Is the online model working at Pioneer?

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

Recorder Staff
Friday, January 26, 2018

NORTHFIELD — Students have mixed opinions following the rollout of expanded online learning opportunities at Pioneer Valley Regional School.

Principal Jean Bacon reported to school board members this week that she issued a survey to the 33 students taking online classes this semester. The 10 who responded offered drastically different feedback.

“For many kids, it’s working,” she told the curriculum and personnel subcommittee. “For some, it’s not working so well.”

Reading from student comments, Bacon said some students enjoy online classes as they can learn about a subject more in-depth, engage in more challenging coursework than Pioneer offers and avoid the anxiety they might feel from participating in a traditional classroom setting.

However, other students found it difficult to get responses from their teachers in a timely manner, fell behind in coursework, had difficulty with self-pacing, didn’t feel they had sufficient support and disliked the lack of interaction with classmates.

“It’s such a mixed bag,” curriculum and personnel subcommittee Chairwoman Sue O’Reilly-McRae said.

Bacon said there were 50 enrollments in online courses this school year, representing only 3.8 percent of the total 1,300 course enrollments in grades 9 through 12. The online option, she added, is primarily useful for students who need credit recovery or who are interested in a subject not offered at Pioneer.

Pioneer offers online classes primarily through Virtual High School and Edgenuity, Bacon said. Pioneer faculty members are assigned to periods to help students with the technology and pacing, though instruction comes from an online teacher.

Additionally, Advanced Placement Physics and Computer Science Principles are blended courses, Bacon said, meaning students are instructed by a Pioneer teacher who provides labs and plans activities, but in a way that complements an online curriculum.

In simple yes-no questions, Bacon said six of the 10 respondents agreed their coursework was interesting and understandable, though only four thought they had enough teacher support or said they liked the format.

Northfield parent Emily Koester attended the meeting to speak to the difficult time her son is having in AP Physics. Though he studies physics “probably more than he does any other subjects,” Koester said the online format isn’t to her son’s benefit as he’s a hands-on learner.

Bacon said she suspects a lot of students are surprised by how much work is involved in taking online courses, and supported a teacher’s suggestion that students take a sample course to get exposed to the format. Other teachers have suggested students be exposed to online learning earlier than high school.

Given how many college courses are offered online or are part online, Bacon emphasized the need to involve Pioneer students in online learning, quoting social studies teacher Aimee Brown.

“If we’re going to offer a 21st century education, we have to make this work for kids,” Bacon said.

O’Reilly-McRae said the subcommittee will have to decide if Pioneer should continue investing in online learning. Bacon is expected to report back to the subcommittee with any additional feedback from students or teachers during its March 6 meeting.