Nashville district plans for online course

By John R. Schirmer
Leader staff
It’s not “moogle.”
It’s not “noodle.”
It’s “Moodle,” an online education resource which will help the Nashville School District comply with a new state law dealing with graduation requirements.
Act 1280 says that every ninth grader in 2014-15 must have an online course before he or she graduates, according to high school Principal Tate Gordon. “It requires at least a half credit in a digital learning course,” Gordon told the school board last week.
The requirement brings up two questions – use an outside vendor or use a homegrown course, Gordon said.
Providers such as Virtual Arkansas provide online courses to meet the new requirement. The Arkansas Department of Education has a list of about 35 vendors which will provide the classes for a fee.
There’s an annual fee of $2,500 per district, plus $25 per student per class per semester with Virtual Arkansas and other companies, Gordon said. “That’s about a $6,000 average per course for us.”
Instead of going with an outside vendor, Gordon and junior high assistant principal Jason Williamson looked at another option. “We like homegrown,” Gordon said. “We can have a classroom teacher online. Students can work on their lessons at home or away, and it costs us nothing. We already have the server, and we can use our teacher.”
The district recently ordered 300 laptops for junior high and high school; they are expected to arrive after spring break.
“Our teachers can assign the laptops. Mrs. C [Connie Castleberry] will be the teacher,” Williamson said.
Enter Moodle.
“We can access other schools’ classes and request rights to them,” Williamson said. Moodle is similar to Blackboard, which many colleges use, and other online services, according to Williamson.
“Mrs. C is doing similar work at CCCUA. Mrs. [Kim] Newton works with it at high school,” Williamson said.
Superintendent Doug Graham always asks administrators two questions about new programs, Williamson said. “Is it good for kids? How much does it cost?”
The answers for Moodle are “1. Yes, it’s good for kids. 2. Nothing,” Williamson said.
Moodle can be accessed from the district’s homepage,
Castleberry’s ninth grade civics classes will implement the online course. “They’ve already had hands-on [computer] knowledge from eighth grade,” Williamson said.
Moodle will show units and activities for the class. “It’s a great way to provide what we need for our kids. It does what Blackboard does,” Williamson said.
The format for the class will be up to Castleberry. “How much instruction is in class time and how much is online is up to Mrs. C. High achievers can really get after it, or she can provide one-on-one help if needed,” Williamson said.
Moodle classes include “some lecture, and students can work at their own pace,” Gordon said.  The classes also “cut down on paper. Students do their work online and submit it to the teacher. It’s a paperless class.”
Graham said there are two goals: “Prepare students for college and get ready for future classes. Ten years from now, we may not know school as we know it today. This is the first step.”
The district considered providing the Moodle instruction in health classes “and may do more later,” Graham said. “We have to watch the effect on electives and not water them down.”
The online course must be in place by August, Graham said.
The curriculum must receive state approval.
Civics and economics are required already, Gordon said, in explaining why it will become the digital classroom. “We have the teacher. We have the room.”
Williamson said students can upload their assignments. When they are graded, the results “pop up on the screen.”
In Fort Smith, Ramsey Junior High utilizes digital instruction. “The entire building is Moodle,” Williamson said.

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