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Some districts moving slowly with online courses


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For more than a year, courses in algebra, biology, earth and space science and other subjects have been ready for Whiteland Community High School students to take online.

Teachers used a state grant to create the online courses in 2011, and once the programs were complete they were submitted to the state so that any school in Indiana could use part or all of them. Right now those courses’ Internet-based assignments, instructional videos and other components haven’t progressed beyond the minds and meetings of a few high school teachers.

No teachers at Whiteland are teaching the courses exclusively online. Some of the high school’s science teachers occasionally use portions of the courses in their classes, but few other teachers are blending their regular lessons with the available online assignments, teacher and project leader Chris Wood said.

Nearly all of Johnson County’s school districts use online or computer-based courses for students in alternative academies or who are trying to make up courses they failed. Right now, Center Grove, has online courses available for traditional students interested in taking math, science, art, business or other courses online.

Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Greenwood schools are deciding when and how to make online courses available to more students. Officials know that online learning is quickly becoming a standard in colleges as well as high schools, but they also want to make sure they don’t lose control over the lessons students are learning.

“Online courses still have a way to go to replace a living, breathing teacher,” Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray said.

One of the main issues that has pushed back online courses at Clark-Pleasant is leadership changes. Whiteland Community High School has had four principals in the past five school years, and three superintendents in the past three school years. When a school or school district undergoes a leadership change and the new principal or superintendent is learning about how different courses are taught, that’s not necessarily the best time to shift to online learning, Wood and Spray said.

Spray expects that as teachers hear and learn more about how to use online courses, they can fold those lessons into their classes. Students can use the Internet to complete research assignments or watch instructional videos on different lessons, but they also will have regular time in class where they’re meeting and working with their teacher in person, he said.

He added he wants to be sure students’ communication skills don’t lapse from spending too much time online.

Local students can take online courses offered by Center Grove, Hoosier Academy or other accredited online programs. Typically those courses will be accepted by area high schools.

Greenwood school officials have been meeting recently to decide how many online courses the school district should accept from other programs and what its own online program could eventually look like.

Superintendent Kent DeKoninck wants to learn more about the kinds of online courses that were created and are being offered by central Indiana school districts including Center Grove. He also wants to investigate what Greenwood can do to create its own courses so students interested in taking an online course don’t have to look outside the school district, he said.

“Having it in your own backyard, having it developed by your own people and having those people monitor that, that’s good to have that local control,” DeKoninck said.

He added he needs to see who is interested in creating the online courses. He doesn’t believe it’s necessary to convert every course because students need to spend time in traditional classrooms.

“We just have to assess what areas are logical to do it in, what they have capacity to do it in and which teachers have an interest in doing it,” DeKoninck said.

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