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A New Model for Advanced Placement Delivery

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As students, parents and civil rights organizations increase their demands for better access to college-preparatory coursework, schools are faced with two primary challenges in providing a broad Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum. First, many schools do not have enough students to create an economical class size in most AP subject areas. Second, schools may not have an experienced teacher available to lead an AP course.

Although distance learning offers a solution to these challenges, traditional distance learning lacks key components that create an effective educational model for high school students: interactivity, community, and immediate assessment, monitoring and feedback. Today, some companies are taking up the challenge of providing a better distance learning experience for learners -- in particular, AP students. Their solutions take advantage of the power of Internet technologies to incorporate these key components.

Demand for Advanced Placement Increases

According to The College Board, the number of requests for AP exams is growing at a rate of 12 percent per year. Why?

Parents and students recognize the myriad advantages created by taking an AP course -- including a head start on college courses, increased college entrance competitiveness and opportunities for scholarships.

The States' rolling back of Affirmative Action admissions policies for public university has spurred parents and civil rights organizations to call on secondary school educators to provide equal access to rigorous coursework and AP preparation.

Simultaneously, the nation is experiencing an "echo of the baby boom," which will soon dramatically increase the number of students in high schools and colleges. As the number of students applying for admissions escalates, the demand for AP will increase and colleges will weigh AP credentials even more heavily in the admissions process.

Online AP Alternative

Internet-based distance learning can help answer this growing call for broader access to AP coursework. By combining experts in technology and education, an online distance learning program can provide the structure, coursework and professional teachers that make it possible for even one interested student to have access to challenging curriculum. Michigan, California and Washington are among several states establishing special funding programs to encourage schools to use this alternative to start or expand their AP programs.

A student's online AP experience might look like this: The student shares a virtual class with 20 to 25 other pupils from around the country. The student works through subject areas online -- reading, problem solving and critical thinking -- while engaged in chat room dialogues and threaded discussions. All data entered, pages viewed and interactions are recorded, and students take daily, ungraded quizzes to test learning and retention. The online teacher, an expert in the subject area, regularly provides feedback to the student, school mentor and parents. Students and parents are informed if work falls below expectations or the level needed for successful completion of the AP exam.

This Internet-based distance learning course structure ensures that the key components of a successful learning model are addressed:

Accessibility

The anytime-anywhere aspect of distance learning is incorporated with Internet technologies and a real classroom community, so students can still learn and participate regardless of the time they log on or where they are in the world.

Interactivity

At the core of a successful learning program is ongoing teacher-student interaction. The benefit of online learning is that Internet technologies used in online distance learning are, by design, interactive. For instance, e-mail, chat rooms, bulletin boards and threaded discussion technologies enable distance learning students to interact more effectively with their online teacher and fellow students.

Teachers and students can also hold virtual two-way discussions in chat rooms. By participating in threaded discussions, students can thoughtfully answer questions and engage with other students and the teacher in ongoing postings. Emerging technologies will allow online voice communication, providing a more realistic type of chat and enabling instructors to present audio broadcasts of new subject matter, ideas and lessons.

Assessment and Instant Feedback

Just as in a real world classroom, a successful online program must track students' progress and continually provide feedback to ensure that students understand and retain the material. The benefit of computer-based distance learning is that the computer can retain information about a student's activities and provide the student with instant feedback on many types of assessment. For example, if a student is given an assessment quiz based on recent lessons, the student's computer can retain data on those areas with which he or she may have had trouble. At the same time, the computer instantly provides information on how to reconsider the question for a second try. Later, the system can identify trouble areas, so that the student can give them special attention.

Similarly, embedded assessments are an opportunity for the online teacher to evaluate, at any time, exactly how the remote student is performing. The Internet-based computer program that connects the student and teacher can identify which areas the student studies and track how they perform in those topics. The online instructor can print and review a computer-generated report and then talk with parents and school mentors about the student's performance.

Additional Benefits for College-bound Students

Lifelong Learning Skills

Students experience on-demand, immediately accessible learning. This will benefit them after college where this type of learning will increasingly be a part of professional life. Use of computer programs and familiarity with the Internet is strengthened. Additionally, students report that after completing online distance learning courses, they have a better understanding of the discipline and self-motivation it takes to be a successful college student and feel they have started to build those skills.

Effective Use of Learning Time

High-achieving students, in particular, report that they appreciate advancing at their own pace; when they understand something quickly, they can move on to more challenging content and problems. The instant feedback available through online learning allows them to judge when they are ready to move ahead or should go back to review.

Access to Experts

Online distance learning technology enables educators to expose more students to expert teachers and subject experts. For instance, at APEX Online Learning, a team of seasoned AP teachers and subject experts who understand the students, the exam and the subject, work together to offer a consistent, effective curriculum.

The Future of Online Distance Learning

Option 1: Paul Allen, technology futurist and founder of APEX Online Learning believes we "have only begun to invent what will be possible. People are pioneering new content that has the immediacy of television, the depth of print and the personal adaptability of computer software. Education as we know it will be transformed by the possibilities of interactive lesson materials and customized content on any subject, at any distance."

At APEX Online Learning, we foresee the convergence of online learning and on-site class instruction. Students will have the opportunity to take courses of interest to them online and, in addition, teachers will use dynamic online curriculum and assessment tools to enhance and extend their classroom offerings.

As in most educational applications, technology alone will not solve every challenge of providing access to AP courses. Internet-based distance learning, however, d'es offer schools a practical alternative for providing their high-achieving students with a broad, high-quality, challenging curriculum. At APEX Online Learning, we are proud to be a pioneer in applying these new technologies to the delivery of Advanced Placement curriculum.

Sally Narodick is CEO of APEX Online Learning, which was founded by Paul Allen in 1997. To learn more about APEX Online Learning, visit www.apex.netu.com.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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