Online Academy Makes High School a Virtual Delight

Posted: October 13, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

You work for a company that designs theme restaurants. An e-mail comes across your desk one day from your boss, saying you have only a few months to design a restaurant with the theme of the Harlem Renaissance. What’s the first thing you have to do?

Research.

Thus begins one of modules in the English course available through the Online Academy, developed by Priscilla Norton in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development. Partnering with Loudoun, Frederick and Stafford County Public Schools, the Online Academy is allowing high school students to meet their educational goals through fun, problem-solving web-based courses.

The program recently won the Governor’s 2006 Technology Award in the Innovation in K-12 Education category, which recognizes the innovative use of technology to provide improved service delivery to Virginia’s schoolchildren.

The Online Academy was cited as “a collaborative and innovative technology initiative to design and deliver comprehensive online courses for Virginia’s high school students.”

The academy provides courses in math, science, English and social studies that are cross-referenced with and go beyond the Virginia State Standards of Learning.

Courses take the students through several steps – such as researching the Harlem Renaissance to ultimately design a restaurant that plays the music of the time, quotes the famous authors of the time and is decorated by the art of the time. Or, students are taken through a geometry course that ultimately ends up teaching them to design a roller coaster for an amusement park, a miniature golf course or a stained-glass window using the concepts they’ve studied.

Each student is provided a mentor, a highly qualified Virginia-licensed teacher who specializes in online teaching, to work with as they complete the course.

“It is truly a classroom of one,” says Norton about why the Online Academy is unique among other online learning environments. “The student is the only one in the class. This allows the learner to think about the time they need, and it provides maximum flexibility for them.”

There are many reasons why students would find themselves taking a course from the Online Academy, says Norton. Students who have to travel with their parents for an extended period of time, or who are homebound with an illness or who might want to pursue a college-bound curriculum without sacrificing their elective courses will benefit from this learning environment.

For Ashley Duke, a sophomore at Dominion High School in Loudoun County, the Online Academy allowed her to get ahead in course work so she could attend the Academy of Science.

“The greatest benefit to me was being able to work on my own daily time schedule,” she says. “The flexibility of the Online Academy versus a normal summer school class was a huge benefit for me and gave me the opportunity to do other activities during the summer.”

Norton and her team began developing the curriculum for the courses in fall 2003, and a pilot program of about 70 students was held during the summer of 2005. Now the program is expanding statewide, and more and more mentors are signing on to work on the project.

“This is clearly a national movement,” says Norton. “But we want to do it differently and better than everyone else to maximize the learning experience.”

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