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The MOOC Goes to High School

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By Dr. Lisa Duty (@lisaduty1 ), Senior Director of Innovation at KnowledgeWorks and a graduate of Columbus City Schools

Last summer when Reynoldsburg City Schools connected with Udacity, the highly acclaimed provider of free university-level education, it envisioned a new model for learning with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that would come to life during, not after, high school.

MOOCs are gaining some momentum in the post-secondary arena, bringing learning opportunities that are generally free or inexpensive, to the masses. Viewed by some as shaking up higher education, and seen by others as mostly hype, MOOCs have moved into a position of public attention that is certain to endure. While that dialogue continues, some high school students and teachers at eSTEM Academy are drawing on the best of MOOCs to deepen and personalize learning .

Why did they do it?

Marcy Raymond, Principal of eSTEM Academy and K-12 STEM Education at Reynoldsburg began her journey with MOOCs by personally exploring Udacity courses, and was impressed with the quality of the content. Soon several Reynoldsburg high school teachers at eSTEM joined Raymond in translating Udacity MOOCs in statistics, physics and computer science into learning experiences for high school and college credit. The Udacity MOOCs helped to solve a critical challenge faced by Raymond as eSTEM was making the transition to an increasingly blended format: Access to high-quality and relevant content on the marketplace was lacking. Udacity's courses were not only rigorous, but designed and taught according to how the brain actually learns.

How do they do it?

Raymond and team cross-walked the common core and Advanced Placement (AP) standards with the Udacity courses, and integrated the MOOC content with a diverse mix of common core standards in other subject areas, combining AP and dual enrollment courses (often facilitated by teachers that double as adjuncts at the local community college) as well as service projects and internships of choice where university-level knowledge and competencies are applied outside the classroom. Using state and local "credit flex" policies, a single teacher facilitates as many as five or six credit hours in a three-hour block of time--breaking free from seat time, but more importantly creating competency-based models of learning that are connected to the world of work.

Raymond set a fast pace, putting the tools in the hands of several teachers and students who simply starting testing them out. Her theory: Rapid experimentation, rapid failure, rapid learning.

How are the MOOCs impacting students and teachers?

Students report that they are able to learn more on their own, a highly valued experience, yet still bring questions to the classroom. Teachers have developed the capacity to facilitate more credits, more efficiently. The teachers' process of re-combinating resources toward higher purposes is a continuous exercise in setting high standards for themselves and for the learning resources. These teachers--and students--aren't merely consuming MOOCs, they're using them to create unique learning pathways.

Is the pilot successful?

About 140 students are taking MOOCs now, and they plan to add another 140 students in the second semester. When asked if there are any data that point to measurable success, the answer is yes. For instance, students taking blended physics are accelerating faster that students in non-blended physics, and thus far they're scoring higher on assessments. Raymond also points to the computer science MOOC which they planned to integrate over a semester--the students mastered the content at their own pace in just one quarter.

Raymond and team recently appeared before the Columbus Education Commission created by Columbus, Ohio Mayor Coleman and Council President Ginther to examine the challenges and opportunities facing all children living within the Columbus City Schools district.

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