The Harbinger Online

Quality of Online Classes is Increasingly Debated

More than 70 percent of the nearly 15,000 school districts in the United States currently offer at least one online course, enrolling more than a million students during the 2009-2010 school year according to Alex Molnar, Director of Education Policy at Arizona State University. And that number is expected to grow in the upcoming years. This leaves the 30 percent of schools not offering online courses faced with the dilemma of whether or not to add online classes to their curriculum.
In a study conducted by Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education, the number of students who took an online class during the 2008-2009 school year jumped 47 percent from the previous year.
According to counselor Lilli Engelbrick, East currently offers two online classes, health and American Government. The growing trend of online classes in evident at East. Last summer, Engelbrick says 18 students opted to take American Government online. For the upcoming summer, 29 students have already signed up to complete the course.
Principal Karl Krawitz said that these particular classes, which are required for graduation, are offered to students who would prefer a more individual study plan as opposed to a classroom-type setting.
“Those [online courses are offered] to help students who are so involved in the complexity of their other schedules that by [taking online classes] they can get them out of the way and that frees them up to take other classes they may choose,” Dr. Krawitz said.
However, researchers and educators against online education argue that the option for online classes has only to do with saving money, not with offering students an alternative way to learn. In their opinion, schools that are offering online classes are doing so to slash the schools budget, not to further the education of their students.

According to Dr. Krawitz, the option for East to offer these classes has nothing to do with budget saving measures. However, critics argue that if a certain number of students opt to take a required class online, it is diminishing the amount of students who will take the class in a classroom setting, which then decreases the amount of teachers needed to teach the course. This will in time, they explain, will lessen salary expenses. Dr. Krawitz doubts that the district would choose to expand the number of classes offered online as a way to cut costs, even with the impending cuts that need to be made. However, he said, that can always change as the norms for education changes.

Another option for students who are looking to complete their high school classes online, is to take them through a college. Colleges such as the University of Missouri-Columbia offer what they call “MU High School” which allows students to complete high school, and even some college credits, online, at their own pace. The MU High School, Dr. Krawitz said, seems to be the most popular option among students taking online classes from East.

In fact, in a 2009 review done by the U.S. Department of Education, they acknowledged they saw the benefits for students at the college-level taking online classes but also warned that only a few studies have been done regarding online classes being taken at the K-12 level. Because of this, they believe there is a “lack of evidence” supporting that online classes would help improve the education of students under the college level.

Senior Natalie Bender, who took health online her freshman year, believes that taking the class without a teacher present, made it more difficult for her to learn each concept in the most in-depth way possible. Health teacher Sue Chipman agrees with Bender. Chipman claims that when taking the online class, students only receive the bare-bones of each concept.

“It was harder to expand my learning because I could do the bare minimum to pass,” Bender said. “I think [online classes are] a good idea in a general sense to get ahead, but I think it ends up being worse for the student.”
Bender completed what is usually a semester-long class in two weeks, going at her own pace.
According to Chipman, the online health class is “barely a class” at all. She agrees with Bender that completing a semester-long class quickly just to complete it wouldn’t allow for much learning to occur. She feels that even with the time constraints she is under to complete 21 chapters, she still manages to go in-depth with each topic, something she doesn’t believe could happen when rushing through the online course.

Similar to a classroom-setting course, the online health class requires the student to read a section and the take a quiz over what as just read. However, unlike in a classroom-setting, there are no tests, just quizzes until the final exam.

“Obviously, [in a classroom-setting health class], we are going to have tests and we are going to have homework,” Chipman said. “That is all a part of learning the material.”

Other elements Chipman believes online health students miss are the speakers, videos and other interactive materials she provides to her students.

Her semester final consists of over 200 multiple choice questions, 10 from every chapter. Her final differs greatly from the open book health online final, which consists of only 15 short answer/essay questions.
Dr. Krawitz acknowledges that some online classes offered are better than others and that even though a class has the same name, it doesn’t always mean it will follow the same curriculum as the in-class course. However, he believes that the health and American government classes East offers online provides the same amount of information that the classroom-setting classes do.

According to Dr. Krawitz, all classes that high school students take have to be approved by the Board of Education. If classes do not meet the education guideline, they will not be counted towards graduation. In fact, he said, that both health and American Government online courses were mirrored from the curriculum currently being taught in the classrooms.

Even though Dr. Krawitz doesn’t believe that the amount of online classes the district offers will increase in a budget saving effort, he does imagine that with the growth of technology, online classes could become more prominent.

“I foresee that [online classes], probably in the years to come, [will] expand as the quality of those online programs continues to evolve,” Dr. Krawitz said.


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