Schools exploring online learning

Columbian High School students, administrators and teachers discussed the benefits of online learning at their Virtual High School Collaborative Open House Wednesday.

Gordon Duckel, online learning specialist for VHS, discussed what VHS does and the opportunities that are offered.

“This is not a sales pitch, it is just who we are,” Duckel said.

The VHS Collaborative, based in Boston, was created in 1996 as a nonprofit organization that has established online and blended learning into high schools and middle schools across the country.

“Many of the high school courses are also appropriate for gifted and talented middle school students,” Duckel said.

“We service schools in 35 states and 43 countries with 800 member schools and 9,000 students,” Duckel said. “With 400 online elective, core, honors and advanced placement courses, we expand educational opportunities.”

VHS’s Advanced Placement success rate is at 76 percent, Duckel said.

Some of the career tracks addressed include entrepreneurship, screenwriting, forensic science and nuclear physics.

Students are able to debate, share, comment and collaborate on projects guided by specially trained classroom teachers.

“VHS offers students and teachers a way to get credits through courses that they may not be able to get at their homeschool,” Duckel said.

Teachers can be a part of the program too. Co-synchronous online courses for teachers are offered to allow them to deliver VHS NetCourses to students around the globe, Duckel said.

“Many of the teachers even wrote the courses, they want to just do something for the kids,” he said.

Columbian English teacher Deb Baker is the teaching member for the high school. She teaches 101 ways to write a short story.

VHS has been at Columbian since 2000, Baker said.

“I’ve been teaching for 34 years and I love online teaching,” she said. “I feel that at times it has made me a better face-to-face teacher.”

“It is a double-edged sword. At times it is easier and others it is harder,” Baker said. “It does allow for more flexibility. I don’t have to check in right away.”

“With online courses, students have sort of an invisibility cloak. People are not judged on how they look or sound, but on what matters, on what they say and their work.”

Schools can sign up for different memberships depending on needs. In addition to cash fees, membership levels are determined by the number of students enrolling. So memberships run from five to 100 or more seats per semester.

John Obringer, a senior at Columbian, has taken three courses through VHS.

“It was a very nice experience,” he said. “The AP courses were a big step and a lot of work but, in the end, it paid off. It forces you to think deeper.”

For more information, contact Duckel at (978) 450-0507 or Carol Arnold at (877) 718-4604 ext. 2.