Stanford ‘brands’ online high school

Stanford University is attaching its name and prestige to an online high school that will graduate 30 students in June, reports the New York Times. What’s been known as the Education Program for Gifted Youth will become Stanford  Online High School

Yes, that Stanford — the elite research university known for producing graduates who win Nobels and found Googles, not for teaching basic algebra to teenagers. Five years after the opening of the experimental program, some education experts consider Stanford’s decision to attach its name to the effort a milestone for online education

While other universities have sponsored virtual schools, Stanford’s cachet make this significant. Graduates will have no edge in admissions to the university, but graduation from a Stanford-sponsored program can’t hurt. The Times interviews a student with near-perfect SAT scores.

The program isn’t a roll-your-own affair.

In a typical class session, about 14 students simultaneously watch a live-streamed lecture, with video clips, diagrams and other animations to enliven the lesson. Instead of raising hands, students click into a queue when they have questions or comments; teachers call on them by choosing their audio stream, to be heard by all. An instant-messaging window allows for constant discussion among the students who, in conventional settings, might be chastised for talking in class.

. . . Students taking a full five-course load must be present for 10 seminars per week, each of them 60 to 90 minutes, with an additional 15 to 20 lectures of about 15 minutes that are recorded by the teachers and viewable at the students’ convenience. Fridays are reserved for activities like a student newspaper and an engineering team. Papers are submitted electronically, and students are required to find a Stanford-approved proctor to oversee exams.

Stanford should go beyond a “small, selective program for gifted students,” writes Bill Tucker of Education Sector. Stanford should expand to reach more students and study how it works, he writes on Education  Next.

Perhaps Stanford’s move will push other institutions to consider the real game-changer – offering elite quality education, at an affordable cost, on a more massive scale. When will the University of Michigan, UVA, UNC, Berkeley, or any of our other great public universities do this for an entire state?

My daughter did Education Program for Gifted Youth algebra in seventh grade to escape from a horrible pre-algebra class taught in “new new math” style. Ray Ravaglia, who still runs the program, told my ex-husband that students didn’t need to be gifted to handle the classes. He put “gifted” in the title so that schools wouldn’t be scared of losing too many students. I thought it worked for Allison because she was highly motivated, self-disciplined and could get math questions answered immediately by her father.  Without a parent’s help, it would have been very frustrating. Of course, this was nearly 20 years ago when the technology was practically at the smoke signals level.  But I think motivation and self-discipline are still important to make online learning work.

Larry Cuban graphs the hype cycle for online schools.

Cyber-schools on the rise

In The Rise of Cyber-Schools in The New Atlantis, Liam Julian points out that home-based cyber-schools rely on a parent to keep students on task, even if parents aren’t acting as instructors.

The curriculum is provided by an agency such as Connections Academy; a teacher with state certification oversees instruction, communicating with students and parents via e-mail, Web chat, telephone, and video-conference. . . .  Students review material at their own pace, allowing gifted children to accelerate and stay engaged, and permitting those children who need extra time to get it, with plenty of help and individual attention along the way. Cyber-school pupils take the same state-mandated standardized tests as their peers in public school.

For this approach to succeed, cyber-students need discipline, motivation, and self-direction — just the qualities that they may have been missing in the real classroom in the first place. Also, parents of younger pupils must be deeply committed to their children’s schooling and able to devote several hours a day to facilitating lessons.

Most at-risk children don’t have an “education parent” at home, Julian writes.

. . . the millions of youngsters who languish academically, the data show, do not need self-guided learning but intense, hands-on, in-your-face teacher-guided learning. Struggling pupils require the opposite of what virtual education provides.

To escape a “fuzzy” pre-algebra class, my daughter took algebra in seventh grade through Education Program for Gifted Youth, which then used CD-ROMs.  You didn’t have to be gifted to succeed; it did require a high level of self-discipline.

I see a huge future for online learning in higher education, especially for people who are working and/or raising kids while trying to meet career goals. For K-12, I think it may remain limited to kids with involved, at-home parents and the super-motivated.