WASHINGTON – When Meredith Marino is ready for her economics class, she often leaves school and heads home.
Once there, the Lansdowne High School senior turns on her computer and goes online, where a cartoon teacher pops on the screen to explain major concepts and draw graphs on an animated chalkboard. Meredith can work through tutorials and replay the lesson if she is unsure about something.
She can also e-mail a question electronically to her teacher or post it to her classmates, the online equivalent of raising her hand in class — although in her case there is no one within miles to see her hand and getting a response can take a while.
Online learning has both distinct advantages and distinct challenges, including the lack of a teacher and other students nearby and the possibility that homework may get lost in cyberspace, students and educators say. But it is otherwise “the same quality education, simply in a different delivery,” in the words of one Baltimore County schools official.
“The kids are a little nervous because there’s no one in the front of the room to give them that definitive answer,” said Deborah O’Neal, the on-site coordinator for online classes at Lansdowne High School.
“It truly puts all the responsibility on them (students),” O’Neal said. “It requires them to be very focused, very organized, very aggressive about their own learning.”
Patapsco High School senior Jessica Rolfe agreed that students have to be focused.
“You have to be self-disciplined in order to sit down every day and say, this is what I’m going to do,” said Jessica, who is taking advanced placement art history online.
“It can be a little frustrating at first, just the whole process and not really having someone who knows the course to guide you,” she said. “But once you get through that and the orientation, it’s pretty much like a normal class.”
Stefano Stratakis, one of eight South River High School students taking advanced placement macroeconomics online, said he likes the convenience of being able to use his computer at home on his own time. But there are drawbacks, too: He said it’s frustrating that he cannot get an immediate response to a question.
“You could work ahead of time, so you won’t have to have that fear” of not being able to get an answer on deadline, Stefano said. “Me, I’m a procrastinator so it doesn’t really work out too well.”
There are other glitches.
The first two assignments that Meredith submitted for her online class got lost in cyberspace, so she had to redo them. For tests and assignments that have handwritten responses, she faxes her work to her teacher.
“When I first found out that I had to fax, I thought this is going to be crazy. We have to fax things? Like, I don’t even know how to do that!” Meredith said. “So I was kind of real nervous. Like, am I going to do well?”
Stefano gets around the faxing by e-mailing his responses to the teacher.
Both said they like the fact that they can go at their own pace, using computers at school or at home, as long as they meet the deadlines.
“If you’re having a really off day, a bad day, you don’t have to worry,” Meredith said. “The next night I’m feeling better, I can go home and have the teacher on the computer. And that way I’m not behind. If you miss a day of school, you can catch up easily.”
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