Administrators LEAD & MANAGE MY SCHOOL
Innovations in Education: Connecting Students to Advanced Courses Online
December 2007
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Gary Pascal,* superintendent of a small, one-high-school district in the Midwest, wanted to provide a broader array of rigorous courses for his secondary students in order to better prepare them for higher education and high-paying jobs. Unfortunately, his district did not have adequate resources to offer all the advanced courses that his students might need or want. In the past, he occasionally sent a teacher to the College Board Advanced Placement Program (AP) training for preparation to teach a given AP course; but after doing so, he sometimes found that there were not enough students to justify the class, in part because of students' scheduling conflicts, both with the other courses and with extracurricular activities. He needed some other options.

When discussing this issue with some colleagues, Mr. Pascal learned that a neighboring district had established a relationship with a distance-learning program that could supplement a school's standard curriculum with online advanced courses, delivered over the Internet. Working together, the district and program were offering local students a wide variety of online courses that they either needed (e.g., calculus) or simply wanted (e.g., macroeconomics). Intrigued by this possibility, Mr. Pascal asked his high school guidance counselor to send letters to all sophomore and junior students describing the offerings and inquiring whether they were interested. Of the 76 students who received letters, 34 said yes, and thus began Mr. Pascal's efforts to build a partnership between his school and an online course provider. Supplemental online courses have since become an integral—and vital—part of this school's curriculum, leaving Gary Pascal feeling satisfied that he has found a practical way to expand his students’ academic horizons and further ready them for the increasingly competitive world of work.

As Gary Pascal learned, when given the chance to take advanced courses online, many students jump at the opportunity. But will they succeed in these courses? Ensuring success requires more than simply signing students up for a class, sitting them down at a computer, and wishing them well. At its best, the effort involves a close partnership between a district or school and the organization that offers the courses, each contributing in specific and essential ways. Drawing from case studies of six course providers and the districts and schools with which they work, this guide describes what is involved in using the Web to deliver advanced course work and what each partner must bring to the table if greater numbers of students are to have access to, and experience success in, advanced online courses.

While online course providers, themselves, may find the guide useful, it is intended primarily for district and school decision-makers (e.g., curriculum directors, AP coordinators) who are looking for ways to give their students greater access to advanced course work and see online courses as an enticing option. Its aim is to familiarize them with the issues they must consider and address if students are to achieve success in this new form of learning.

*A pseudonym

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Last Modified: 10/05/2009