Online classes expand curriculum | SteamboatToday.com

Online classes expand curriculum

Brandon Gee

Soroco High School in Oak Creek is able to offer about 100 unique classes such as Latin, digital photography and astronomy to its students through participation in the Web-based service Colorado Online Learning.

Oak Creek — In a school of only about 120 students, visitors might not expect to find students taking classes in Latin, digital photography and astronomy. But students at Soroco High School in Oak Creek are doing exactly that. — In a school of only about 120 students, visitors might not expect to find students taking classes in Latin, digital photography and astronomy. But students at Soroco High School in Oak Creek are doing exactly that.

— In a school of only about 120 students, visitors might not expect to find students taking classes in Latin, digital photography and astronomy. But students at Soroco High School in Oak Creek are doing exactly that.

South Routt’s unbounded curriculum is made possible by its participation in Colorado Online Learning, a Web-based service that allows students to take one or more of about 100 classes, sometimes for college as well as high school credit.

“It allows us to offer a lot of things we don’t have,” said Brenda Little, literacy coordinator at the high school and the administer of Colorado Online Learning’s offerings there. Last year, Little was named Colorado Online Learning Innovator of the Year.

More than 25 percent of Soroco High School students take at least one of the online courses, and Little said she has one student who takes three. The school pays $200 for each class.

Chris Rapp, executive director of Colorado Online Learning, said 75 percent of the nonprofit organization’s students come from rural school districts like South Routt.

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“The majority of school districts we serve are in Colorado and in rural Colorado,” said Jodi Holzman, director of curriculum and instruction. “We’re good at working with rural schools and know their issues.”

Rapp said South Routt is one of 91 school districts in Colorado that use Colorado Online Learning. The organization is nine years old, but Rapp said it has grown rapidly in recent years as online learning has gained acceptance.

“It’s not as hard a sell as it used to be,” said Rapp, who noted a recent report that one out of every five college students takes at least one online course. “These students are comfortable learning in this way.”

While the students are physically removed from a classroom and teacher interaction, Colorado Online Learning tries to replicate these facets as much as possible. Rapp said the student-to-teacher ratio is 16-to-1. Holzman said teachers are encouraged to call their students on the phone and interact with them in other ways. There is also interaction between students, Holzman said, through online discussion boards and even group projects.

The importance of student interaction is one reason why Colorado Online Learning is not available to adult students, Rapp said.

“We don’t want high school students in there with random adults,” Rapp said.

Teachers present their material in a variety of fashions. Some do live or recorded video and audio, and many classes have book lists. Little said her students even take online field trips, such as a video tour of the Louvre museum in Paris. There are weekly assignments that must be completed, and Holzman stressed that the curriculum is not self-paced.

“We know that kids really need some structure,” she said.

Rapp said online courses do not suffer any loss in difficulty. They can actually be more challenging, Rapp said, because of their heavy emphasis on writing and the self-discipline they require from students.

“These courses aren’t easy,” Rapp said.

Little said her students pass the courses with little exception.

“Very, very few students fail, because I can check on them every day,” she said.

Registration is this week for Soroco students, and Little said students are already chomping at the bit to land one of the 38 spots available at the high school for Colorado Online Learning classes.

“It’s pretty cool,” Little said. “I always am at my limit.”