Education Opinion

The MOOC Goes to High School

By Tom Vander Ark — January 29, 2013 3 min read
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By Dr. Lisa Duty


Senior Director of Innovation

at KnowledgeWorks and a graduate of Columbus City Schools

Last summer when Reynoldsburg City Schools connected with Udacity, the highly
acclaimed provider of free university-level education, it envisioned a new model for learning with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that would come to
life during, not after, high school.

MOOCs are gaining some momentum in the post-secondary arena, bringing learning opportunities that are generally free or inexpensive, to the masses. Viewed
by some as shaking up higher education, and seen by others as mostly hype, MOOCs have moved into a
position of public attention that is certain to endure. While that dialogue continues, some high school students and teachers at eSTEM Academy are drawing
on the best of MOOCs to

deepen and personalize learning


Why did they do it?

Marcy Raymond, Principal of eSTEM Academy and K-12 STEM Education at Reynoldsburg began her journey with MOOCs by personally exploring Udacity courses, and
was impressed with the quality of the content. Soon several Reynoldsburg high school teachers at eSTEM joined Raymond in translating Udacity MOOCs in
statistics, physics and computer science into learning experiences for high school and college credit. The Udacity MOOCs helped to solve a critical
challenge faced by Raymond as eSTEM was making the transition to an increasingly blended format: Access to high-quality and relevant content on the
marketplace was lacking. Udacity’s courses were not only rigorous, but designed and taught according to how the brain actually learns.

How do they do it?

Raymond and team cross-walked the common core and Advanced Placement (AP) standards with the Udacity courses, and integrated the MOOC content with a
diverse mix of common core standards in other subject areas, combining AP and dual enrollment courses (often facilitated by teachers that double as
adjuncts at the local community college) as well as service projects and internships of choice where university-level knowledge and competencies are
applied outside the classroom. Using state and local “credit flex” policies, a single teacher facilitates as many as five or six credit hours in a
three-hour block of time--breaking free from seat time, but more importantly creating competency-based models of learning that are connected to the world
of work.

Raymond set a fast pace, putting the tools in the hands of several teachers and students who simply starting testing them out. Her theory: Rapid
experimentation, rapid failure, rapid learning.

How are the MOOCs impacting students and teachers?

Students report that they are able to learn more on their own, a highly valued experience, yet still bring questions to the classroom. Teachers have
developed the capacity to facilitate more credits, more efficiently. The teachers’ process of re-combinating resources toward higher purposes is a continuous exercise in setting high standards
for themselves and for the learning resources. These teachers--and students--aren’t merely consuming MOOCs, they’re using them to create unique learning

Is the pilot successful?

About 140 students are taking MOOCs now, and they plan to add another 140 students in the second semester. When asked if there are any data that point to
measurable success, the answer is yes. For instance, students taking blended physics are accelerating faster that students in non-blended physics, and thus
far they’re scoring higher on assessments. Raymond also points to the computer science MOOC which they planned to integrate over a semester--the students
mastered the content at their own pace in just one quarter.

Raymond and team recently appeared before the
Columbus Education Commission
created by
Columbus, Ohio

Mayor Coleman and Council President Ginther to examine the challenges and opportunities facing all children living within the Columbus City Schools

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.