Blended learning means more computer time for 'digital natives'

Blended learning means more computer time for 'digital natives'

CUMBERLAND - A new credit recovery and enrichment course load is now available to Cumberland High School students, thanks to the acquisition of Edgenuity Inc. online blended learning courses.

Principal Alan Tenreiro said CHS is one of the first in the state to take advantage of introductory offers that makes courses about $25 cheaper than they were last year for students enrolled in summer school.

Those credit recovery programs have already begun and run through the end of July. They rely heavily on computer screen time with interactive tools and videos, while less so on teacher lectures.

"This blended model is certainly better than 30 hours of worksheets or sending kids to someone else's summer school (where) we can't guarantee the rigor," Tenreiro said, adding that all computer activity is tracked, and assessments are graded "by our people."

Chris Scott, CHS summer school director, said the traditional model of a teacher with a classroom of students "wasn't doing it for kids."

"They were bored out of their minds," Scott said. "Kids love technology, so you throw that technology in front of them and they really go at it."

Edgenuity Chief Executive Officer Sari Factor said the same.

"Kids love learning on computers. They are online all the time," Factor said, but often they walk into school and are asked to "power down." These courses are "familiar to the digital native," she said.

Lessons start out with a pre-recorded video of a real teacher explaining what kids will learn, Scott explained. That teacher ends up talking on a few videos that are spaced out throughout the lesson as checkpoints, intermixed with readings and activities.

These teachers are certified in their subject area, Factor explained, adding they have both knowledge and screen presence to stay engaging.

Factor told The Breeze that the "state-of-the-art" program has progressed since the Arizona-based company formed in 1998 as Education 2020, providing textbooks and video tapes to kids who could not be in the classroom, to now include almost 200 online courses.

When a student gets stuck, the program provides real-time data for teachers to use in addressing the specific problem, Factor said. If a few students are all having issues with the same concept, teachers can take them all aside for a mini lesson, which Factor said is an efficient use of teaching time.

Teachers should not feel threatened by the courses, Factor said, which create "much more self-directed" students.

"Computers can only do so much," she said. "When a kid gets stuck, there's nothing better than a human."

CHS can offer its students 30 full-year Edgenuity courses and 10 semester-long courses. It also still offers some Virtual High School classes, Tenreiro said, but they may eventually be phased out.

Scott said Edgenuity is "more robust and is aligned to the common core."

Enrichment classes for students who want to learn outside of the program of studies offered at the high school are taught by Edgenuity teachers through the online program. They could potentially count toward elective credit, Tenreiro said, but such decisions would be determined by a review board on a case-by-case basis.

Otherwise, students can take them purely for the enrichment, he said, to perhaps find out if they are interested in government or game development before heading off to college.

Scott pointed out that Edgenuity classes like Algebra II can be taken in advance to give students who want to double-up on two math classes an understanding of the basics so they can get to calculus.

The classes can also "stem the tide" of students who need extra help passing classes, Tenreiro said.