- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

LEAD, S.D. (AP) - Learning opportunities have gone viral at Lead-Deadwood High School. Kids seem to do practically everything else on the Internet.

Starting with this year’s Lead-Deadwood High School senior class, every student who graduates is now required to complete an online learning course in order to do so.

What that means for students is a chance to take a class they’d never dreamed of enrolling in, a prospect quite appealing at both the student and administrator level.

“What we’ve found is that whether a student continues on to (vocational-technical school) or the School of Mines, they will be expected to complete at least some coursework online,” said Lead-Deadwood Secondary Principal Nick Gottlob. “If it’s our job to get them ready for life after high school, online coursework is certainly part of that preparation. And learning it as part of a high school course curriculum where it’s free, rather than paying $1,000, and learning the skills necessary to complete an online course that is asynchronous in a more comfortable and controlled environment is also advantageous.”

Gottlob said that the program the school uses costs around $20,000 per year and includes the alternative school. The contract for the service makes available 25 seats per semester for online learning, also includes online support and provides access to hundreds of different courses that students may opt to enroll in.

“For example, we had a student who planned on going to China, so she took Mandarin Chinese,” Gottlob said. “The goal is to have the student identify with the counselor what fits with their personal learning plan. It is not uncommon after a student takes an online course for them to come back and want to take another.”

Because of the limited number of seats each semester and the necessity for all students to take an online course, students are only allowed to take one course.

Gottlob explained that there are two different models - one is an online course with an instructor and the other one is an online course content with a teacher onsite.

“The first allows students to learn with other students from all over the country with a teacher who might be in a different stare and makes available courses we don’t offer,” Gottlob said. “The second involves a teacher in the classroom for support with 20 different students who might be taking 20 different classes.”

Lead-Deadwood junior Brooke Bialas is currently taking English III to fulfill her online requirement and has taken other online coursework in the summer to free up her schedule so that she can take as much math and science as she can during the school year.

“I need a full credit of English this year and couldn’t get my second English to fit in anywhere,” Bialis explained. “I had an open period that I decided to fill with online learning.”

In order to reach her academic goals and to begin taking classes for college credit her senior year, Bialis has also taken world history, American history and economics during the summer.

“What I want to do, you have to go to school for many years, so I want to get a little head start,” said Bialis, who would like to become a surgeon or an engineer. “To become a surgeon takes at least 15 years of schooling and to become an engineer takes between four and eight years of schooling.”

This is Bialis’s first time around with the new online learning program and she likes the challenge it provides.

“This new one has more difficulty with it,” she said. “You have to think more than the other program, which makes it more realistic to a real class.”

Bialis said that one drawback to online learning can be communication.

“Communicating with the teacher is a big thing. It’s difficult with email because you never know when they’re going to be on so it can be difficult to get feedback,” Bialis said.

But overall, Bialis is enthusiastic about online learning.

“Most of the time, it has been very positive,” Bialis said. “Our world is coming to technology a lot, so it’s good to learn those skills.”

The Lead-Deadwood School Board adopted the new online learning requirement four years ago.

“Since then, lots of other schools have decided to follow suit,” Gottlob said. “It made sense to take the time we did to get this up and running, considering all the managerial, instruction and infrastructure questions that came up along the way.”

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Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, https://www.bhpioneer.com

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