Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Online Education & Volunteer Opportunities

There are exciting things happening in Hillsboro education this year-- most specifically, the opening of the new Hillsboro Online Academy. This is a magnet high school open to any student in the Hillsboro district who wants to experience the new online model of education, which has proven successful at institutions such as the Connections Academy . Since it's the first year, they are starting out small, with about 80 students, four 50%-time teachers, and a 50%-time principal.

At the links for the schools above, you can find lots of information on the many benefits of online education. But I've recently met a couple of times with Linda Harrington, the principal of the new online academy, to discuss another opportunity that I think online education brings to the table: the ability for community volunteers to act as teaching assistants. Why is this more of an opportunity for online schools than for traditional ones? The key point is that online education is inherently asynchronous: in other words, the students, teachers, and teaching assistants do not need to be online at the same time, as much classwork and discussion can happen on message boards.

For people like me, I think this can make a big difference in the ability to help out in the schools. I typically mess around online for an hour or so in my pajamas at bedtime, with my laptop PC next to my bed. Instead of slaying digital dragons & catching up with 20 Scrabble games, could I be using this time more productively? Volunteering in a physical school or live tutoring session in this time slot would be relatively difficult. But online, I can log onto a class message board, answer student questions, help grade papers, or help in other ways. I have some experience of this teaching-in-my-jammies before: I taught a couple of quarters of Algebra I for the University of Phoenix online. So I know from experience that this can really work.

Anyway, I'm continuing my discussions with Linda, and we are going to work together (along with some Intel education people) on setting up a pilot program for online volunteers to help with the academy. If you're a local professional in the community who might be interested in this volunteer opportunity, be sure to send me an email!