Morenci schools give on-line classes a try 2010.02.10

Written by David Green.


On-line course work is gaining popularity at Morenci Area High School as budget cuts reduce staff and the availability of electives decreases.

Reviews of the classes are mixed, but many students involved see potential in the concept—at least for some parts of the curriculum.

Morenci schools is affiliated with the e2020 on-line curriculum based in Arizona. The company is one several approved by the Michigan Department of Education for high school credit.p.on-line_courses.jpg

Morenci signed up for the e2020 program for two purposes: “credit recovery”—the option of repeating a class after a failing grade is recorded—and the alternative education program.

Changes in state graduation requirements make it impossible to re-take a class the next year and still graduate on time. e2020 provides credit recovery by serving as a challenging summer school, more in line with regular classroom work.

e2020 also plays a big part in the alternative education program due to changes in state regulations. Alternative programs now require a teacher who is certified to teach each class offered—just like in a regular classroom—and that isn’t possible in a small school district’s due to limited staff.

When Morenci started using e2020 classes last summer, high school principal Nate Parker knew there was one other application that was likely to kick in during the new school year: on-line classes for the regular school program.

There were times when an essential class wouldn’t fit into a student’s schedule. There were times when only two or three students wanted a class—too few to justify scheduling.

Finally, there were situations in which none of the classes offered during a particular class period were needed by a student.

Student report

Senior Zac Burrow was one of those students searching for a class.

“There were no other classes to take and the sociology course fit in perfectly,” he said.

Sociology was offered as a two-trimester class and he finished the first half of the course a couple of weeks before the end of the trimester.

Allen Beck gave a similar report.

“I needed another class for fifth hour and that worked out well,” he said, “although I think that class might have been a little too easy. I was ahead most of the time.”

Danyel Brown was far enough ahead with sociology this trimester that she started in on a second course—career skills.

“You really have to pay attention because the teacher goes over a lot of different topics,” Brown said.

She generally finishes the required homework during the class session at school, although students are able to log in at home or at the library to complete work.

Callen Miles finished the first section of sociology the first week of February so she moved forward into the second half. Some days she dreads sitting down to watch the lecture on a computer monitor; other days she doesn’t mind at all.

“I think most of it is good information, but as with any class, there are definitely boring parts,” she said. “The lectures and information are a little dated since the woman still talks about Bush being president, but other than that I’m learning some really interesting stuff.”

George W. Bush was still president two years ago, pointed out counselor Diana Fallot. The course needs updating, she agrees, yet it’s much more up to date than many textbooks.

Talk to the students taking pre-calculus and the reports aren’t as rosy. Nick Erbskorn says the class is plenty challenging, but he thinks this is largely due to flaws in the class.

“The on-line helper for the program that shows you how to do problems that are difficult makes many simple mistakes and is only helpful about half the time,” he said. “The lectures for the lessons are also very lacking. I often find myself faced with math problems that were not explained.

“I think some courses would be all right to be taught in this style, but as for more difficult subjects, nothing beats a real teacher in a classroom setting.”

Meribeth Keefer is doing much better this trimester with pre-calc compared to the first time around, but she’s getting some extra help from the school’s mathematics teachers, when they have the time to answer questions.

Kate Gallup gave pre-calc a try the first trimester—only three students wanted the class so it wasn’t offered in the classroom—but she dropped it after that.

“It was extremely hard,” she said. “Getting a decent grade in a math class on-line is next to impossible because you don't have a teacher to answer questions.”

The teacher assumes students know certain math facts that haven’t yet been learned, she said.

Sociology is a different situation. She’s enjoying that class and learning a lot.

“I think on-line courses have potential in high school, but there are definitely some things that e2020 needs to change,” Gallup said, such as contact with the teacher.

Keefer and Beck are also taking a dual-enrollment course in medical terminology through Jackson Community College. Keefer says she prefers that class over math because she has a book and she can contact the teacher by e-mail with questions.

Beck also enjoys the college format of the class with assignments given a week at a time rather than daily. The college classes are on a semester schedule from January to May.

Mr. Parker knew before e2020 classes got underway that it wouldn’t be for everybody. Some students who struggle in the classroom will succeed with the computer version, and vice versa.

It’s probably here to stay, and that’s all right with Miles.

“I think that being able to do on-line courses is very beneficial since we don’t have enough teachers to teach some of the classes and for some students, it’s easier to concentrate than being in a regular class setting.”

She prefers the online option, but she lists the sometimes boring lectures as a downfall.

It’s still a trial-and-error situation, says Mrs. Fallot, as the district looks to see what is and isn’t working. She doesn’t expect the on-line option to disappear.

“It definitely has a place in a small school district,” she said.

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