Second period in history teacher Bruce Baird’s classroom, there is no one lecturing at the front of the room and no one diligently taking notes. Instead, students sit in front of their laptops, doing their lesson through a massive open online course (MOOC).
It’s AP Computer Science, the first online course in school history.
The provider of the course is edhesive.com, and the goal is for students to get credit and prepare for the AP test in May with the guidance of a coach. Baird and Brooke Wells, head of high school, have taken on the coaching roles.
“The role of the coach is not to teach the students but to guide them through the course,” Baird said. “The main role of the coaches is to make sure the students finish the course.”
Baird said that students who take an online course but don’t receive grades for the class usually don’t finish it. “The only way to guarantee it works is to have a class,” Baird said.
The course is designed to allow the eight seniors, two sophomores and one freshman to work out problems on their own. But Baird says his previous knowledge of programming allows him to help the students get over small hurdles.
Baird began learning programming languages in high school and got a degree in chemical engineering which requires a lot of computer programming.
“I basically did it for 20 years then stopped for 20 years,” Baird said.
Wells said that because he has no previous experience with computer programming, he is “more wheels on the ground,” working alongside the students and doing the lessons with them.
The students agree they like the flexibility of an online class.
“I like being able to do a lot of my work on the weekend because they release the lessons on Friday or on nights I don’t have much homework,” senior Brad Petchauer said. “I also work at a faster pace than I usually would have.”
Junior Maryjane Garcia said she can work around her schedule better with the flexibility.
“You get to do the lessons when you want,” Garcia said. “It’s not something you have to complete in class, so you have time later to do other work.”
The course does have some flaws, though. The students say a big issue is the code checking system used by the program, as it is very picky.
“The system only has one set answer it is looking for,” Petchauer said. “So when I put in code that performs the operation but is declined, it gets frustrating.
“But with code you have to be really precise, so although it’s annoying, it teaches you to be really careful with what you type.”
Senior Jacob Durante, a teaching assistant for Baird’s section of the class, took the course last year. He sits in during his free period and says he mainly checks other students’ errors.
“During the beginning, they are going over easy concepts,” he said, “so most of my time is spent going through and checking that the student’s code works even though the system declines it.”
But the checking system isn’t the main problem for Garcia.
“I think the most annoying thing is the server being down,” she said. “It sucks because sometimes completed work doesn’t get saved and turned in, so you have to redo it.”
Despite the flaws, Baird says more online math and science classes could be offered, but only if there’s a more knowledgeable coach.
“The idea of the courses is to allow someone with a basic understanding of the field to be able to guide the students,” he said. “I think you need someone who can share the load of teaching with the course so the students can learn more effectively.”
Wells said that the online environment fills a very specific niche.
“It doesn’t entirely replace the classroom setting, but down the road I hope more of these classes can be offered,” Wells said.