New law changes the way students take classes


Abby Prywitch and Sydney Stahlschmidt

Senior Danni Schneiderman enrolled in the virtual course Video Game Design. Going into the course, she expected it to be easy because it was online. Schneiderman, like many other students go into an online course thinking it will be easy because you can work at your own pace. The reality of the difficulty level of the course was not what she expected.

“It’s really hard and I really recommend to others considering taking an online class that you need to do something that you actually like because I don’t care about games and it makes it really hard to care about the class,” Schneiderman said.

In regards to online virtual classes Parkway offers many different options and with the new Missouri Course Access Program (MOCAP) students have even more opportunities to take online classes that they will enjoy. The law was passed in May of 2018, which has changed virtual learning for the Parkway School District. MOCAP replaced MOVIP, in want of giving all Missouri students equal access to quality online courses.

The district offers Parkway Virtual courses that are taught by parkway teachers which use Parkway curriculum. Those courses are delivered to students through schoology, which is the online learning management system that all students have access to. Schoology is sometimes also seen in the seated classrooms, but all Parkway Virtual courses are taught through Schoology.

If Parkway does not offer the course, this new law gives the student an opportunity to take it through a third party provider while still receiving a good level course. Dr. Jennifer Stanfill, Director of Choice Programs oversees all of the Parkway schools virtual learning.

“The state will be creating a statewide virtual course guide that students will than be able to look through and identify courses that they can take as part of their schedule and at the cost of the school district,” Stanfill said.

Parkway is then required to pay for the student to take the course.

The Parkway courses are free of charge, but there is a charge to the district, as they have to pay the teacher, but they would be paying that teacher regardless. If it is a MOCAP course that price varies. Parkways schools current preferred provider is Launch.

A semester long course through Launch cost $255 and that is paid by the district, not the family. The only time a family would self pay is if they did not want to use any of Parkways providers, than they could opt to self pay. Another way the family would self pay is if the student wants to take an extra class above a full schedule.

“So Parkway virtual you can take an 8th class and which is fine. We just allow you to do that. We are not required to pay for students to pay for an 8th class through MOCAP. So they would either have to manipulate their schedule,” Stanfill said.

The current provider Parkway uses, launch,  only partners with districts so as an individual you can’t go through them, so the family would have to find a different provider.

When the new MOCAP law out, the district got guidance from organizations in the state and in the area. One consideration was how schools will supervise the online students. A lot of students who take Parkway Virtual, will either have it first or last block so they can have a late start or early dismissal.

“Which works great if your within walking distance or if you drive, but if you depend on bus transportation that’s not as easy,” Stanfill said.

Each Parkway school has their own process of how they manage the students. While one school might have a supervised study hall in those students schedule, another might have those kids go to the library.

“That really we leave up to the schools because they are running the day to day operations of working one on one with kids,” Stanfill said.

While Parkway is required to pay for the course, there are some exceptions, if they have a good cause to decline the student’s enrollment.

When the district decides if it is a good idea for the student to take the online course they take many things into consideration. The online readiness rubric is used to determine if the student would be a good fit for virtual learning. They look at many things including the students work ethic, time management skills, their interest level, learning style and more.

The main goal of MOCAP is to keep the best interest of the student in mind whenever deciding who belongs in the class or the requirements to get into a course. There are many prerequisites that Parkway holds in order to see if a student is eligible and depending on those is when they can refer students to another online class or deny them admittance for that specific virtual course.

“There are some student skills that are needed for success that we have on Parkway Virtual website on that it list things like students have demonstrated time management skills and they are capable of submitting assignments, and that they can complete course assignments without constant reminders, they have persistence, and can overcoming,” Stanfill said.

There are not only personal skills involved in allowing for a students admittance but also their performance in verbal and communication skills that are necessary for all beneficial education styles. Parkway takes into consideration how well students have performed in previous courses and if they could take these skills onto an online environment. It is also a requirement to have the necessary computer and technology skills and accessibility for them to prosper in these courses with a positive outcome.

