Virtual class offers options, greater flexibility

The switch to a virtual education is on the rise. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Online Learning Consortium (OLC), over 7.1 million higher education students took at least one online course. In 2014, that number rose another 3.7%. Stevenson is following this online movement by offering their first online course, Advanced Placement (AP) American Government.

“There was something novel about this new course,” Daniel Larsen, AP American Government teacher, said. “I think the students saw themselves as pioneers, but even more than that, I think they were looking to being treated as 21st century students.”

All Stevenson seniors are required to take a government course to graduate. Currently, the majority of seniors who are taking AP American Government are taking the in-class version.

“I think some students are still intimidated by the idea of being able to reserve the time necessary to complete the online course on their own,” Andrew Conneen, AP Government teacher, said. “A lot of students still want the structure of a traditional classroom and that’s totally understandable.”

Although more students chose the in-class version, both Larsen and Conneen clarified that the new online course wasn’t designed to replace the in-class course. Instead, having the online course offers students with different learning styles another option.

“There’s not a best way to do school, but in the 21st century we feel there needs to be other ways to do school,” Larsen said.

With the online option, Larsen and Conneen have gotten mixed feedback from students. Some like the flexibility, Conneen said, whereas others found the self discipline difficult.

“Because I don’t have to have my teacher check in everyday, I got really far behind on the first assessment,” Jordyn Chapman ’16 said. “I didn’t realize how much it really was but now I’m getting use to it.”

Students have freedom when it comes to when they complete classwork. However, teachers set deadlines to ensure students pace themselves.
“For me, especially with college next year, I have to have good time management skills so this is a good time to work on them,” Chapman said. “It’s a lot better than starting my time management skills in college.”

Although the in-class and online students are learning the same objectives under similar deadlines, Larsen and Conneen said the feedback to their online students have been more strategic.

“In a typical classroom, I might have a room with 25 students and I’m giving feedback to all 25 at the same time,” Larsen said. “In an online class, we’re giving individualized feedback 25 different times, ways, and styles.”

Conneen said, as a result, there’s a heightened specificity to the feedback they give to their online students.

In conjunction with the online feedback, Larsen and Conneen are both available every lunch period in the Information Learning Center (ILC) to answer any students questions.
“I think a lot of people were worried about not being in an actual classroom,” Chapman said. “If you have lunch or a free period, you can go in and get one-on-one attention from the teachers.”

The lunch periods are primarily used for help. That leaves the student responsible for class materials. “When the bell rings, you walk into class, you sit down. In this online class, the bell never rings — but you’re still expected to come ‘into’ class and do your work,” Larsen said.

For incoming seniors deciding between the online and traditional class, Larsen said students who are looking to experience an online class that they might be expected to take in college should consider this class.

“If you’re looking for an easier class, this isn’t it,” Larsen said. “On the other hand, if you’re looking to emancipate yourself from the traditional classroom, this is it.”

Although Larsen and Coneen see this online course as a step forward, improvements can be made. Conneen is looking into building more discussions, a difficult aspect to recreate online.

“In any change or innovation, the most difficult part is to be willing to say, ‘That didn’t work, let’s try something else’,” Larsen said. “We have a lot of improvements yet to make.”

As the course continues, Larsen said he was eager to hear student feedback. Larsen anticipates more online options available during the academic year as well as the summer.

“Creating this course was one of the best decisions of my life,” Larsen said. “If technology is changing our world as much as we know it is — it just has to change the way we learn.”