I have spent the last 15 years introducing schools around the world to the value of online learning. It started at the Colegio Internacional de Caracas in Venezuela, where I first discovered the courses from the Virtual High School. We began using the platform to let students take courses for enrichment. We were a relatively small international school and VHS lets our students take classes we couldn’t offer.
Here are three benefits from our experience.
Expand beyond the ordinary. An international school’s programs are quite structured; we don't have the same flexibility that other US schools might have.
For example, our ninth-grade students enroll in a Humanities Nine course; unlike their peers in the US, our students don’t get to choose from courses such as American history, European history, or geography. But many want to explore other subjects, including psychology and business. VHS’s platform lets us do that. We have expanded the Humanities course into five areas, ranging from US History to Criminology.
Nurture soft skills. Online coursework can challenge how students think and push them beyond rote work. Students can develop important soft skills, such as creativity, inquiry and reflection. These skills are critical for learning and preparation for post-graduation pursuits.
Help students recover. I often get questions from students who are worried that a poor grade will have a negative impact on their transcripts. I let them know that, once they’ve completed the VHS coursework, we submit the results to colleges and that the schools see they have pursued additional opportunities to extend their learning. Eighty-two percent of my students who have taken a credit recovery course through VHS have been able to recover a credit that they needed for high school or college.
An important key to our success has been screening students before enrolling them. I have honed this process to the point where now I can quickly recognize whether a student will succeed in the virtual learning environment.
But there are exceptions. I have seen students who did not necessarily meet the profile of a typical online student and yet were successful in their coursework. If a student is highly motivated and wants the chance to learn online, it is worth giving the student the opportunity.
Tracy Arnold is secondary school vice principal at Istanbul International Community School.
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