R-1 receives lesson in virtual learning: It just didn’t work

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 1/20/21

HERMANN — It looked good on paper. Unfortunately, the paper that counts — the report card on the first semester’s use of virtual learning by students of Gasconade Count R-1 School …

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R-1 receives lesson in virtual learning: It just didn’t work

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HERMANN — It looked good on paper. Unfortunately, the paper that counts — the report card on the first semester’s use of virtual learning by students of Gasconade Count R-1 School District — doesn’t look so good.

As outlined by Curriculum Director Maranda Anderson at last week’s R-1 Board of Directors session, the initial experience with virtual learning by high school, middle school and elementary school students in the first semester was disappointing to say the least. 

Of the 50 students opting this school year to stay home and receive classes via virtual learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, only 37 finished the courses offered by the contracted providers.

This semester started with the majority of those 50 students returning to the classroom — only 16 students are taking part in the virtual learning option. Of those, four are first-time virtual-learning students, meaning 13 will not be back in the classroom at the start of the semester. The parents of another first-semester virtual-learning student chose the home-school option for the second semester.

Anderson opened her report to the board on a rather neutral note: “With virtual learning, there are some pros, some cons.” 

That was about as positive as her report would get.

According to administrators, the virtual-learning program simply did not work as it was promoted by the providers last summer.

Bottom line for the R-1 board: How successful was the program?

Anderson put a success rate of about 40 percent on virtual learning. The definition of “success” for virtual learning appears less strict than the classroom definition. Anderson said a student was considered successful if he achieved a 60-percent passing grade and finished the online course.

She said more success was seen among the elementary students than among the older students — the result, she believed, of at least one parent being home with the student and making sure they stayed on task.

That apparently was not the case with the older students.

“Four of the students who went virtual didn’t even turn on the computer,” Anderson said. Those students will have to make up the coursework, administrators said, as will the others who didn’t meet the definition of “success.”

That is especially disappointing for the educators and administrators who were back on campus working with the at-home students during the semester, Anderson said. “They were constantly reminded of what was needed” to successfully complete the course, she said.

“These students are going to have to do something to show they’ve mastered the course,” said Superintendent Scott Smith.

Anderson noted that even though the elementary students performed better academically via virtual learning, they still missed out on a lot of in-person experiences by not being in class. “Our youngest learners need to be here,” she said.

The curriculum director also confirmed that another issue affecting the success of the online program is one that is dealt with every day by R-1 resident: Severely limited access to the internet, especially in the outlying portions of the district. 

In areas where no internet service is available through the telephone companies, students have to rely on “hotspot” devices obtained through the district or through the public library to use their district-issued Chromebook laptops. Anderson said that, indeed, her family relies on a hotspot device at their home and her family experiences the same sporadic internet availability.

That is an ongoing problem that students and school officials will have to wrestle with during the time of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, for R-1 directors, the other major concern about the virtual-learning program is the price tag as it relates to the success — or lack thereof — of the program.

“That’s costing us quite a bit of money?” asked Director Mike Pratte.

“Thousands and thousands,” replied Anderson.

“I’d like to see just what it’s costing us,” Pratte said.

According to figures provided by one administrator, the first semester’s use of virtual learning cost the district $66,266. That includes not only the fee for the service, but other expenses such as textbooks that might be needed for the online course, Smith said.

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