PHS logging on to new way of learning

Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

After a month in Cyberspace, students are giving online classes an A-plus at Portales High School.

The program, which is allowing close to 80 PHS students to take their core classes online for the first time this school year, is getting rave reviews from both students and teachers.

“It’s better than a normal class because you get all the information you need without sitting through an hour or hour-and-a-half lecture,” said PHS freshman Jeffrey Forrest. “You can work at your own pace.”

The students are able to check out a laptop computer to use while in the online center at the high school. From the computer they can log into lessons prepared in advance by four teachers in a variety of core courses. All four teachers are available during the school day at the center.

The teachers prepare their lessons by making a video using Tegrity software. Then with the use of WebCT software the learning process is brought together. The students have an online text book and teachers can add graphics, photos or links related to the subject in the Tegrity presentation.

Students are able to then participate in online discussions after a lesson is completed and can e-mail teachers with questions or grab their laptop and talk directly with the teacher.

While the flexibility to work from home or wherever they have an Internet connection is there for students, they still have to report to a classroom. However, after all their teachers have critiqued a student’s progress and all are in agreement the pupil can select a day of the week off and receives more freedom to work on his or her own.

Asked about how the online interaction is going from a teacher’s perspective, PHS instructors strike a positive note.
“It’s a culture change,” said Darnell Lewis, who teaches history and government classes online. “I’ve yet to get an e-mail or monitor a discussion that was unprofessional in any way. I’m very proud of our kids in this group.”

“It’s a new concept of high schools,” said online math teacher Julie Fraze. “We’re starting a new way.”

“I really like it,” said PHS senior Kasi Cranford. “I can pause my teachers if I need to go back and get more information.”
Tamara Coddington, also a senior concurs, saying, “It’s a lot easier than being in a classroom as far as the presentations and the work itself. I can concentrate better.”

“I take all my classes online,” said freshman Austin Inge.

Because he travels a lot with his family, Inge likes the flexibility that it gives him to work when he’s able to and even work ahead if he knows he’s going to be gone. Lewis pointed out that she already has classes through Oct. 14 posted to allow students to work at their own pace.

“A teacher can record herself and teach many kids,” said junior Alex Delaney “It’s easier because you can go at your own pace and it’s more one-on-one.”

Other advantages to the program noted by the students is the fact that there is no horsing around in class. “Nobody is talking because you’re doing your work,” said Inge.

Teachers monitor e-mails and discussions evenings and weekends so students can get help with problems even when they’re working outside of the classroom. They can also log on any time of the day or night and teachers say they’ve even seen some postings stamped with a time in the wee hours of the morning.

“If I can’t sleep I just watch Tegrity sessions,” quips Inge.
The students also feel that becoming savvy to the technology in high school will put them in a better position for the challenges of a changing landscape in college and the workplace.

Online courses are in wide use in colleges, with Eastern New Mexico University even using the same software as PHS, but the idea is only just catching on in high schools.

Darnell says the program is showing a huge potential for remediation and for non-traditional students. She cited the instance of a pregnant student who has taken full advantage of online courses, to not only stay up with the course work, but get ahead in preparation for her baby’s arrival.

“The kids don’t think the work is harder,” said Darnell. “But they’re writing more than ever.”

She says that’s just because of the written nature of the culture online. The students also get what she calls “Nettiquette” — a training that keeps the language from slipping into the slang of the Internet.

She says that teachers are also exploring the concept of dual assignments in the future, where for instance she would assign a history theme paper which she would grade on content and the English teacher would mark for grammar and writing technique. In that manner, a student receives two grades for one paper.

“Hey, they’re getting it done,” said Darnell of online students. “If it works they should have the opportunity to do it.”