News & MediaSchools form online education consortium
By Lyn Jerde
Courtesy of Sun Newspapers - July 22, 2004
It’s a scenario that, a generation ago, existed only in the
imaginations of science fiction writers – students studying on
computers instead of in classrooms.
Starting this fall, access to online education will expand in
Minnesota, due to the formation of a new consortium of school districts
that have joined forces to offer interactive computer classes on
subjects such as “Exploring Geometry” and “Advanced Chemistry.”
Northern Star Online will offer 36 courses, available to
secondary-level students in public, private and charter schools, as
well as home-schooled pupils and adult learners.
Jane Holmberg, the consortium’s executive director of teaching and
learning, said the courses’ teachers come from the school districts
whose partnership formed Northern Star Online – Bloomington, Eden
Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Osseo and Intermediate District 287.
All Northern Star Online classes meet state education standards, she said.
And, she added, the classes meet the participating school districts’ standards for depth and difficulty.
“Online courses haven’t always had the best reputation as far as rigor, compared to face-to-face work,” Holmberg said.
Taking an online course involves more than surfing the Internet.
In most cases, Holmberg said, it requires keeping pace with the weekly
study goals established for courses, including keeping up with the
required reading, completing composition or project assignments and
conferring with the teacher.
Some of the interactive aspects of online learning might include:
- a “blackboard” application, in which students write or draw on the screen in response to the teacher’s questions;
- pop quizzes, with instant results;
- interaction with the teacher via voice chat rooms;
- working in teams with others in the class, via e-mail or chat rooms;
that allow, in some cases, more precision than conventional education
tools – such as a geometry program that allows a student to make
changes in the sides and angles of a polygon with a mouse;
- the ability to show assigned projects to a teacher by e-mailing a digital photo of the student’s work.
“Online learning,” said Holmberg, “is not just a beefed-up correspondence course.”
For some students, she said, online education is a solution to educational challenges.
For example, some students need only one core course to complete their
graduation requirements. Instead of going to summer school, or trying
to schedule a class while holding down a job, students might take the
class online, on their own time.
There also are high school students who must take a specific course for
graduation, but find that the course conflicts with other classes or
activities in which they might want to participate.
“Sometimes, kids have to make class choices that they shouldn’t have to
make,” Holmberg said. “We don’t think a kid should have to give up a
foreign language class, or band, or whatever, because a required course
is scheduled at the same time.”
John Lobben, superintendent of Intermediate District 287 based in
Plymouth, said Northern Star Online is intended to offer students a
“one-stop shop” for courses that might not be available elsewhere – or
that the student might prefer to take online instead of in a
“It will be especially helpful,” he said, “in situations where students
have otherwise limited selections or limited options in making up
For example, the slate of available classes includes an array of
courses not offered in all schools, in subjects such as Advanced
Placement classes American history, microeconomics and macroeconomics,
and languages such as Latin and Japanese.
It also offers courses that some might consider to be mainly for
enrichment – such as horticulture, sports and entertainment marketing
and independent living.
Holmberg said no more than 20 pupils will be accepted into each online class offered through Northern Star Online.
However, she said, one advantage of online learning is, it’s
economically feasible to offer a course for a small number of students
– meaning classes could remain available even if 10 or fewer students
But, Holmberg cautioned, online education isn’t right for every learner.
To succeed in an online class, she said, a student must be
self-motivated, and willing to participate and interact on the computer.
And, she said, offering an array of online classes does not signify an
end to the traditional ways of going to school.
“We’re not interested in having these courses replace a good, regular,
face-to-face high school program,” she said. “But at the same time, we
look at this as a way for schools to augment their course offerings.”