Distance Learning Gives Many Students a New Lease on Learning

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

In our Star Schools distance learning (DL) projects, the teachers had office hours where students could have phone conferences with them about any concern. Many students felt comfortable enough with the distant teachers that they called not only about academic issues but other personal needs. One girl from a rural area did well in physics and advanced placement calculus. She made all A’s in these courses, which was a surprise because in her regular courses she was at best a C student. Her online teacher encouraged her to think of college.

No one in her family had ever gone to college and her parents did not want her to go. However, thanks to her work in the Star School courses, she was offered a scholarship. The local school counselor was very skeptical when we recommended she accept the scholarship but eventually worked with us to have the girl enroll. The good new is she did well in college and graduated with honors. I talked with the girl and actually had her testify before Congress. Basically she said no one before the DL teacher had ever said she was smart or tried to help her when she didn’t understand an issue. It was as if she never understood you could ask a teacher a question.

In another case the student was being abused by her mother’s boyfriend. We alerted the school system, and the counselors said, “Oh, that family is a mess. Don’t worry about it.” We went to the state education department and they eventually removed the girl from the family.

In another instance, the boy was the son of the school board president, and the principal wanted us to change the kid’s grade to an A because he had never made anything less that an A. However, in the DL class, he was struggling to make a C. We always allowed the school to determine the final grades. We gave our grades to the school, and they determined the final grade.

I mention this because, especially in small schools, students often bring a reputation to class and perform as they are expected to. Teachers sometimes have expectations of a student from past histories that are either good or bad. The Internet environment often gives both teachers and learners a new opportunity. DL programs give many students a new lease on learning. Often they perform better than they have ever done in a traditional class. In many small school districts, DL offers more challenging and sophisticated teaching and learning programs.

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