Should Christian School Leaders Mandate Online Courses?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says, “America’s schools need innovation. Educational innovation should not be confused with just generating more great ideas or unique inventions. Instead we need new solutions that improve outcomes – and that can, and will, be used to serve hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students…Online courses and online supplementation of course material are catching on fast…”

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Online college courses and degree programs have seen an explosion in popularity and offerings in recent years. Shifting attitudes from employers and higher education institutions have fueled the desire to provide a college education to students who desire or need more flexible and customizable course options. Current estimates for the total number of students enrolled in an online program or course is now measured in the millions!

According to a survey of online learning conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, over 6.7 million students, or nearly one-third of all higher education students, enrolled in at least one online class in the fall of 2011. The survey also cites a significant number of institutions (69.1%) that state that online learning is a critical part of their strategic planning for future educational program development and growth. 62.4% of higher education institutions offered at least one online program, an increase from 34.5% since 2002.

As of September 2012, The International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s (INACOL) “Keeping Pace” publication indicates that there are now five states that require students to complete an online course in order to graduate: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, and Virginia. Other states have passed legislation that encourages online learning. Minnesota signed a law that “strongly encourages,” but does not require, students to take an online course before graduating from high school. The number of states and school districts requiring online courses for high school graduation has grown, as states aim to teach students how to operate in a an increasingly digital world.

Enrollment in virtual classes at the K-12 level is on the rise. Nearly 620,000 students took an online course during the 2011-2012 school year, up 16 percent from the previous year, according to an annual report released by the Evergreen Education Group, which works with schools to implement online and blended learning programs. School boards across the United States aren’t waiting for their states to pass legislation and have enacted similar provisions in an effort to prepare their students for college and career.

As was mentioned in, “Obtaining 21st Century Skills via Online Learning”, International Data Corporation (IDC) and Microsoft teamed up to analyze data from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics in reference to the most sought after job skills employers will be seeking from job candidates in the High Growth/High Paying (HGHP) jobs in the year 2020.

Of the most common skills identified through the analysis, there are skills that are regarded as cross functional skills, the cross functional skills are the most important of the HGHP positions.
The most required cross functional skills are:
1. Oral & Written Communication
2. Attention to Detail
3. Customer Service Focus
4. Organizational Skills
5. Problem Solving Skills

The analysis focused on the skills that represented the common core skills the labor force should attain and the conclusion was made that this set is more important than any technology skill, science, math or even great business skills. These skills are both important and widely required across most positions.

Online learning opportunities provide students with the opportunity to acquire and/or refine the most common cross functional skills needed for future employment in the HGHP positions.

-Attention to Detail
-Online Communication and Collaboration
-Critical Thinking
-Independent Learning
-Initiative, Self-Direction, Motivation
-Organizational Skills
-Problem Solving and Adaptability
-Productivity and Accountability
-Technology Proficiency
-Time Management

Technology is increasingly making its way into a number of jobs that are not IT focused including logistics and inventory using handheld devices for tracking, recording, and quality assurance. Even in manual labor, measuring, designing and fabricating. Medical, auto and appliance repair are using technology whether it’s for monitoring, diagnosis, or record keeping. Hospitality and food service industries are using more technology for inventory, customer service and scheduling.

In our industry, we continually hear from Christian school administrators that they are considering implementing a mandate whereby their students must take at least one online course prior to graduation. Some leaders are contemplating having students take an online course every year starting in the ninth grade.
Christian schools administrators are providing online options to students to address various administrative challenges such as:
• Filling Teacher Gaps
• Expanding Curriculum
• Credit Recovery
• Advancement Opportunities (AP & Dual Credit)
• Scheduling Challenges

Wesleyan School Case Study
Wesleyan School located in Peachtree Corners, GA, began offering online Health last year to all incoming ninth graders where they could take the course the summer prior to their freshman year.

