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Tri-State students taking classes online

June 07, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Williamsport High School senior Chris Swecker goes to a Web page and with the click of a mouse he reveals the pages of computer code that are used to produce the colorful graphics.

He's able to decipher the code now that he's taken an online HTML class offered by the school.

In the last two to five years, Tri-State area schools have begun to allow students to take virtual classes.

Some, like Swecker, are using the online classes to take specialty courses not offered locally.

Others are using the flexibility of online classes to fit required classes such as health and science into their busy schedules.

"I think it's a great way to expand opportunities for students," Williamsport High School Principal John Davidson said.

Right now probably a dozen students at Williamsport and North Hagerstown High School have taken online classes.

Although the traditional classroom teaching is always preferred to an online course, Davidson sees unlimited potential for growth in the method.

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All courses are certified by the Maryland Department of Education, to make sure they meet state standards, he said.

From there, students communicate with their instructors via e-mail and go to the Internet to get their assignments.

This new form of distance learning seems to be catching on.

Berkeley County (W.Va.) Schools are using online classes to resolve schedule conflicts or help students who need remediation, Deputy Superintendent Frank Aliveto said.

A few students have taken specialized online courses in oceanography and veterinary science.

"If it's out there and available to our students, we should provide it," Aliveto said. "It wasn't available when I was in school."

Before the Internet, distance learning meant that classes were taught by a teacher broadcasting video lessons to students.

The earliest form of distance learning were correspondence courses taught in the early 1900s, Davidson said.

Swecker said he liked the online course because it was more flexible than a regular class.

He looked up his weekly assignments on Monday or Tuesday and finished them at his own pace, either at home or in the school library. His second period set aside for the class.

He did well in the class, averaging 101 percent with extra credit with all work completed except the final exam.

Swecker and librarian Leslie Mapstone, who acts as a mentor for the online students at Williamsport, were still trying to figure out a technical glitch that prevented him from receiving the final exam.

Except for a few technical problems, Swecker said he had a good experience with online learning.

But sophomore Lacie Johnson said she's not sure if she would take another online course.

"There's not much instruction. You do it all yourself," she said.

Johnson took an online health class to make up a half-credit she was lacking when she transferred to Williamsport High School from Saint Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown.

Since she already had a full schedule of classes, she had to complete the online course on her own time, which was stretched thin because she also runs track, plays club volleyball and belongs to the band.

Johnson hasn't yet received her grade.

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