Clicking for Credit
Florida high school students are flocking to online classes.
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Ashley Finnegan's life revolves around tennis. The 16-year-old Weston athlete trains four hours a day and travels to tournaments around the world.
Finnegan's schedule makes it tough to live the life of a normal high school student. So two years ago she enrolled as a "click and brick" student at the private Sagemont Upper School in Weston.
At Sagemont, she typically takes two or three on-campus classes each semester and four online classes through the affiliated Sagemont Virtual School -- which recently partnered with the University of Miami and changed its name to University of Miami Online High School. Finnegan, a straight-A student, doesn't think she's missing anything in the virtual classes in terms of student and teacher interaction. "You participate in discussions. We have group projects," says Finnegan. And, "I talk with my teachers at least once a week."
For students who have unusual demands on their time, online classes can be a natural choice. Home-schooled students and at-risk students are also turning to virtual learning. "We've doubled enrollment almost every year," says Julie Young, president and CEO of the Florida Virtual School, the state's e-learning program launched in 1997.
How to Enroll
To learn about courses and register for online classes, check out these sites:
Florida Virtual School: flvs.net
University of Miami Online High School: umohs.com
Online learning today is a far cry from correspondence classes of the past. An art history class might include multimedia clips of art and architecture and then require students to create their own art using the Microsoft Paint program. Teachers might set up online discussion chats and encourage students to keep in touch via instant messaging.
Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which gets $800,000 from the Florida Department of Education, had almost 10,000 students who took 20,000 classes in 2003-04. The number of classes is projected to grow by 5,000 this year.
Typical students take 1 1/2 classes through FLVS or 2 1/2 classes if they are home-schooled, says Young. Seventy-five classes are offered for students in grades 7 through 12, and tuition is free for Florida residents. Out-of-state students pay $800 per credit hour (most classes are just one credit) or $850 for advanced placement classes plus materials.
The classes have proved so popular that seven school districts -- Broward, Miami-Dade, Brevard, Hillsborough, Okaloosa, Pasco and Polk -- have set up "franchises" so that more students can attend the online classes. FLVS provides the courses, and the districts pay a fee to license them. FLVS also has licensed its classes to public school programs in West Virginia, Wisconsin and California as well as private schools.
The increasing demand for high-quality online classes prompted the Sagemont Group, operator of the University of Miami Online High School, to go into the curriculum-development business. Last fall, Sagemont set up Virtual Sage to develop online courses for grades 8 through 12. (Sagemont had been licensing its classes from Florida Virtual School.) "Our model is high touch," says Christopher Gentile, COO of Virtual Sage. "What is extremely important is the level of interactivity. We don't just put things up to decorate pages."
Virtual Sage will use the courses at the UM online school and market them to private and charter schools around the country. Twenty-five courses will be available starting this month with plans to offer 50 next year and 75 in 2006.