District to test online learning waters

by Jim Boyle

Editor

The Elk River Area School District will enter the world of online learning this fall through a smattering of high school health courses.

These classes have been selected in part because of a successful pilot the past two school years that placed iPads in the hands of the health teachers and their students.

The district will test the online waters with juniors and seniors who passed on taking health classes in their sophomore year to hang onto electives like band, world languages and the college preparatory class known as AVID.

Eligible students have been asked to consider a full online model or a blended approach. They were to get back to the district this week.

Kids will have three options before them, said Troy Anderson, the school district’s first manager of instructional technology.

“They can choose an online-only option, the blended model or go ‘old school’ and have to sit in the chair every day,” Anderson told members of the Elk River Area School Board at a recent meeting.

Anderson was there to present his body of work since being hired this past summer. Chief among this duties, he has been tasked with articulating a vision for online learning in the Elk River Area School District.

“It’s one sentence, but an amazing amount of work,” Anderson told members of the School Board.

Anderson explained he has assembled and led a task force this past year that has been studying regional and national trends as well as attending workshops and participating in webinars (online seminars) to develop a game plan. Task force members even went to Plymouth to check out their online education program.

“We have learned about policies, procedures and what districts are doing and all the things you need to think about,” Anderson said. “We have learned it takes time, but you have to start somewhere.”

Anderson and his committee have not been shy about asking other districts for help.

“I’m all for finding out what other school districts have done and if there are little pieces we can beg, borrow or steal,” Anderson said. “I have called Edina more than once to say can we borrow that document … or flier.

Anderson said classroom teachers will still be an important piece of any online model.

“We will be building in face-to-face interaction,” Anderson said, noting that even includes the online-only option. It might be limited to the first day of school and mid trimester, but it will be included. “That’s an underlying agreement that we have that built into these classrooms.”

The blended model might call for students to be in class two or three times a week and work independently online the rest of the week.

It will be up to high school officials, parents and students to decide whether such educational options are a good fit. Those taking online offerings will need to be self-directed and good at time management among other things, Anderson said.

It’s expected that teachers delivering online courses will use Moodle, a learning management system that has become the industry standard, Anderson said. Heath teachers will go through training this summer.

No decisions have been made yet about the 2014-15 school year.

“We want to make sure we do it well,” Anderson said.

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