This year’s high school freshmen statewide must complete at least one course online before they graduate, but those at Baker County High School are among the few with a computer lab used exclusively to meet the requirement.
The new graduation requirement is among a host of new benchmarks being phased in during the coming years to improve students math and science skills before they reach college.
“This is something new for Florida,” said BCHS principal Tom Hill the afternoon of August 25. “And what’s really significant about it is that Baker County High School is one of the few schools in the entire state at this time to have a lab dedicated just to online learning.”
The virtual class being taught throughout the day in the lab to some 25 students is global studies, a course offered through Florida Virtual School that explores topics like human rights, the environment, global security, international economic systems and more.
The new lab was up and running the first day of school and is a step toward making online learning in the county’s schools more commonplace.
Characteristic of online courses, the instructor is not necessarily physically present.
According to Mr. Hill, many parents have voiced concerns about the instructor’s absence from the classroom. “Will this affect the quality of instruction? How will classroom order be maintained? When students hit a snag, what resource do they have for getting help and solving the problem,” he said.
“There is a facilitator present,” explained Mr. Hill. “That person checks attendance, keeps things moving smoothly and makes sure students aren’t falling behind. The online instructor should be visiting the lab once a week in person to help correct any issues or concerns the students have.”
The virtual lab facilitator is Nancy Masterson.
“I’m essentially the cheerleader,” she said. “I’m here for support as much as anything and to help students navigate the program and lessons.”
The students also help each other as they progress through the instruction.
Seven days into the course, ninth grader Dillan Cullen said he was enjoying the global studies course.
“I’m liking it so far,” he said. “It’s like social studies only on a much broader scope.”
Another student, Vornesha Donaldson, explained how the instruction is designed.
“Essentially, it’s like chapters,” she said. “Each chapter has five lessons that must be completed.”
At the end of each lesson there is a test and students submit their work online for an evaluation.
Another main component of the instruction is assessment, which allows students to frequently evaluate their own performance through a series of self-checks, practice lessons, multiple choice, writing assignments, discussions and more.
“Colleen Bandao is affiliated with the Florida Virtual School and she is the one who actually designed the global studies course,” said Ms. Masterson. “She’s also the online instructor. Although she is not present, students always have access to Ms. Bandao via e-mail and phone calls if necessary.”
Ms. Masterson acknowledged that the learning curve for the global studies course is big, but says the benefits are big also.
“Students come into the course at different levels of computer literacy,” said Ms. Masterson. “The great thing is by the time they finish they will be prepared to tackle any other online course they might choose to take.”