Online classes create new options for studentsImproving technology makes distance learning and other options possible
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
High-speed Internet connections, faster computers and other technological upgrades are changing the way some classes are offered in Independent School District 196. As technology improves, educational opportunities in are increasingly reaching beyond the traditional classroom.
On Monday, the District 196 School Board approved a new American Studies class for some of the district’s most advanced seventh graders. The course, offered in person and online to students districtwide, will combine classroom learning, online interaction and group field trips.
The class is an extension of a sixth grade class introduced last year. That class drew about 30 students districtwide, and teaching and learning director Steve Troen said at least half of those students are interested in continuing this year.
The sixth grade class grew out of an attempt to find new opportunities for what Troen called the top tier of the district’s gifted-and-talented students.
The blended online course requires students to do a lot of work on their own. The teacher visits each school occasionally and sets up a week or two worth of readings, interactive work and other activities for students. Students take the class when it fits into their schedule — unlike traditional classes, students who are technically in the same class might get their lessons at different times of day — and students from all of the district’s middle schools gather occasionally for field trips and group projects.
It’s not a setup that works for every student.
“They have to be high ability and they have to be independent learners in many regards,” Troen said. “They have to be motivated and interested in that subject area.”
Five or six sixth graders dropped the class last year, but Troen said it got rave reviews from other students.
At Rosemount Middle School five or six students were enrolled in last year’s sixth grade class, and principal Mary Thompson said it worked very well. RMS gifted-and-talented coordinator Mike Liegel was there to help when he was needed, but students worked on their own much of the time.
“It was excellent,” Thompson said. “It provided an opportunity for those students to work at a higher level.”
The class makes unique demands on teachers. The district has found a teacher for the seventh grade class approved Monday but the teacher who handled last year’s sixth-grade class has accepted another position in the district and the district has not yet found a teacher to replace her.
“There’s a learning curve,” Troen said. “A teacher has to have that skill set for the technology and the interest in learning that..... It takes kind of a unique person to teach that course.”
The new American Studies class is just one example of technology changing the way the district is able to offer classes. Troen said the district has had a lot of success in recent years with distance-learning classes, particularly in math. The classes allow fifth graders to take middle school math and eighth graders to study with high school freshmen via computers and web cameras. The younger students can see the teachers at their middle school or their high school and the students are able to raise their hands and ask questions.
Similar opportunities were available in the past, particularly in places like Rosemount Middle School, which is within walking distance of both an elementary and a middle school. But the online component eliminates the need to get students from one place to another.
Troen expects distance learning and blended online opportunities like the American Studies class to become more common as technology becomes a more integral part of the classroom.
“I could see this expanding,” he said. “I think you’re seeing this across the country and across the state and in some districts way more than ours.”