The Columbia County Board of Education has voted to allocate $30,000 to become a player in the online learning arena.
The money is dues for the county to join the Georgia e-Learning Consortium, which is headed by the Georgia Department of Education. Columbia County will be a charter member of the consortium, along with Gwinnett, Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb county school systems. Columbia County will have a three-year contract with the consortium.
The county plans to offer the consortium a computer course it has developed - a $20,000 value - to make up the remainder of the $50,000 membership fee.
The board is expected to allocate another $10,000 to train teachers to instruct in the online environment and for curriculum teams to develop course content.
"I know there are questions: what happens after three years?," Online Learning Committee representative Michael Canady told the board. "But the consortium should be strong at that point. We are doing everything we can to move our system forward so we can be in the forefront with these systems to bring online learning to our students."
The cost to go it alone would be too expensive, Canady said. There is the expense of a platform that holds course content, technical support personnel and each course costs $50,000 to $75,000 to develop. Consortium members would have 26 courses immediately available including: algebra II, AP biology, AP calculus, civics, economics, English literature, health, Latin I, psychology and SAT prep. Other courses are currently being developed by consortium members.
There are still many details to iron out, Canady said. It is likely a facilitator would be appointed to monitor student progress at each school.
The school system also plans to offer Georgia Department of Education e-Learning courses in an after-school "seventh period" class. These courses could be provided at all four of the county's high schools at no charge to the system, though students would pay tuition to cover the cost of the monitor.
The system has also formed an alliance with Gwinnett County's online campus. Columbia County has been offered 75 slots for the 2004-05 school year with a course registration fee of $285 per half credit. Courses would be taught by Gwinnett County teachers based on that county's curriculum.
Online learning in Columbia County would likely serve about 140 students, Canady said. It would appeal to two types of students: those who may have failed a course and need to re-take it, or those who want to take a course to get ahead. It's ideal when a school doesn't have the resources or enough student interest to offer a specialized course, he said.
Online learning could take place with a student in a school environment and teacher or monitor present or a student independently learning "anywhere, anytime," which wouldn't require a classroom setting. In Florida, where the state has established a virtual high school, only 0.5 percent utilize online learning.
For the past five years, students at Crossroads Academy, Columbia County's alternative school, have been taking online courses through Virtual High School. Crossroads teacher Pat McCollom teaches 25 students from around the country Visual Basic, a computer programming course. Through the Concord Consortium, it allows 25 Crossroad's students to enroll is some of the 200 courses that are offered.
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