School district hires online coordinator
November 16, 2010
By Laura Geggel
With more and more students taking online classes, the Issaquah School District has hired an online coordinator to help students manage their questions and schedules.
The new online learning coordinator, Susan Canaga, will serve as a liaison between students and the companies or districts offering online learning.
The 2010 technology levy passed by voters pays for her salary, district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said.
Issaquah students can receive up to two credits for taking online classes outside of the district, with most classes rating a half-credit.
Since the 2007-08 school year, the district has offered two online classes — software technology and health — both of which have high student demand during the summer months.
The classes are not offered every semester, but only if enough students register for them. Each 90-hour class costs $300, unless it is taken during the school day. The two-credit limit does not apply to online classes already offered by the district.
Students who take online classes have to be disciplined and organized, Canaga said.
“Online learning is not just putting a student in front of a computer,” she said. “It’s also instructional strategies.”
Alexandra Staikos, a sophomore at Skyline High School, was one of 120 students to take health this past summer. With health under her belt, she said she could take more elective classes as an upperclassman.
“I felt that if I got health out of the way, it would give me more career options later,” Staikos said.
As an online student, she had access to an online textbook and received an assignment calendar listing every assignment, quiz and exam. Assignments have time estimations, so students know how long they might take.
Typically, the class work took her about three hours a day to complete, Staikos said.
If she had a question, teachers would e-mail her back within 48 hours. Sometimes, she would participate in online forums, but she did most of the work by herself.
“They keep you pretty independent,” she said, “It’s your responsibility for how you study and how you prepare yourself.”
Issaquah’s online classes have a face-to-face orientation at the beginning. Many students do not meet again until the proctored final exam at the end of the course.
“For most of the students, this is their first online experience,” Canaga said.
Other students taking online learning are enrolled in higher-level classes that are not offered in the district. For example, students hoping to take an advanced language class or mathematics class might turn to online curriculum.
One school might not have enough students for an advanced German language class, but by combining students from across the state, online classes can meet participation requirements.
“It’s exciting, because it gives students opportunities and flexibility for things that aren’t offered here,” Executive Director of Secondary Education Patrick Murphy said.
In the beginning, online classes were somewhat of a wild West, a new frontier of classes. District administrators were unsure which classes matched Issaquah’s high standards. Many times, they found the classes did not pass muster.
“We want to maintain the integrity of the Issaquah diploma,” Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said.
Now, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction evaluates the classes and has published a list of accredited online programs.
“Years ago, when this was new, we were trying to vet classes,” Murphy said.
“You can try to do that, but there are literally thousands of online courses and we just don’t have the manpower to vet classes,” Thiele said.
Several other school districts have online academies of their own, including the Snoqualmie Valley Virtual Academy, Federal Way Internet Academy and Spokane Virtual Learning.
Issaquah has no plans of starting its own online learning program, Canaga said. Instead, the district will invest its resources elsewhere. Even the online curriculum Issaquah uses now is from Apex Learning, a company offering digital curriculum for secondary education.
“Why reinvent the wheel?” Canaga asked.
Some districts starting online learning programs are trying to reclaim students using other online programs. Issaquah does not have this problem, Murphy said.
With the help of the OSPI list of accredited classes and the new online coordinator, it is now easier than ever for students to enroll in online classes.
Joanna Staikos, Alexandra’s mother, said she was glad her two daughters had the option to take online classes.
“I thought they learned a lot about themselves as they learned how to navigate through their classes,” she said.
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.