Learning leaves the classroom, SAS introduces new online courses

Next year, a new selection of courses will available for students to take – from Arabic to architecture to human rights. But there’s a catch: these classes won’t be taken in a regular classroom with other SAS students. Instead, through Global Online Academy (GOA) – an innovative program new to SAS – students will be a part of online classrooms, learning with others from around the world.

For the past couple of years, the SAS high school curriculum has slowly inched away from what is seen as traditional and towards a more progressive, self-governed system of learning. A new standards-based grading system was put into place, the library has turned into a Center of Innovation, and classes have pushed students to be more independent.

Next fall, even more changes based on the Research & Development team’s recommendations will be implemented, including the new online program. After researching many online options, a six-person faculty review team decided Global Online Academy was by far the best option.

Offering unique courses like Bioethics, Medical Problem Solving, and Gender Studies, GOA is a program that aims to challenge driven students in new and effective ways and encourage both collaboration and independence – all through technology.

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GOA is a consortium of 65 of the top independent schools in the world. It was started by Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington, along with 10 other schools on three different continents. Their idea was to use the world’s increasing use of technology to foster a new way of learning by designing classes in which students can work and interact with other students and teachers from all over the world. In the past two years, it has branched out to schools in India, Germany, Canada, and now Singapore.

Like normal courses, students taking GOA courses have assignments and due dates, participate in class discussions, and are taught material by teachers. And unlike the stereotypical self-paced, impersonal classes that most associate with online learning, GOA classes are just as rigorous as the face-to-face classes offered by its member schools.

Classes are structured so that every day when students log into GOA’s learning management system, there’s a lesson for them to complete. Whether through Skype call discussions, collaborative projects with their global peers, or online research, students demonstrate their understanding of the course and its material.

“It’s almost more demanding in these terms,” said Dr. Robin Worley, next year’s site director for GOA at SAS. “It will be very obvious if you’re not caught up with your work. There are authentic assessments – it’s not just reading and checking off boxes.”

In addition, the program’s strong emphasis on collaboration encourages students to work with other students. Group projects can be assigned, study sessions can be held, Socratic seminars can be conducted. And because each class is made up of only one or two students from each school, they are given the opportunity to build relationships with students outside their school.

“It’s very much a learning community,” noted Worley.

As much as collaboration is emphasized with GOA, it is also a program that is very independent. Students are in charge of planning their own work schedules – when to Skype that one student in California or when to work on a particular essay. Like any other rigorous course, there’s a lot of personal responsibility with time, and self-discipline is needed.  Worley said that “students who are self-motivated and independent learners will be the most successful.”

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Next year, there will be 23 students at SAS taking 30 semester or year-long courses through GOA.

One of the students, junior Apurva Ashok, described her personal interest in two courses, Medical Problem Solving and Abnormal Psychology, and the ways in which they would help her pursue her passion – medicine.

“I have been dying to take a class about medicine in general,” said Ashok. “I hope that this new style of learning will solidify my ambition to be a doctor and that this independent way of study will give me the freedom to research my own interests.”

Another student, sophomore Jean Molina, focused more on the online aspect of the classes. “Taking an online class is something I’ve never done before and I look forward to getting to know other students around the world that are really into this same topic that I love.”

These two, along with others taking a GOA course next year, will have a period in their schedule to work independently on their assignments in the library’s Learning Lab. Worley will follow up with students and monitor their weekly progress. Face-to-face meetings for all students will also be held once a month to discuss each student’s experience with the different courses. In addition, Worley will serve as the liaison between the online teacher, student, counselors and parents.

Global Online Academy is a program that literally changes the landscape for learning. Through it, students are given the opportunity to experience learning in completely different ways from their traditional courses.

“I think it’s an important aspect of the future of education,” Worley said. “At some point, we will all be learning online, and I think this program will be invaluable in preparing students for what lies ahead.”

GOA from Global Online Academy on Vimeo.

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