The face of summer school is shifting in Albuquerque Public Schools – and that face is now lit with the glow of a computer screen.
Rather than receiving traditional classroom instruction, about 900 students opted to earn credits online this summer. Online classes are growing in popularity year-round, in part because the class of 2013 will be the first class required to take an online, dual credit or Advanced Placement course in order to graduate.
The number of students taking online courses has more than doubled each year for the three summers the classes have been offered, from about 150 to 400, and then to about 900 this summer.
But before late-rising teenagers get too excited, students can’t do these classes from home in their jammies. Students are required to come to campus and work from a computer lab.
“They meet for three or four hours a day, so missing a day is like missing a week,” APS Chief Information Officer Tom Ryan said. “We require you to show up on campus and then go to the lab or media center.”
Ryan said this keeps students on track, so they don’t skip a few days and set themselves up for failure.
Students have an adult supervisor in the computer lab, but the teacher of the class interacts with them online, providing feedback and answering questions.
Stephen Malone teaches English and social studies at eCADEMY, APS’ school for online learning. He said online interactions with students are often more personal than group settings in a classroom.
“I actually have more quality interactions and communications with every student in a way that I don’t often have the luxury of having when I’m teaching a face-to-face course,” Malone said. “Time is limited in a face-to-face course, and some students are more vocal than others or require more attention than others.”
Malone said students may be more willing to ask questions through written messages than they are to speak up in class.
Although Malone’s students spend the majority of their class time online, he said summer school allows him to occasionally meet with them face-to-face, since the students are on campus. This option, which is not available when he teaches online classes during the school year, allows him to provide extra tutoring or explanations as needed.
Online enrollment is up during the school year as well. Amy Phipps, the director of online learning technologies for APS, said about 2,000 students took online classes during the spring semester, and that number has been doubling or tripling every semester since the classes were first offered in fall 2009.
One factor is the new graduation requirement involving online classes. It was established during former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration as a way to make diplomas more meaningful.
But Ryan said the requirement isn’t the only thing drawing students to online classes. He said the classes provide students with flexibility to work at their own pace, regardless of whether they are at home or in school. They can also take advantages of classes that aren’t offered at their own schools, or perhaps don’t fit into their class schedules.
“One of the things that’s driving this is it provides students and parents more choices,” Ryan said.