Students go online to prepare for college

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 4, 2008

FERRIDAY — Huntington School junior Charley Hudnall squints at the computer screen, types a few words and then clicks the mouse, but she isn’t updating her MySpace page or posting a new status on her Twitter feed — she’s learning chemistry.

Hudnall is enrolled in the Louisiana Virtual School program, which is directed by the Louisiana Department of Education and offers online versions of classes that students might not otherwise get a chance to take.

In the case of the chemistry class, Huntington School wasn’t able to find someone to teach it and there weren’t enough students interested in taking the class to offer it during normal scheduling, Virtual School Facilitator Penny Moak said.

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The class is largely self-directed, and while students do most of their class work online, the lessons aren’t without practical work.

“We do experiments,” 11th grader and Virtual School chemistry student Colby Gray said. “Our teacher ships us stuff and sends us videos and pamphlets.”

Most of the students in the class are taking the courses they are enrolled in because the colleges they want to apply to require that class, and that is why senior Drew Loomis — who wants to enroll at LSU — enrolled in physics.

“It’s hectic, because you have to self-teach,” he said. “The teacher gives you the information and you have to learn it yourself.”

Even though Moak is present in the classroom while the students do the Virtual School coursework, her role as facilitator is largely to make sure the students are doing their work.

“The main job of the facilitator is to make sure everyone is on task,” she said.

The students are free to call or e-mail their disembodied virtual teacher, and once a week they have the chance to chat with the teacher via webcam.

Likewise, they have assignments where they have to interact with other virtual school students on a message board.

Even with all of that interaction, it’s a different experience than the traditional classroom.

“You learn different things, but you learn it in different way from the other students (in a classroom),” Hudnall said. “It’s harder to do.

But Moak said she believes that the virtual school gives the students an advantage for the future because of the way it requires them to use technology popular on college campuses like the electronic Blackboard system.

“It really is a college preparation,” Moak said.