New online classes require more discipline

Liat Banvoll, Staff Writer

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In a first for Shalhevet, six students have been taking online classes since late September in order to replace classes they cannot take at school. Students work on these classes at home or during free periods.

After logging onto icademy.org, and signing into their courses, they follow lessons that guide them step-by-step, and just as in a class taught at school have assignment due dates, timed quizzes, tests and a final exam.

Once a week, the online teachers hold a live video class sessions, but most Shalhevet students cannot attend since they are in class. However, they can schedule appointments to meet with their teacher.

“I’d much rather take it with Mrs. Sunshine, because the way a really good teacher explains a concept is better than a book,” said senior Leona Fallas who is taking AP Euro online because of a scheduling issue. “But online is better than nothing.”

Junior Jordan Banafsheha is currently taking Flash Animation online and plans to take Web Design next semester.

“I took those classes because those are the things I actually enjoy and wanted to learn more about,” Jordan said. “I get to take a class and learn about something I like and do the work on my own schedule.”

The courses are all administered by an online school called K12, which is also used by more than 200,000 full time students around the country.  An investigation published by the New York Times last week showed that most K12 students are scoring below grade level, but they are mostly students who are not enrolled in any physical school. They have also established schools in poor districts to gain more government subsidies. (tinyurl.com/k12article)

Shalhevet, on the other hand, is trying out something called “blended learning,” combining in-person classrooms with online supplement.

“There are a lot of schools in the world, top level schools, that are using to blended learning,” said Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal.

According to Director of College Counseling Dr. Steven Mercer, a grant from the Digital J Learning Network, part of the Jewish Education Project sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation, is supporting this online learning at school.

“The grant requires us to study it and gather data,” said Dr. Mercer, who is keeping track of the program. Shalhevet, is among 16 Jewish day schools trying to improve the program and implement it in their schools.

“Since this year is only a trial period, a small group of students were chosen to participate based on certain factors such as scheduling,” said Acting General Studies Principal Mr. Roy Danovitch.

Students in the online classes are generally pleased with what they’re learning and how the program works.

“My AP Spanish teacher has been very helpful with making time to meet with me, so communication is actually not as hard as I thought it would be,” said senior Leila Miller, who is taking AP Spanish online.

Some think that the online classes require more discipline than a regular class.

“Since it is free form and on your own time, sometimes it is hard to motivate yourself to learn your next lesson,” said senior Michael Silver, who is taking AP Macro Economics.

But the online courses provide a healthy challenge for some.

“It also makes me figure stuff out on my own, too, which is always good,” Jordan said.

Leona, who decided to take AP Euro online since it was scheduled as a junior class and she could not fit it in her schedule, misses the classroom environment.

“To sit in front, listen during class, take notes, ask questions, all of that,” Leona said, is essential to her learning.

Mr. Danovitch feels that although the school is headed in the direction of online learning, it does not yet have all the resources necessary, such as a media center designed for taking online classes.  Since this year’s program is the result of an experimental grant, it is still unknown how the program will be arranged next year.

“If a student makes a serious enough plea, we would make it happen,” Mr. Danovitch said.

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