Sunday, January 4, 2009

Brightstorm is a new online educational resource that gives learners access to intensive, top-quality virtual instruction. Now, the method used by high-end corporations to educate staff through cyber-training courses has been applied to Advanced Placement academic subjects, SAT preparation and a lot of other college-preparatory subject areas.

“One of the things that makes good learning is good teaching,” says Jeff Marshall, CEO and one of the three co-founders of the Internet service. “We scoured the U.S. and abroad to find the best teachers, taped them teaching — in high-production-quality videos — the subjects kids need to get ahead.”

From a starting group of 200 great teachers, the company chose 19 who had special expertise in getting difficult concepts across.

The intensive courses include algebra 1 and 2, biology, literature, U.S. history, geometry, and several types of SAT preparation with more soon to be offered. For the $49 per course annual tuition fee, the learner and the instructor or parent can access any part of the course, go over it as many times as wanted, and use many of the embedded resources, including graphic files, challenges and other helpful auxiliary information.

In addition to the video lessons, the Brightstorm courses have some content testing so the learner can check his or her comprehension, challenges for them to apply the knowledge, and the ability to interact online, exchanging questions and answers, chat style.

“We also have built in some choice for the learner. He or she gets to pick from the two or three teachers available for each subject,” Mr. Marshall says, noting that students benefit when the teacher’s approach fits the student’s learning style.

The advantage Brightstorm offers home-schooling parents is ensuring their child gets top-quality teaching, especially in the more difficult subject areas requiring specialized knowledge. If algebra and geometry or U.S. history are not strong subject areas for the parent, it is comforting to have a course instructor available at the touch of a keystroke to explain a specific concept.

For parents with children in traditional schooling, the Brightstorm option lets parents connect with the child’s learning, because the service can send updates of the child’s activity, along with suggestions of things to discuss, such as applications in the real world.

Touring the Brightstorm Web site ( is free, and you can view introductions from each of the 19 teachers. To view a sample lesson from the course material, you can register — also free. You can view the sample lessons, and then choose which teacher you would like to take the course from. Only when you have chosen which teacher you prefer do you pay the $49 tuition for the course, which gives you unlimited access for 12 months.

Knowing that young people are quite familiar with social networking, Brightstorm has an option for each learner to have a page similar to Facebook, focused on learning. Students also can post digital projects. Although the page is for academic networking — to connect to other students, share information about courses, encourage each other or ask questions — the student can post links to other social networking pages.

What’s exciting about Brightstorm is it brings great teaching to anyone who really wants to develop excellence in subject areas, Mr. Marshall explains.

“The technology didn’t allow us to do this just a few years ago. But now since more than 50 percent of the population have access to broadband Internet, online video is now a way to bring great teachers and explanations to be available to everyone, from 100 to tens of thousands of students.”

Brightstorm offers anyone a way to get expert instruction that is flexible to the needs and schedules of the learner, at a reasonable cost. Check it out.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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