SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / October 2006 / McLoughlin High School: Pioneers in Online Learning
McLoughlin High School: Pioneers in Online Learning
In a cutting-edge move, McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, has enrolled 24 students in Oregon Online's Earth Science course this fall. Students are assigned to a computer lab in their school for the course, where they access the curriculum online. Students will read materials, watch videos and animations, and conduct investigations using interactive websites. A faculty member assigned by the school will be in the lab to help with basic questions and troubleshooting, but the real teacher is actually not in the room. In fact, "virtual teacher" Jason Palmer will be two and one-half hours away at Heppner High School and probably has a classroom full of students at that same time of day.
Palmer, who has taught for Oregon Online for 4 years, will log in at the end of his "regular" work day to check on his virtual students. He will check for voicemails, emails, and posts to the class discussion board. He will respond to student questions by telephone and email, and, just as in his face-to-face classes, correct homework and tests and return them to his students. Palmer may also call or email parents, keeping in touch with them as well as with the McLoughlin High staff. Grades are kept in an online gradebook, where students, parents, and McLoughlin High staff members can check on students' progress at any time. Online Earth Science teacher, Jason Palmer, is excited about the class: “I am excited to bring what I do in my classroom to other students. Over the past few years through my involvement with Oregon Online, I am becoming a better “regular” classroom teacher. I bring technology every day to my classroom so that I can reach more kids and help them to better prepare for a future beyond high school.
Since Palmer's "face-to-face" classes in the Heppner School District run on a 4-day week schedule, he has most Fridays "free". This will allow Palmer to connect occasionally with McLoughlin students via IVC (interactive videoconferencing), providing a human element as well as exciting, powerful content. Also, Palmer will make the two and one-half hour trek to Milton-Freewater occasionally in person for special projects such as using GPS (Global Positioning System) units or hands-on labs.
McLoughlin High School teacher Michelle Snyder, also an Oregon Online teacher, has provided special training and extra support for both McLoughlin High students and staff to help them prepare for this unique program. Snyder already has a full day's schedule of science classes, but she readily pitches in to help out. According to Snyder, “We are in a unique situation at Mac-Hi this year: we have more students signed up for science than we have science teachers to teach it. We often use "packet programs" to address some of these issues, but I wanted a scientific learning experience that included labs. Oregon Online will solve this situation and give the students the unique learning experience of an online school.”
One of the side benefits of this program is that the students involved will have an opportunity to learn cutting-edge communication and technology skills, using high-tech tools such as computer software, videoconference technology, and GPS units. Milton-Freewater Principal Ralph Brown states, “I am both excited and cautious about this new path some of my students are embarking upon this year. We were unable to hire a 4th science teacher this year so I am thankful to Oregon Online for providing Earth Science classes for us.”