The Online Option
By Karena Flynn
“How will I ever homeschool my children through high school?”
Has this thought ever crossed your mind? Does it plague you? When my oldest daughter was nearing high school, the thought certainly plagued me. I knew that I was not qualified to teach every subject she would need to take, and though I knew she could simply read the textbook for a few courses, like health, I agonized over a plan for her core academic high school classes. We had tried using DVDs for some subjects in the past, but the lack of student interaction and accountability made me hesitant to turn to them again. In eighth grade my daughter took part in a local Latin class that was excellent, so I considered enrolling her in other classes offered locally or through co-ops. However, my investigation turned up few local classes that were both rigorous and taught by qualified instructors. Transportation was also an issue. At that time I had four other children to homeschool and little ones besides. I could not afford to spend hours driving my oldest daughter to multiple classes. I needed a plan that would provide my daughter with a high quality high school experience without sacrificing the education of my other children.
That is when I decided to search for classes on the Internet, having no idea what I would find. I was surprised and excited by the many online options available. My husband and I decided to enroll our daughter in live, interactive online classes in biology, geometry, and great books (a combined history and English course) for her freshman year. She continued to take Latin locally. The bulk of her coursework was covered, and I was free to teach my younger children. Discovering online classes was the key that allowed our family to homeschool through high school.
That year opened my eyes to many benefits of online classes that I was not necessarily expecting. My daughter, who had never enjoyed science, found her biology class fascinating. The fact that she had to present proofs in geometry class pushed her to understand them fully and gave her experience in communicating to a group. The discussions in her great books class opened her eyes to the many varied ideas and opinions of her classmates. She learned that to debate effectively, she had to defend her position with facts. Since her online classes only met once or twice a week, she still learned independently for the most part, a valuable aspect of the homeschooling experience in my estimation. This, however, was augmented by the interactive classes, professional feedback on written assignments, and access to a knowledgeable instructor when she had questions. My daughter enjoyed a new level of independence that year while meeting fellow students from across the country. I, on the other hand, was pleased with my new role as cheerleader rather than task master.
Now that I have had five of my children take dozens of online classes from a variety of sources, I have found that not all online classes are equal. For the most part we have been very pleased, but at times we have been disappointed. Once we enrolled two of our children in classes taught by a man who clearly did not hold the same values as our family. Though he assigned papers, he did not grade them, and students received no grade for the courses he taught. Classes were primarily lectures, and though students could make comments in the chat box, they did not participate in actual discussions. I learned then to do my homework before enrolling my children in online classes.
When wading through the many options available, I recommend that you look for the following characteristics:
1. Live and interactive class. Seek classes that involve the student in lessons taught in real time. Students are less likely to daydream if they know they may be called on to answer a question. They cannot fast-forward part of the lesson that they think they don’t need to watch, and they can ask questions if they feel lost or confused. Participating in discussions and considering the input of fellow students are vital aspects of a solid educational experience.
2. Qualified teacher and materials. Consider the teacher’s credentials and experience. If possible, contact the teacher before signing your child up for a class. Do you get the sense that the teacher will interact with students on a personal, individual level? Does he communicate clearly and thoroughly? Will he be a positive role model for your child—someone you will want your child to emulate? Also, read reviews about the text; does it have a solid reputation?
3. Well-organized website. Take the time to navigate through the website of the organization offering the class. The website often reflects the classes offered; if the information on the site is not logically arranged, classes may be hard to follow as well.
4. Positive Testimonials. Read testimonials of those who have taken the class before. If possible, talk to people who have taken the class you are considering. Were they pleased? Why or why not? Were the students prepared for the next step in their educational pursuits?
5. Solid Technical Aspect. Try to determine whether the teacher uses an appropriate platform for the class. Some platforms allow for intricate graphics or small group discussions, which can add to the experience when appropriate. Also, the class should not be plagued with technical issues.
6. Flexiblity. Will your child have access to class recordings if he is unable to attend class? In case of a prolonged absence, either planned or unexpected, will the instructor be flexible? If you know of scheduling conflicts, ask the instructor how they will be handled.
If you have never considered using online classes for high school, I would encourage you to consider doing so. Online classes can enrich the educational experience of your students and make homeschooling through high school manageable for you. That certainly has been the case in our home!
Copyright 2015, Karena Flynn
Karena Flynn has homeschooled all of her eight children, beginning kindergarten with the oldest in 1998. Three have graduated and made a smooth transition to college, due in large part to their participation in online classes during high school. Karena Flynn teaches online high school math classes herself through Liberty Tutorials (www.libertytutorials.com). She received a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in mathematics and minors in education and English from James Madison University, maintaining a 4.0 GPA in her math classes and graduating summa cum laude.