GUSD to offer online classes

Lyanne Natividad

(April 1, 2011) — High school students with hectic schedules will soon be able to more easily incorporate regular classes into their agendas, as the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) is planning to set in place what guidance counselor Karine Turdjian describes as a “virtual high school.” According to an information report sent to the Board of Education from superintendent Richard M. Sheehan, the district is looking into the administration of online courses. The task could be approached in two ways, depending on who would be creating the classes. One option would be to have them formed by GUSD teachers; the other option would feature classes made by an outside agency. GUSD instructors would conduct the classes regardless of the developers. According to Turdjian, teachers and principals started planning for the online program this year. Physical education teacher Judy Thomsen has had the idea for an online program for a while, and even mentioned it during her interview for a teaching position at Clark several years ago. “One of the main reasons I came to Clark was for the technology; you learn how to implement it in an educational environment,” she says. Thomsen says that the program would allow for a “hybrid” P.E. class — part face-to-face, part online. Students would meet at school for physical activities; they’d learn how to lift and exercise using circuits, as well as test for the mile and use heart rate monitors. The online portion would be more informational, featuring lessons on health and nutrition, discussion (between 8-9 students), construction of fitness schedules, and information on different outside resources for fitness such as Curves, 24 Hour Fitness and Weight Watchers. Junior Marianna Dermarkarian looks forward to taking advantage of the online program, something she finds intriguing and fitting for our times. “This is something I think really represents our current digital age. I like the idea; it allows people to be flexible,” she says. Dermarkarian maintains a busy schedule with balancing AP classes and volunteer work, and thinks online courses might be more helpful to her than actual classes. “Obviously, it’ll have its advantages and disadvantages. Some people might not find the online environment conducive to learning.” The district’s goal is to pilot the process of developing the online class in the summer, according to Thomsen. She will be the only teacher running an online course as they run a “beta test” of the program, according to principal Doug Dall. Thomsen says that before any further progress can be made, user-friendly course management software (CMS) must be acquired to conduct courses through. The district report identifies this “secure virtual platform” as one of the areas of need, along with compatibility with the district’s current student data management software (Zangle) and the ability to keep track of student participation (like threaded discussions). If these needs are met and the Board approves the furthering of the process, certain areas of curriculum will be more thoroughly developed, and sources of funding identified. Thomsen says that this program could help students in that they could earn credit without having to physically attend class as often as usual. Those taking P.E. classes online would learn to take responsibility for their health and “choose how to be fit” on their own time. “By putting the learning on [the students], we’re building lifelong learners,” she says.