and expanding rapidly. It is very likely that one of the prime reasons for the incredible growth of secular homeschooling can be attributed to the accessibility of the Internet. Many parents may have known in their innermost selves that homeschooling was proper for their children, but without the aid of Internet-based materials, teaching and counseling, the task was just too daunting.

Just as Part 1, this second part of our overview of Internet-based programs and services, contains some private schools dedicated to distance learning, some bricks-and-mortar universities that have traditionally offered correspondence courses and are now making them available online, and one Internet-based SAT Prep! Now your high school student can even perform the arduous preparation for this cornerstone exam in the comfort of home! It is believable that in the near future, the SAT will be given “at home” through a video-real-time hookup. Beyond the SAT, no matter what major your child may wish to pursue, there is undoubtedly a ‘Net school offering it with the same first-rate level of education found in the bricks-and-mortar division. Each of the schools presented here has a particular set of specialties and if your son or daughter has a specific interest in a field of study, you should investigate each school to see how it harmonizes with your child’s interest until you find just the right one.
All of the universities mentioned in this article have different rules and policies for online courses vs. non-online courses, so please visit their websites and carefully read the information they provide, before making any decisions or enrolling.

Let’s begin our exploration with the only purely online SAT Prep service, provided by Boston Test Prep (www.bostontestprep.com). BTP is composed of a broad-backgrounded group of SAT tutors, teachers and online education professionals who love helping students prepare for this venerable right of passage. They have customized a test prep program that allows the user to study in the manner that works best for him/her. They also consulted with other tutors who possessed a proven track record of improving SAT scores to come up with the best possible SAT prep you can obtain. In March, 2005, the revamped SAT Test was released; it is longer, more difficult and more expensive than the old version . . . and stimulates preparation even more!

Boston Test Prep has developed a 24/7 program that allows the user to work at his/her convenience. They have also developed a program called Build Your Brain™. It is one of the most unique aspects of the BTP service. It allows one to practice and learn skills simultaneously. Your student can use lessons to prepare for questions or to identify the lessons s/he needs or take online narrated lessons to brush up on weak areas and then take quizzes to practice his/her skills. The user can alternate back and forth between the quizzes and the lessons and ultimately, s/he can build skills and confidence by focusing the studies in the way that works for him/her. This is the great reality of online education – customization!

BTP advises a student to begin using their program at least 3 months in advance of the test date, but even earlier than that can be helpful – even with classes the student is already taking. The cost is very reasonable too, with two options available. One can sign up for BTP month-by-month for $39 per month or a three-month block for only $99. Either option carries with it a 5-day money-back guarantee if you or your student decide BTP is not right for you. Please visit their website for much more information. You can also call them toll-free at 800-448-0671 M-F 9am - 5pm EST.

Oak Meadow School - http://www.oakmeadow.com/. This online school’s name is well-known in homeschool circles. For over 30 years, Oak Meadow has been providing high-quality curriculum products to thousands of homeschoolers and independent learners world-wide, so it is no surprise that Oak Meadow is also a leader in providing this same quality via the Internet. Their programs are fully accredited but they also offer a completely flexible choice regarding online or printed materials, with or without enrollment and teacher support. You can be as independent as you wish with Oak Meadow. The printed curriculum is available for preschool through Grade 12 and the online curriculum is available for Kindergarten through Grade 12. Oak Meadow’s high school curriculum is as thorough as any bricks-and-mortar school’s. To give a few examples, it includes Math (Saxon Calc, Alg I & II; Applied Math, Advanced Math, Geometry), English (American Lit. Study Package – To Kill a Mockingbird, Out Town, etc. and World Lit. Study Package – A Doll’s House, Don Quixote, etc.), Foreign Languages (Latin I-III; Spanish, French & German I-II), Art, Sciences (Biology, Astronomy, Earth Sciences, Physics, Chemistry), and more. Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed to work with your child’s learning styles to nurture his/her native abilities and intelligences. Oak Meadow also offers a unique book section for Parents who wish to learn more about parenting, child development and teaching their own children.

The University of Kentucky (http://www.uky.edu/DistanceLearning/) offers a wide array of online courses in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels. In order to utilize the online features, the student must be enrolled in the university and complete a tutorial in the use of the Blackboard software program which is offered through the University’s website. The University of Kentucky Distance Learning has a number of other such unique courses and is very worthwhile for a student interested in animal work or veterinary medicine, for instance, for specialty studies. Among the one-semester courses offered recently, are Equine Management and Feeds and Feeding. The fees for online-only courses are the same as the University’s regular “resident” fees, with the average undergrad cost per credit hour being $216 for part-time students and $2906 for 12 credit hours or more for full-time students. There are a number of other fees and costs, as well, so the prospective student or his/her parents should view the U of KY Distance website carefully before making plans to enroll.

The University of Tennessee Outreach & Continuing Education (http://web.ce.utk.edu/) offers two categories of off-campus courses – the Distance Learning division for graduate students, in semester-long segments and for in which enrollment in the university is required and the Independent Study division, which is for undergraduates, high school courses, and career enrichment certificates, which has continuous enrollment (with up to nine months to complete) and for which enrollment in the university is not required. The Independent Study courses are delivered online or through correspondence. In the High School section, one can study Cartoons & Illustrations (2 semesters, correspondence, $150 each sem); Latin, French or Spanish 1 & 2; Civics or History. In the College section, a wide array of classes are offered including Anthropology, Agricultural Economics, Astronomy, Images of Jesus (in Religious Studies) and Sociology.

