Classroom Technology

Calif. Nonprofit Group Building National Bank of E-Learning Courses

By Andrew Trotter — September 28, 2004 3 min read
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A nonprofit group announced last week that it plans to build a repository of online courses for high school and college that it will make available to individuals, schools, and states at a significantly lower cost than for similar courses bought commercially, and in some cases for free.

The Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, located in Santa Cruz, Calif., is creating the repository to promote sharing of courses that have been developed by researchers and educational institutions but that, so far, have been distributed only to a limited audience, said Gary Lopez, the executive director of the institute.

Read more about the Monterey Institute’s National Repository of Online Courses (NROC), funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The courses offered initially will be in core subjects that students generally take in the final two years of high school and the first two years of college, including high school honors and Advanced Placement courses.

Funding for the National Repository of Online Courses has come from a $1.5 million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which also supports Education Week’s coverage of technology issues.

The institute is also in negotiations with textbook publishers, which would pay a fee to use portions of the repository’s courses on their Web sites or on CD-ROMs that they would provide to textbook purchasers, Mr. Lopez said.

Flexible Organization

The repository will accept only courses that meet criteria for high quality that the institute, which was started a year ago, has developed. The courses must also cover curricula based on state academic standards and the recommendations of national groups, and they must be compatible with widely used online-learning management systems, Mr. Lopez said. He added that courses must use multimedia as well as text and appeal to varied learning styles.

Each course will be organized—or, when necessary, reorganized, by the repository’s experts—in what’s known as “learning-object architecture.” That means the course is segmented into pieces that can be used as a whole or as separate parts, or placed in a different order, depending on the needs of students or instructors.

However, the repository does not provide the teaching, record keeping, and assessment services that are needed to fully deliver an online course.

So far, the repository has only about a dozen courses provided by the University of California College Prep Initiative, a state-financed program of college-entrance-level courses for disadvantaged students. Those courses include AP courses in environmental science, physics, calculus, U.S. history, U.S. government, and Spanish, said Moisés Torres, the college-preparatory program’s director.

The college-prep initiative will be paid little for the use of its online courses—just a fee to cover the costs of maintaining and updating them.

Mr. Torres said he expects the initiative to benefit by being able to use other providers’ courses that become part of the repository. “The whole idea is to have high-quality content sharable,” Mr. Torres said.

Illinois Signs Up

The first students to benefit from the repository are in Illinois, which has signed a five-year agreement with the Monterey Institute—the first of several pending state deals to be completed, Mr. Lopez said.

Twenty-four Illinois students will take two online courses from the repository this fall, said Matt Wicks, the director of the Illinois Virtual High School, in Aurora, Ill., which enrolled 2,000 students in online courses during the last school year.

He said the two Advanced Placement courses from the institute—in physics and environmental science—cost about a third of similar courses from commercial providers.

“Their course quality seems good; their price, because it’s a nonprofit venture, is less expensive,” Mr. Wicks pointed out.

Timothy K. Stroud, the executive director of the North American Council for Online Learning in Washington, said that the repository “is a good concept,” especially for school districts that need content for their own fledgling online-learning programs.

But the repository’s business model is not proven, he cautioned.

“Whether it will be successful or not will depend on whether the major providers of virtual schooling are willing to contribute to the repository,” he said.

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