Virtual high school a reality in South Dakotaby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
Technology is offering new opportunities in education. This fall, South Dakota will offer what's called a virtual high school. It's partly a response to students who say there aren't enough hours in the school day to take the classes they want. Others complain their small school can't afford to offer a wide variety of courses.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — South Dakota was once the leader in what was called distance learning. Fifteen years ago, every school in the state was equipped with high speed internet and video relay classrooms. Soon, technology will give South Dakota students a new way to learn.
South Dakota Secretary of Education, Rick Melmer, says online classes will make up a virtual high school. The goal is to cater to a range of students, from those who want advanced college prep classes to others who just don't want to roll out of bed in the morning.
"We're moving into an, 'I want it when I want it' (mode) and that's what the virtual courses bring to the table," says Melmer.
The state certifies the classes and each of the 168 districts will handle its online courses independently.
Melmer says online classes level the playing field for more remote districts that have problems offering specialty classes like foreign languages and sciences. He predicts a time when students have the option to take any high school class online.
"We're dealing with a young person today that is so acclimated to the world of technology that this is just going to be their way of learning. I don't think completely but I think they want to have choices in how their courses are delivered to them," says Melmer.
Choice is behind the statewide virtual classroom program, but the Sioux Falls Public Schools offers virtual learning to cater to the different needs of the students. Some students are high achievers and want more challenging classes. Others may be homebound because of an illness. Ann Smith, Coordinator for Libraries and Technology, says there's also the student who doesn't do well in a traditional classroom.
"The research has shown that there are some kids who do do better in an online environment, in an online discussion group, because they can think through what they want to type in and say. They don't feel as out there when they're typing and they don't have to see everyone looking at them when they speak," says Smith.
Smith says teachers who are holding classes online say they know their online students better than some of the kids in their classrooms.
Kelsey Koch extended her school day by volunteering to participate in a pilot online computer class. After she kicks her brother out of the family room and turns off the television, she sits at the family computer. Koch, who's a junior at Lincoln High School is involved in band and French club. She wants to become a doctor so she wants to take as many math and science classes as she can. But to do that she takes some of the core required classes either online or during the summer. She likes having the flexibility of working her online class time into her free time.
"It's not an every day thing," says Koch. "It's more like once a week you have this much to get done and you go through it week by week and you take the test and move on to the next section."
Koch plans on a busy senior year next year and she thinks more online classes will help her in the long run. But she's working closely with advisors to make sure she can handle the extra class load.
- All Things Considered, 03/29/2007, 5:24 p.m.