The Atlanta Journal - Constitution

A little rah-rah at Virtual High School
Starting next fall, some Georgia students will be taking seminar-type classes in cyberspace.
Diane Loupe - Staff Writer

Next fall, students at 17 Georgia high schools will go to class in cyberspace.

They will sit at a computer, access the Internet and follow the directions of a teacher in another state, possibly another time zone. Courses will include such offerings as Native American cultures, business in the 21st century and statistics.

The students will ask questions, participate in group discussions and submit homework entirely by e-mail. They will earn full academic credit for the classes.

The Georgia schools are among 100 nationwide preparing to join the Virtual High School project, a Concord, Mass.-based program with a $7.4 million federal grant to develop challenging Web-based courses.

Already, 700 students at 40 high schools in 15 states and four countries are taking Web based courses through the program, said school director Bruce Droste.

Teachers at each of the participating schools take an online course on how to design and develop courses for the program. Then they develop the course.

When the classes are offered starting next fall, each teacher or team of teachers will get up to 20 students. In exchange, up to 20 students from that school will be able to take a virtual class, said Georgia Associate State Superintendent Bob Bellamy, who is coordinating the Virtual High School-program for the Georgia Department of Education.

"If all you ever do to change the teaching dynamic is rearrange the desks, you really haven't changed much," said Bellamy. "This is a pilot effort to look at new, better and different ways of teaching."

In his search for "something innovative and different," Bellamy found the Virtual High School project, which has a solid reputation nationally because it adheres to high academic standards, comparable to those of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the major regional accrediting agency.

Although some Georgia college students are currently taking online courses, and many Georgia students participate in classes given by an instructor over a television screen, this is the first large-scale program in Georgia for Internet classes, Bellamy said.

Druid Hills High School librarian Nancy Clark and social studies teacher Arthur O'Neill have recruited students at the DeKalb County high school to help them build the Web page for the multimedia course they are developing. The class will teach students how to create and design Web pages and use presentation software and audio and video clips.

Clark, an educator with 25 years of experience, thinks the online courses will appeal to and be appropriate for students of many different abilities, not just those who are gifted and self motivated.

"There are students who need that hook to grab them and draw them into the intellectual exchange," said Clark. "They are not drawn to the written word on the page. They are drawn to the images, to the ability to point and click, to the keyboard. It is much more interactive because it involves so many senses."

The online courses will enable a student to take special interest or advanced courses, such as Stellar Astronomy or Microbiology, which might not otherwise gather enough students to be offered at a small school. It will also offer an eclectic variety of electives, with such titles as Folklore and the Literature of Myth, Magic and Ritual, Exploring Spanish Culture on the Internet, and Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet Studies. Teachers in Ware County and Clarke County are collaborating to develop a course in African-American literature.

The Virtual High School's developers say online courses resemble seminars more than traditional lecture-and-text courses, and challenge students to be inquisitive and creative. In order to prevent goofing off, teachers in each school will monitor students as they take the Web courses.

"Technology will never replace the teacher," says Bellamy. "But the teacher who knows and can use technology will replace the teacher who can't "

Metro area schools participating in Georgia's Virtual High School pilot program, teachers participating and the courses they are developing:

  • Cobb County: Wheeler High School; Cindy Price, Creating Spanish Web pages, and Sprayberry High, Alison Coker, Career Awareness for the New Millennium.
  • Fulton County: Milton High; School; Susan Caster, Malaria, a Case Study far Understanding Biology.
  • Decatur City System: Decatur High; Chris Nelson, Introduction for Constructing Pages for the World Wide Web using HTML.
  • DeKalb County: Druid Hills High School; Nancy B. Clark and Arthur O'Neill, MultimediaOnline.
  • Carroll County: Villa Rica High School; Susan Parker Robinson, Calculus with Business Applications.
  • Gwinnett County: South Gwinnett High SChool; Joe S. O'Neal, Psychology.

Virtual High School
4 Clock Tower Place, Suite 510
Maynard, MA 01754
ph: 978-897-1900
fax: 978-897-9839
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