Utilizing online computer courses for remedial, standard, and advanced students.
Over the last 10 years I have been employed as a secular studies teacher in Mesivta Shaarei Arazim in Monsey NY. I also work as the administrator and director of academics in another local yeshiva high school. Both institutions have a wide range of academic and behavioral issues in the students body. Due to the fact that we have always attracted students who have failed in the main stream schools we have classrooms filled with a very wide spectrum of students academically. Over the years it became clear that we needed an alternative to the traditional classroom for many students across a range of topics. When I took over as the secular studies principal this year my first decision was to create a computer lab. I have a background in computers so the technical aspects were not difficult to overcome. The is the issue of a filter and making sure that the computers used by the students were “hack proof”. We utilized chromebooks and Google’s Enterprise Management console to oversee the system. Finding suitable courses for a Torah environment was another obstacle. We use a number of services, each with their own strengths. The biggest issue is that the computer is still limited in its ability to teach the material. Now we have the financial cost of the hardware, software and a trained capable teacher. The teachers themselves are an issue because many feel like babysitters in the room and do not interact with the students enough. This is doubly so if most of the students are taking a course in a discipline that teacher is not overly familiar with. Getting the school to pay a regular salary to these teachers and recognizing that they need to be full fledged instructors also took a lot of effort.
One very positive aspect is that students who for various reasons are not able to take and pass the NYS Regents can register for schools in other states. We can transfer our credits if they passed courses and they complete the diploma register for schools in other states. We can transfer our credits if they passed courses and they complete the diploma online. On the other hand they are in most cases weak students to begin with and sitting on a computer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours in the afternoon is incredibly difficult.
A major positive aspect is that we had a very large group of students from all the grades who were in desperate need of Algebra. We didn’t have enough teachers or classes. With the lab we were able to have three concurrent math classes. Students were able to be matched with others on their level, teachers they worked well with or on the computer. On the opposite side of the curriculum spectrum ELA writing has almost no quality online course work. Achieve 3000 has a popular reading comprehension program and there are a number of vocabulary/grammar course but that is it.
Ultimately, the computer lab is an excellent concept but very difficult to use in place of traditional classes for larger groups. While the technology is up to par; students, teachers and the administration are having difficulty carrying it out efficiently and with full cooperation. Parents like the idea but feel as if their children may not be getting the personal human attention they require.