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News Community WNC students savvy in online learning

State educators are using technology as an academic tool now more than ever before, as the need for resourcefulness, and the recession, have them weaving their academics into the world wide web.

North Carolina’s Virtual Public School [NCVPS] has been listed as the second largest virtual school in the nation, in terms of enrollment, by the 2010 Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning report. The Keeping Pace report is an annual review of state-level policy and practice of U.S. virtual schools researched by Evergreen Associates in Colorado and includes full-time and supplemental programs all across the United States.

In the last three and a half years, the school has become one of the fastest growing virtual schools in the country, topping 70,000 in enrollments by the fall of 2010.

Governor Bev Perdue said the report indicates technology is increasingly being utilized by students for academics.

“This big increase for North Carolina shows that more of our students are turning to technology to solve the rising demands within our school systems," she said in a recent statement. "During difficult economic times we must continue to find innovative ways to meet expanding needs for our schools systems so all students graduate career or college ready.”

School Superintendent Dan Brigman said that Macon County has “relied heavily” on NCVPS in recent years as student populations have increased along with their aptitude for online learning. Prior to this year, NCVPS was a free resource for state educators, but as of 2010 the state now charges schools a fee for NCVPS use. The cost of the fee is based on each school system’s number of students enrolled in virtual courses. As a result, Brigman indicated that since the fee went into effect, Macon County has been more frugal with its usage. “We still use it for its benefits though.”

“It really came as a surprise to all of the school systems,” Brigman continued. “We have tried to research alternatives. So far we haven’t decided on anything in particular, but we are aware of other avenues.” He described the majority of Macon students who primarily use the service as being High School students, particularly in Highlands and Nantahala. “It saves us from hiring teachers for some courses,” he added.

The current cost for Macon County Schools to use the web-based resource is $122,000 and Jackson County pays $93,000.

“There has been a lot of consternation concerning virtual funding,” explained Jackson County Superintendent Sue Nations adding that like Macon County, Jackson schools have been more wary of how much they use the service. The more students that use NCVPS now, the more county school systems are charged next year. “Virtual courses have been a true godsend for students in our more remote areas. There are some courses we simply can’t provide that Virtual Schools can… The surprise was how much it cost, but we support it one hundred percent. The opportunities are wonderful,” she said. Educational finance director Gwen Edwards estimated that roughly forty Jackson County students used NCVPS last year, and this year that number is expected to double.

Macon Early College Principal Todd Gibbs said that the program has major educational benefits. “The flexibility that it allows our students makes it a great thing. It allows students that have to have a certain class in a certain semester pick up that class. It is a little more difficult because it is online, but some kids respond to it better in some cases,” he explains.

Gibbs added that because virtual learning allows some students with self-motivation to “work at their own pace,” that MEC has seen an overall increase in performance for those students.

North Carolina continues to see a rapid growth of over 30 percent per year in virtual school enrollments. Passing rates have topped 82 percent in the past year. Furthermore, class completion rates have increased by more than 15 percent.

The demand for online classes continues as school districts are seeking to expand course offerings, improve upon scheduling conflicts and student space issues. NCVPS continues to work to train districts on blended learning integration and many districts have signed on to be "GOLIVE" districts in order to take advantage of strategic planning services offered through NCVPS.

"The growth of North Carolina's Virtual Public School is good news for North Carolina students and their families," said State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison. "This shows that students are seeing the value of virtual learning."

"The virtual public school offers schools an opportunity to extend their learning opportunities for students," said State Superintendent June Atkinson. "This is an outstanding tool for our school districts to use in meeting student needs and for leveling the playing field from school to school and from school district to school district."

The NCVPS offered its first online courses in June 2007. It was established by the E-Learning Commission, an organization created by the Business Education Technology Alliance (BETA) under the leadership of then-Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue. BETA was formed by the General Assembly to ensure that technology was effectively incorporated into North Carolina's public schools for the purpose of preparing a globally competitive workforce and citizenry for the 21st century.

For more information, visit www.ncvps.org, or call the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Information office at (919)807-3450. To download and view the entire report, visit www.kpk12.com/.





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