High School Computer LabThough just 113 high school students attend Notus Junior/Senior High School in the rural town of Notus, Idaho, the education they receive is nothing less than cutting-edge.

The staff at Notus has learned to embrace technology, giving their students access to more than 130 online elective courses through Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), allowing students to take online classes on campus as some of their daily class periods and offering Wii Fit work-outs for PE credit.

Just as the Internet has broken down the hierarchy of access to news and music and fashion trends, the Internet can be used to bring equal education opportunities to all high school students, no matter how small or remote the school may be.

Notus School District Superintendent Benjamin Merril said his students now have access to the same resources students enjoy at more populated Idaho schools, like Boise or Eagle High School.

He said online courses that allow students to fill gaps in their schedule or supplement basic course schedules provides students the chance to show their strengths, despite relative geological isolation.

School districts across Idaho have found online education to be a good fit for their high schools because the courses, which are paid for per student, are drastically less expensive than the cost of hiring another teacher.

For example, Notus school district’s foreign language program is was non-existent before implementing IDLA in their schools. They can’t afford a Spanish teacher — but they can afford to cover the $75 cost per student who takes an online Spanish course, said the academic director for IDLA, Mike Caldwell.

The idea of online education has become so appealing that Idaho’s Sugar-Salem School District is considering a proposal that requires all high school students to take six online credits before graduation, starting in the fall of 2012.

The requirement would allow many students to get ahead in postsecondary education. (One of IDLA’s biggest successes was when a high school student from Riggins completed 54 postsecondary credits before graduation, Caldwell said.)

But some people are skeptical about making online education a requirement for all students, holding a fear that the progressive education style may not be unconditionally beneficial.

Sugar-Salem District superintendent Alan Dunn said he believes that not all freshman high school students possess the maturity level and advanced study habits that online classes necessitate. He said he thinks online courses cannot replace a good teacher in the classroom. Still, he said he wants teachers to assist students in developing the habits required for taking online classes.

Districts like Notus have already implemented a plan that is a compromise between having on-site teachers to assist students and letting students take online courses without supervision; they have hired “uncertified coordinators” to watch over a classroom of students while they take their courses in a campus computer lab.

The uncertified coordinator answers students’ questions regarding subject matter, checks grades and also acts as a liason between the students and the online course teachers at IDLA.

Notus School District Superintendent Merrill said he thinks the online course coordinator’s are very effective, calling them more than just a coordinator, but a mentor to the students who ensures they pass their courses.

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna sees the Notus School District’s program as a model for what he envisions to be implemented across the entire state in upcoming years.

 

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