Of special interest to homeschooling families is The Smoky Mountain Field School, part of the university’s Outreach section, exploring the flora and fauna of the Smoky Mountains, in Eastern Tennessee at http://www.outreach.utk.edu/smoky/family.asp. If you are a fan of field trips and live anywhere near this great natural resource, you will want to investigate the enticing schedule offered from March to November.

University of Texas at Austin Continuing Education – 888-232-4723; www.utexas.edu/cee/dec/ - A large amount of the excellent online material available at this site seems best suited to residents of Texas, since it features an online program developed by a group of educators and technicians at UT Austin called ASKME (Acquiring and Self-regulating Knowledge in a Multimedia Environment). This is based upon the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills guidelines. ASKME was developed to help students prepare for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). It includes various math Beyond this section, the UT Austin website offers both K-16 programs and college courses in a flexible atmosphere designed to appeal to homeschoolers. UT Austin also offers a high-school diploma program, Credit By Exam (CBE), and Dual Credits programs. The Online College courses comprise the standard core classes along with a few others that are designed to provide interest and add to one’s store of knowledge. There is also a variety of testing available, but it centers around the Austin campus, which leaves it out of reach for non-Texas residents. Of course, since Texas has very large number of homeschooling families, the UT Austin website offers a great deal for them and the site definitely has much to offer for the family that wishes to investigate for specific courses.

Distance Learning Systems, Inc., www.dlsi5-12learning.com – One serious caveat for homeschooling parents seeking an online program is that many virtual high schools are actually part of the state or local school system. By joining these “free” high school programs, the unsuspecting homeschooling family becomes subject to the same laws as any other student who is in the system. Oak Meadow does not fall into this category and neither does Distance Learning Systems, Inc. These schools have to charge for their services – one tip-off that they are “safe”. DSLI also offers an adult degree program as well as the homeschool division, but for this article we will remain focused on the homeschooling segment. DLSI’s Grades 5-12 curriculum offers over 100 courses at a reasonable cost and they offer two ways to enroll. If a student wishes to take a single course, the price is $435 and includes complete online access and the school’s teaching and counseling assistance. If the student wishes to enroll in the entire curriculum, the price is $3350, but there is no course limit and it is a 365-day contract, meaning s/he has a full year from the start date to complete as much work as possible. A conscientious student who wishes to complete two grades in that 12-month period can do so, all for that one low price! DLSI offers a three-installment payment structure of 30-60-90 days to accommodate those who desire it. The school also is popular with alternative schools and their students. Such students may find that they wish to bring their credit inventory up to par, but they have credit recovery problems. These students can recovery all of their missing credits within one year through DLSI’s full program.

The faculty at DLSI grades all of the student papers and all of the school’s resources are available online 24/7, providing the student more flexible time to spend with his/her family, as homeschoolers do. Also, the curriculum in all language arts & writing courses contain substantial writing exercises and many exams require written answers, developing this important skill throughout the lessons.

Colorado State University Distance Learning - http://www.learn.colostate.edu/distance/ has been offering its courses via distance learning techniques for over 38 years. CSU provides a broad spectrum of courses – credit and non-credit; undergrad and graduate and continuing education courses for certain categories of working professionals, too. CSU’s distance learning classes are also delivered in the full variety of media – some are online, DVD/video, regular mail correspondence courses or televised. If one chooses to use the Correspondence form of learning, an exam Proctor must be chosen by the student and complete a Proctor Agreement Form and file it with the university. The online graduate degree courses mirror the on-campus courses, so there is no difference between the workloads and/or expectations of online Masters programs.

The University of Missouri-Columbia High School, cdis.missouri.edu/go/nkm6 — With more than 17,000 enrollments across the globe in 2005 alone, the University of Missouri-Columbia High School is one of the most trusted education solutions worldwide. MU High School offers a convenient, credible option for homeschool students; students at traditional schools, who are seeking college preparation; gifted students looking for new challenges and students who simply need to catch up on a few credits. The school’s diverse and comprehensive curriculum includes more than 150 courses. Students also can take all the courses necessary to complete a diploma online. MU High School, part of the University of Missouri Center for Distance and Independent Study, is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. Independent learners of all ages, seeking an alternative to traditional school attendance, benefit from MU High School’s distance education courses. Core courses also are available for grades 3-8. Undergraduate- and graduate-level university courses are offered in more than 40 subjects, as well as a bachelor’s completion program with a variety of component areas from which to choose.

The Texas Tech Outreach Program (http://www.depts.ttu.edu/oes/) has courses for K-12, high school, college, and beyond college in both the credit and non-credit categories! For example, K-12 students can take K-12 or dual-credit courses, apply for Credit by Examinations (CBEs), enroll in TTUISD (the K-12 diploma program), or participate in academic enrichment programs on campus. The courses and CBEs are written to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), while the elementary, middle, and high schools are accredited by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Students can enroll in courses at any time, and have up to six months to complete coursework. The Texas Tech distance learning courses are offered in a variety of formats, including online, print-based, video, and audio. Eligible high school students can earn college credit through dual-credit courses, and TTUISD students who complete the required coursework can earn a Texas high school diploma regardless of where they live. The university also works with schools, school districts, and other academic organizations to supplement curriculum and offer additional educational opportunities. Through IDEAL, Texas Tech University’s Institute for the Development and Enrichment of Advanced Learners, they make available non-credit, on-campus academic enrichment opportunities for school-age students. Since many of these programs have a residence hall option, they are an excellent choice for students not living in the Lubbock area to participate in hands-on academic enrichment programs on the Texas Tech campus. ■