More lanes are opening for Rockdale students on today’s digital super highway with the growth of the Rockdale Virtual Campus.
The program, which is in its second year of full deployment, is exactly what it sounds like — a "virtual" campus with online courses that allow students to complete and make up credits or to enrich their courses.
The program has grown four-fold in the last year alone and now has at least 465 students that participated in 2009, a trend on pace with national statistics. With 26 courses in their current catalogue, RVC offers multiple sections of each class throughout the year. A summer school option will be available as well.
Today’s students are "digital natives" and respond well and at times better to an online class, said Doug Arnold, director of the Rockdale Virtual Campus. An extensive study by the North Central Regional Education Laboratory of K-12 online learning indicates that "students perform equally well or better academically in online learning."
But the biggest need online courses fulfill is providing schools and students with scheduling flexibility to get all the classes in. "The virtual classroom isn’t restricted to traditional bounds of a physical building, room or hour of the day," he said.
Equally important, distance learning exposes students to specialized classes that otherwise wouldn’t be available. For example, RVC currently has AP Computer Science and Advanced Psychology classes that wouldn’t have enough students to justify at one high school. Arnold said they will be offering Latin, a huge value for students interested in healthcare or law, which hadn’t been feasible before.
Another advantage is that Rockdale’s virtual classes are all created and delivered by RCPS teachers, who are trained in online learning and courseware development. "We have incredible master teachers in this district. We’ve been able to leverage their skill and content knowledge to put together excellent classes," said Arnold. Owning their content also gives flexibility "to drive it specifically to what we need here."
An innovative and effective RVC extension is the "Ask the Expert" program. Traditional teacher’s office hours are right after school — not convenient for many students. This program sets up a live online tutoring program in core subjects on certain evenings and times. If a student gets stuck on a calculus problem, he or she can log on and get immediate help from a teacher. At a recent community forum, Assistant Superintendent Eugene Baker said they capture these sessions to create a library of lessons so any student can download and listen creating "learning on demand."
To insure students across the board are able to benefit from online classes, a safety net, the "Increase Access" initiative is in place. A student without computer access can check out a net book for a semester to complete an RVC class. Partnering with the technology department, RVC has refurbished 25 computers surplussed out of the school system, with another 60 in line. Plans are for these units eventually to be distributed to churches and non-profits in the county.
Arnold said he’s received exciting feedback from RVC students who are in college and the military now. They’ve had to take online classes and understand the model and what’s expected better than peers who haven’t been exposed to a virtual class.
Decisions regarding which classes offered are determined in part by inquiries from students and parents. Right now, there are waiting lists to participate in online classes. For next year, Arnold is planning on a "zero-sum growth" due to budgetary constraints.
For more information, visit www.rockdalevirtualcampus.com or call 770-388-5677.