Technology opens door to online classes

Boards of education have embraced technology, exploring different ways it can be woven into the curriculum. That could soon involve offering online courses.

With the field test of the Smarter Balanced assessment scheduled for March, education officials made strides in upgrading network and bandwidth capabilities within their respective school systems.

The Smarter Balanced assessment is a computerized adaptive test, which will replace the Connecticut Mastery Test, given to students in grades 3 through 8, and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, administered in 10th grade. Full rollout of the test will occur during the 2014-15 school year.

Each area school system has a Bring Your Own Device program, which allows students to use their own electronics in the classroom as part of the curriculum. In Wallingford, there isn’t an official program yet, but the school system is conducting a test program with Google Chromebooks — affordable laptops with Google applications for education.

Rob Kovi, an information technology resource teacher in Wallingford, said the school system acquired new technology within the past year that allows teachers to record lessons and demonstrations.

“We’re slowly getting the tools to do that,” Kovi said of online courses.

There isn’t an official online course offered to students, but those in Wallingford’s alternative high school program can participate in an online credit recovery program called Odysseyware, according to Kate O’Donnell, another technology resource teacher in Wallingford. She added that the school system also offers a “limited number of courses” through a website called Moodle.

Both Kovi and O’Donnell said there are obstacles, however, to creating an online course. Kovi said one of the largest issues is that not every student has a computer or tablet at home.

Wallingford has 1,241 Chromebooks, which are kept in the libraries of the middle and high schools. Students sign the computers out from the library for class. If students take computers home, they have to pay a $1 fee per day, Kovi said. In addition to the lack of access, O’Donnell said the school system doesn’t provide Wi-Fi accessibility for students to connect to the Internet from home.

In the past two years, area school systems have had to make up a number of school days due to inclement weather. Last year, Wallingford students went to school on the last possible day and lost a majority of their April vacation.

This year, students in Wallingford are again going to school the last possible day — June 30. Asked if online courses can be used to make up instructional time, O’Donnell said it would be difficult because of the Carnegie Unit and Student Hour requirement that “students attend classes physically and accumulate hours” to earn high school credits.

In Cheshire, where O’Donnell’s son goes to school, a Bring Your Own Devices program is in effect at the middle and high school levels. O’Donnell said middle schoolers are given computers to take home with them to complete their school work. Cheshire Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Scott Detrick said the school system offers an online course for credit, but courses are available to students that “fit a certain criteria.”

“Typically, it’s a course that we offer at the high school and if the student’s schedule doesn’t permit them to take a course they need,” Detrick said. “But it’s up to the building principal.”

Despite giving computers to each student, Detrick said he was unsure if the school system would further explore the possibility of offering online courses.

Meriden is another school system where technology is being brought into the classroom. As in Cheshire, a Bring Your Own Devices program is now in operation after a year-long test period, according to Associate Superintendent for Instruction Bob Angeli.

In the past, Angeli said, a small group of students from both Maloney and Platt high schools participated in a program that offered an online course to learn Mandarin. The program was organized through the Connecticut Virtual Adult High School, according to a document by the state Department of Education from February 2010. Meriden, along with five other school systems, enrolled in courses through the virtual high school. Angeli said the tuition was paid for by grants, but after two years, the grant money ended and the school system was unable to fund the tuition.

Despite this, Angeli said there is an online course that offers “personalized learning opportunities.” In order to earn credits for the course, Angeli said students maintain contact with a personalized learning teacher, who oversees all the students.

In addition, some teachers are “flipping” their classrooms, Angeli said, where they’re providing material for students through online mediums.

“This is an area that we feel is going to help our students maintain interest and motivation for them in education,” Angeli said. “This is definitely an area that is exploration for us in the district and how we can continue to provide these kinds of opportunities for our students.”

Southington is in the middle of a pilot program for Bring Your Own Devices, according to Karen Veilleux, technology director for Southington Public Schools. At the elementary level, students bring in e-readers to do their daily reading, while teachers at the middle and high schools sometimes plan their lessons around brought in devices, she said.

There are some Southington students, Veilleux said, that are “homebound” and are using the virtual learning academy for online courses. In the past, she added, some students at Southington High School have completed a course through the virtual academy. There are no plans to expand the program right now, she said.

A year ago, Kovi said his school system didn’t have a single Chromebook to offer students to use in the classrooms. Now, there’s over 1,000 laptops for students to sign out. As school systems embrace technology, how things are taught also begins to change, he said.

“Things are evolving,” he said. “It’s the start of the conversation. Have we talked about this? Yes, but have we implemented it? No. It takes a little bit of time to set that up ... We’re working at that and the opportunity is there now.”

evo@record-journal.com (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ



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