Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Online classes gain popularity

By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Service

LANSING – Both middle and high school students in Michigan can take required courses online.

The Michigan Virtual School has been around for 11 years, providing high schools and some middle school students the option to take online classes.

The goal was to help students with online classes and give them necessary support.

The program is tuition-based. School districts pay when their students take classes as part of a school schedule. When students take classes on their own, then students pay. Tuition ranges between $100 to $275 per course.

Many schools allow students to take classes during a regular school period in a computer lab or media center. If not, then they take courses outside of a regular schedule.

It’s recommended for students to have a computer at home but can still access the school on a public library.

When students log in, they see assignments and instructions from their teacher. Communication between students and teachers can be through e-mail, message boards and instant messenging and even by phone. Students can also interact with each other.

Scott Vashaw, associate director of the Michigan Virtual School, said students decide to take courses online for many reasons.

“We see students who take a course because their school didn’t provide it or they couldn’t take it due to a conflicting schedule,” Vashaw said.

He said courses are also available for students who flunked a class and want to take it again online. In addition, students choose online classes over traditional classrooms to avoid bullying, teachers they don’t like and early classes.

John Helmholdt, director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, said that education needs to catch up with today’s technology.

“The world has passed us as a state and country,” said Helmholdt.

He said that not every student learns the same way. Some prefer online classes to sitting in a classroom all day.

Grand Rapids next year will provide online classes to students. The district also uses Michigan Virtual School. Students will decide which core courses to take. They also can select to have a class online, a blend of both online and classroom or just regular classes.

Helmholdt said that classes will be supervised and supported by certified teachers.

“An online school site can provide an at-home opportunity to districts for students who are home schooled, who want privacy, enhance studies and help with revenue,” Helmholdt said.

Don Meyers, superintendent of Vestaburg Community Schools, said small districts with low enrollment need online classes.

“There are certain classes that don’t have the number of students interested to provide teachers,” Meyers said.

Vestaburg High School has between 219 to 245 students.

Meyers said with that small number it can’t offer some classes like French. Online classes are an alternative for students wanting to classes not offered by the school.

The high school uses Global Student Network (GNS), which is based in Ohio and provides online classes from second grade to high school.

The network provides core classes and allows schools to use its teachers, policies and procedures. GNS trains teachers on curriculum and procedures. Prices go for $625 per student, which cover 365 days of unlimited courses, and $225 per course for up to two courses only.

Vashaw said some students don’t like online classes because they have to be responsible.

“You can’t procrastinate with getting your work done,” Vashaw said.

He said although it may be hard for some students, online classes teach them to be more responsible, better organized and better with time management.

Doug Pratt, director of communication at the Michigan Education Association, said the decision for schools to provide online classes shouldn’t be based on financial reasons but what is better for education.

“It has to be the right scenario and be supervised by teachers,” Pratt said.

He said online classes could help teen parents stay in school. Teen pregnancies are a huge problem in communities driving up high school dropout rates

Last year more than a million students in Michigan took an online class in college, and providing online classes for high school students will help them better prepare for college, Vashaw said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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