Cary Marquel, former PE Department Chair and Health Teacher at Wesleyan School, had the following to say about the online Health course:

“We began to look at the online Health option as a way to alleviate student schedules coming into the high school and allow for time where they might be able to take another elective in the fall.”

“Sevenstar rose to the top with what we were looking for in a Biblically integrated curriculum as well as meeting the needs of our students in preparing them for life and the things that we typically covered in our traditional Health course.”

“I would rate it (online Health course) a great success. It gives our kids a great experience which I think is going to prepare them for college.”

“I’d encourage you to take a look at Sevenstar as a way to alleviate the workload on your kids or perhaps alleviate the workload on your teachers but also as a way to grow your curriculum.”

Wesleyan had 47 students sign up for the online course in their first year and grew the program to 69 students this past summer, an increase of 20+ students going into year number 2, well over half of their incoming freshman class. One hundred percent of the students completed the online Health course!

Click on the following link to view Cary’s video testimonial in its entirety:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, twenty-five percent of college students drop out in their freshman year because they are not academically, emotionally or financially prepared for college life and adulthood.

College takes planning and preparation. Fortunately, there are things that schools and parents can do to make sure that their child is ready for what will be one of the biggest transitions of his or her life.

Online learning gives students opportunities to practice critical thinking. Doing college-level work requires more than just taking what you read at face value and memorizing a bunch of facts — students should practice thinking critically about what they see, hear and read. Aside from the standard core and elective courses, your online program provides students with numerous college level options through the Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses.

Online coursework helps students to learn how to manage their time. Many students arrive at college not knowing how to manage their time effectively. Online learning requires students to keep pace and stay on top of their schedule no matter where they are.

To succeed in college, students need technology that works with the latest tools and systems being used in the classroom. Only a few years ago, this simply meant buying the latest model laptop. These days, as colleges introduce more technology into the classroom, students are using a combination of devices — such as tablets, smartphones and e-readers — to stay on top of their coursework and connect with classmates.

If we want Christian students to compete, we must shift the way we view online learning from being a supplemental program to fill in scheduling gaps here and there to thinking of it as a requirement that equips students with skills that are just as important as math, science, and English, that will enable them to succeed in our Global economy.

For the past 5 years, John Pohlman has served as an online education strategic consultant to Christian school leaders around the World. During this time John has helped hundreds of Christian schools integrate online learning as an extension of their school operations in an effort to assist them in achieving their goals.

John possesses valuable experience and expertise when it comes to assisting school leaders in overcoming common academic challenges, curriculum expansion, student recruitment/ retention, expense reduction, and revenue generation among other things.

He has studied educational trends and is knowledgeable relative to the 21st century skills students will need to succeed in college and career.
Prior to joining Sevenstar, John held high level positions in the banking and pharmaceutical industries.

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  • Jeff Peterson

    Great thoughts today! It was staggering to see the numbers of students taking an online course. I agree that students should take online courses as part of their traditional route to graduation. However, I wonder at what point the entirety of courses will be expected to be completed online. What does that do to the Christian school movement?

    • Edward Earwood

      But don’t you think, Jeff, that online will never completely erase the need for teachers. Interaction with teachers in a live setting will always be a part of the Christian educational process or are you envisioning an elimination of the need for classroom teachers?

  • Martha Earwood Reed

    Timely article! I just read a NYTimes piece about electronics in general that seems to be speak to this. I wonder, though, if we have to mandate online courses in order to prepare our students to take on-line courses? Could these skills be taught within a traditional classroom approach and still transfer to on-line courses? Many of them seem to be basic skills needed in any learning environment, not just on-line courses.

  • brodie bushman

    I have had bad experiences with online classes in the past because it was basically just reading a book and keeping a notebook. As technology has progressed, I have found online classes to progress as well. My online grad classes that I am taking at BJU have been very effective for me. I have actually found this method to be the most productive way for me to learn. Also, online classes have given our school the ability to offer classes that we otherwise would not be able to offer.