Monday, August 13, 2012

Appleton eSchool Review

Appleton eSchool Overview
Appleton Area School District has provided their high school students the opportunity to complete credits online rather than in the classroom with Appleton eSchool. This completely online school allows students to complete credits for graduation whenever and wherever there is Internet access. The largest positive to this online model is the students’ ability to meet their own learning needs by setting the pace. Students, along with mentor and teacher guidance, pick the beginning and dates as well as the pace of assignment completion in between. Beginners are allowed to take one online credit at a time. Successful online students may take a maximum of two credits simultaneously.

eSchool Staff and Virtual Presence
The eSchool staff pertinent to a student is comprised of a teacher for each class and a personal mentor. The online teachers are district staff that teach the same or similar online course in a traditional classroom setting. Students are told that staff is most easily contacted via email and that all emails, phone calls, or request for live chat rooms by the end of the school day or within 48 hours for more extensive contact requests.
Each online student is paired with a mentor. This is an adult who has regular contact with the student and shares an enthusiasm for online learning, regularly a parent. A mentor is responsible for checking in with his/her student routinely, keeping them up-to-date on assignments and work schedule. This adult is provided a login to help monitor student progress. Teachers and mentors are in close contact.
Florida Virtual School and eDynamic Learning provide packaged course offerings nationally. Appleton eSchool offers some electives via these initiatives.
It makes a lot of sense to have content certified school district teachers also teach the online courses.  Since the premise of the eSchool is to have students complete the same high school courses at their own pace, this staff overlap creates continuity, ensuring online and traditional students are receiving equal education.
Mentors present a great way for home life to integrate into school life. Online learning is new to many students. Having a trusted adult nearby to either guide or learn along side is helpful for students in every setting.
The two exterior programs, Florida Virtual School and eDynamic Learning, expands students’ course options with minimal work from the district. This is an excellent example of teachers stealing from teachers for student success.

Curriculum and Course Offerings
A comprehensive list of course offerings allows students to take just about any class Appleton high schools offer online.
The curriculum for these online courses is slightly altered from the classroom setting. Students participate in discussion forums, but their grade and attendance is based on completing at least one assignment per week. Yet, teachers are given flexibility to use various assessment tools that mimic classrooms: quizzes, readings, discussions, tests, etc. The same final exam is given to online and classroom students, evening expectations for everyone.
Considering the aim of the eSchool is to allow students to finish high school at their own pace, it makes perfect sense that the same courses needed for graduation be offered online.
Pace Charts, a calendar to help students keep up with course work, is an excellent idea to strengthen class management. The mentor has a heavy hand in this area. More to come on these later. 
The school’s homepage displays the slogan, “Providing 21st Century Learning Since 2002.” 21st Century Skills, according to the Buck Institute for Education, are focused around collaboration, communication, and critical thinking (Chen, 2010, p. 76). The eSchool’s online format does incorporate technology into communication; however, I do not see any notable improvement in collaboration and critical thinking beyond what a traditional classroom environment would provide. This is in large part due to the traditional style of assessment utilized. The Policies and Procedures document names some popular used assessments: brochures, PowerPoint presentations, reports, oral quizzes, and worksheets to name a few (Appleton Area School District, 2011, p. 12). These are all very traditional assessments used in the common high school classroom. There does not appear to be movement toward 21st century assessments that create authentic experiences.

Student Activity Tracking and Learning Management (Pace Charts)
Teachers and mentors are required to send monthly progress reports to students. Teachers are also expected to grade assignments within two school days of submission.
Along with the use of mentors and requirements for prompt teacher responses, Pace Charts serve a major role for students to manage their learning. A Pace Chart is a calendar that sequences course work into manageable chunks. Students have a lot of say in how this schedule is put together as well as the start and end dates. This is a spectacular way for students to take ownership of their learning through time management. Further, it incorporates differentiation, as students are able to work at their own speed. It is encouraged to work ahead of pace whenever possible.
For students looking for a predetermined structure, Virtual High School (VHS) is offered. This avenue provides the same course work but with a fixed start and end date.                       

Website Navigation and Information Access
I found the website to be very user-friendly, particularly for someone perusing for basic information. I was able to find an FAQ that was helpful to both casual visitors and potential users, going in depth into the workings of the eSchool with well worded, short answers to helpful questions.
Putting myself in the shoes of a potential student or parent, course offerings would be near the top of my list for need-to-knows. This was not only touched on in the FAQ, but I quickly located the link on the main page. A comprehensive list of the course offerings is accessed easily. However, it seems some courses are clickable, leading to a course outline, while others aren’t. This seemed peculiar.
Overall, the website’s interface is capped at necessity. Everything a student, parent, or teacher may need is quickly found without added bells and whistles or technical components the majority of users wouldn’t need.

            Appleton eSchool is a great opportunity for students frustrated with the pace of course work in a brick and mortar setting. Yet, the majority of what is offered does not extend learning beyond what could occur in a classroom. It simply provides a differentiated pace for those who need to speed up or slow down for success, expanding the “when” learning is happening. Also, the online component opens up the “where.” While this may help students succeed in the current academic high school model of course work, it does not provide much more 21st century skills than a classroom can. The online component can convert some of the students’ face-to-screen from entertainment to academics, but I doubt any new technology skills, with the exception of online professionalism, are built that social media couldn’t have provided otherwise.
            I recommend this school to any family with a high school student frustrated by the pace of the traditional classroom. I think any student needing things to speed up or slow down can greatly benefit from Appleton eSchool. However, if a family is looking for an academic setting that incorporates true 21st Century Skill based learning, rather than the same curriculum and assessment translated online, I suggest they look elsewhere.

Appleton Area School District (2011). Appleton eschool policies and procedures. Retrieved from
Appleton Area School District (2012). Appleton eschool. Retrieved from
Buck Institute for Technology (2012). Retrieved from
Chen, Milton (2010). Education nation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
eDynamic Learning (n.d.). Retrieved from
Florida Virtual School (2012). Retrieved from

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