Spring Green, USA
When you think of Spring Green, an old farming community in southern Wisconsin, high-tech education doesn’t really come to mind. However, amid the big open spaces, the cows and the towns with 1,000 people or fewer, River Valley School District has been able to innovate in its education system, thanks to Blackboard Open LMS and a wide range of services that help its students receive a better and broader education.
Generally, when people think of e-schools, they think of thousands of students who no longer fit in the overcrowded classrooms of a metropolitan city and who therefore resort to taking virtual classes. However, the reason why such a small community, with such a small student body, decided to have an e-school is simple: because the community has so few people, this naturally means that it also has few teachers. In order to allow students to have more classes and a better quality education, the School District decided to open an e-school for middle and high school students.
Jason Hollenberger, one of RVSD’s e-school teachers, is also the district liaison for the e-school and he explained that traditional schools always have the basic courses covered. But when the time comes to talk about special classes or even advanced placement courses for students who have a higher level, they seem to get misplaced, since the State of Wisconsin’s priorities usually concentrate on the subjects that appear in standardized tests. Since e-learning was implemented, Hollenberger has seen advanced placement classes’ double, thereby giving students more options.
Jason teaches Psychology of Fear through Blackboard Open LMS to around 30 students. On this course, students are taught to first identify what their fears are, understand why those fears are present, and talk about future fears, like getting a job or having kids. Needless to say, this isn’t a course you can pass by answering multiple-choice questions. The students need feedback, they need to open up and to participate. Jason uses two different methods: asking them to write up their personal journals, which he can later read and grade, and asking them to participate in a class discussion board that he stays out of, so they can express themselves more freely.
In order to allow students to have more classes and a better quality education, the School District decided to open an e-school for middle and high school students.
Seeing the way students participate in these types of classes in comparison with traditional classrooms has shown Jason that when the traditional method is followed, a mere handful of students really dominate the discussion, and those who aren’t comfortable opening up or who are more introverted will sit back and listen. Through Blackboard Open LMS, the students don’t feel intimidated and are ready to say what they think; it also allows them time to think of a proper response that they feel comfortable with, and finally, it leaves them with no way out, since everybody is expected to participate.
Jason finds that traditional schools have ended up trying to adopt a “cookie cutter” approach to teaching students. The traditional school system sets classroom times and schedules without considering that every student is different, as are their learning methods. While some are more focused and after a few hours of intense studying have finished all their work, others like to pay attention for 20 minutes and then switch off and think about another subject or even a sport. The e-school allows them to do this without missing out on anything, because it’s as easy as pressing a pause button. This helps the students’ self esteem, their grades, because they aren’t missing any information, and also their willingness to learn.
The River Valley School District has forged an alliance with the Wisconsin eSchool Network, and together they are working on sharing a course catalogue, a curriculum and teachers, so they can make the e-school more diverse, have more teachers and more knowledge and hence be able to personalize the learning experience for each type of student they have, and ultimately add more active voices to tomorrow’s world.
* Jason Hollenberger is the district liaison for the e-School of the River Valley School District.
* Andy Manis.