Online education: a leg up for high school kids?

photo by Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group

I’ve been at San Jose State today, learning about an online education experiment that could affect high school and college students – and would-be college students – alike.

The latest idea is to offer three entry-level or remedial courses online, for CSU credit, at $150 each. San Jose State professors created the course using the platform of a Palo Alto-based online education startup, Udacity.

The pilot will start with just 300 students – 150 from San Jose State and another 150 from community colleges and the two high schools Gov. Jerry Brown started when he was the mayor of Oakland — Oakland Military Institute and Oakland School for the Arts.

If the experiment works – and, as Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun acknowledges, it might not — the courses might be available to students throughout the U.S. as soon as this summer.

The three courses to launch at the end of the month are already offered at some high schools: entry level mathematics, elementary statistics and college algebra. Often, in college, these same courses have waiting lists, especially at the community college level. As a result, students get caught up in a “bottleneck” as they wait to take and pass them. The failure rate is high. Some drop their college studies after that.

Of course, online education is nothing new, but it’s constantly being reinvented – especially in the last year or so, with the advent of free courses open to anyone in the world (mostly not for credit).

How it works: In addition to the traditional online component, with videos and quizzes, the students in this new Udacity/San Jose State initiative would be assigned mentors to check in on them (especially when they haven’t logged on in awhile) and help to set up online study groups.

Some students at the Oakland Military Institute already use one of Udacity’s other products, a free physics course (not for credit) that supplements the school’s physics class. Mark Ryan, the school’s superintendent, said he’s impressed. The platform is very engaging, he said. It also identifies holes in a student’s knowledge and focuses more heavily in those areas.

“I’ve never seen any online program that’s quite this smart,” Ryan said.

Do you think your students would benefit from more online courses, especially ones they might need to pursue a college degree? What questions or concerns do you have about this model?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • makeitgoaway

    There are a couple of aspects to online courses. First, they are much cheaper for the District- no bricks and mortar necessary- and they change “time.” This is because students can take courses when it suits them. Also, think of the possibilities, when student’s are exposed to world- class teachers instead of overwhelmed educators having to deal with discipline issues instead of education issues in the classroom.

    However, the nod to the “mentors” is because low- skilled or undisciplined students need oversight to complete assignments, watch lectures, engage in discussion blogs, and take timed tests. I imagine a world where high school would last only 3 years, with Senior year being filled with online courses and internships. Jerry Brown has already suggested this at the college level.

    Online courses are already used for low achieving kids to make up units in many districts. but the potential is to use them for the high achieving kids, too.

  • christiancollege.vic.edu.au

    Traditional high school isn’t always the right fit. Now there’s a better way to get a great public high school education, with the freedom you need to succeed.