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Online classes are becoming ‘the way that education is done’

Online classes are nothing new to North Idaho educators at the high school or college levels.

North Idaho College has offered online classes since the late 1990s and course offerings continue to rise, said Jamie Green, director of eLearning and Outreach.

Between the fall semesters of 2008 and 2010, NIC saw a 54 percent increase in courses offered solely online and an 80 percent increase in “hybrid” classes, which combine face-to-face teaching with online instruction, Green said. Beginning in fall 2010, students were able to complete some associate’s degrees entirely online.

“Online classes are very popular. They fill quickly. Students love the flexibility,” Green said.

However, she said, online classes should be viewed merely as one more option available to help students achieve their goals. Some students prefer traditional classes; others prefer the self-pacing of online courses with the option of contacting an instructor when they have questions.

Mike Nelson, the director of assessment for Coeur d’Alene School District, agreed that online courses provide more opportunities for students who have different preferred learning methods.

“The future is here,” Nelson said. “The opportunities we have within these online platforms actually expand what we’re doing. Online learning is a trend that will stay for quite a while. It’s becoming the way that education is done.”

Nelson said that when he was a teacher, he created a website to provide additional information to students and it averaged 6,000 page views per month. Today’s students gravitate toward online resources, so teachers who provide that have an additional way of reaching them, he said.

Online classes are not replacing the classroom environment within the district, Nelson said. Instead, they’re enhancing it, as an additional way to reach students. The highest level of failure the district sees with its online offerings, he added, is when students complete online classes independently, without any assistance from a teacher.

“You still have to have a caring, knowledgeable person to guide the students,” Nelson said. “If you have a strong teacher who is motivating students … it doesn’t matter whether it’s in a classroom or an online chat room.”

The school district’s online options include entirely online independent-study courses designed to help students get ahead or make up missed classes, as well as the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, which provides students an array of online courses monitored by a certified teacher.

From the fall semester 2008 to the fall semester 2009, the number of Coeur d’Alene High School students enrolled in IDLA courses almost doubled, from 21 to 40. The pass rate increased by 1 percentage point, from 66 percent to 67 percent.

The offerings are similar in the Post Falls School District, said Superintendent Jerry Keane.

Enrollment in IDLA courses there has ranged from 20 to 95 students from spring 2009 to last fall. The lowest pass rate during that time was 63 percent; the highest was 82 percent.

In addition, some 470 credits have been awarded in the 2010-’11 school year through Aventa, an online program primarily used by students making up credits. The courses are taken during the school day at a computer lab with a certified teacher there to help. In that format, the success rate is almost 100 percent, Keane said.

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