Another important aspect is if a student requires extra assistance interventions or adaptations in their everyday life at Parkway Central. Not all modifications are easily accessible in the online environment which may allow for a online course to not be the best option for a student.

“If these adaptations can’t be delivered online than it could be something that we might have to have a conversation to say this might not be the best and here’s why. In this case, the principle will respond to that family in writing and say maybe this other course may be better to start out with. But it’s not necessarily all black and white and we will continue to have further discussions,” Stanfill said.

Even if a student meets all of the requirements for an online course and is typically successful in other courses, an online course can be better or worse depending on the student’s learning type. Many different students have different views of taking an online course and how well they can perform. These virtual courses could be less beneficial if a student doesn’t have the schedule to make it work.

Parkway Central health and physical education teacher, Terri O’Leary is currently the only Parkway Central teacher in the system for online courses. Along with everyday classes she teaches online health for students all around the Parkway District. According to O’Leary, the curriculum is the same in both school and virtual courses for health, it just depends on the student how well they can perform.

“Some students do well in a virtual environment, others don’t. You have to be a self starter, motivated to learn on your own, and dedicated to making time to do the work. If you can do that, then virtual is a great option for you,” O’Leary said.

Many students also believe that online courses are easier than everyday classes in person because there is not a teacher sitting in the room with them and they have more freedom. However, this makes it necessary for a student to take more responsibility in their education and how well they are going to perform based on how hard they are willing to work.

For example, the online health course during the school year is just as much, if not more work to do than a traditional class in Parkway. A student will have all of their other work from their other classes and have to make their own time for the online courses and getting the work done. It is not simply the easy course that some people believe online courses to be.

“I teach virtual health during the school year and during the summer but no matter what, this class is not a blow off. There is lots of reflection and application writing that goes along with what you have read and learned,” O’Leary said.

Health is a required course at Parkway Central and can take away from other courses that a student may want to take that year. This is why junior, Catherine Ke, decided to take online health over the summer to leave more electives for her sophomore year. She got to experience the work that was put into these online courses and how they compare to everyday courses that a student is typically used to.

“You get to work at your own pace. It was hard because if I had a question I would have to email the teacher and wait for a response instead of being able to get up from my desk and ask. I had to also make sure that I got the assignments done when they were due, so that would affect the outside plans that I had made,” Ke said.

The grade book works a little different for virtual courses. The teachers use the Schoology gradebook which parents have access to at all times. At the end of each grading period, the grade is then transferred into Infinite Campus. Currently, for online classes only grades are available in infinite Campus; assignment details are only available on Schoology. The district is in the process of creating a path where the data will travel and feed into Infinite Campus from Schoology.

“We are in the testing stages of that right now,” Stanfill said.

While there are many differences, online courses are still taught and graded by a teacher, known as the teacher of record. Parkway teachers, who teach these virtual classes, typically do weekly announcements. With these announcements they have to give thorough descriptions of their expectations for the students.

  Some teachers do video overviews of the upcoming week to create a more personal connection. It is common for teachers to schedule biweekly deadlines meaning a portion of the work could be due on Tuesday and the rest is due on Friday to keep the students enrolled on pace. Discussion boards and assessments are embedded in the course as well.

Stanfill believes the biggest challenge for students will be developing a relationship with their online challenge.

“Although if you look at businesses and industry there are teams that work across the world all together and they have that kind of cohesion,” Stanfill said.

There are a few exceptions to these courses being all online.

“Our AP statistics class requires a proctored midterm and final, so that’s a little bit different because that has to be done in person,”  Stanfill said.

The teachers that write the courses go through  training. The district has online Schoology courses for teachers who will be teaching virtual courses, so they can learn the basics of Schoology and how to build an effective class.

“The teaching and learning process doesn’t really change, it’s just that delivery is very different. So a lot of the assessments, assignments, activities still work well in an online environment,” Stanfill said.

Online courses give students a lot of freedom when it comes to when and where assignments are being completed. Without a teacher to supervise, it brings about a whole new situation with students using outside resources.

Frequently in these online courses, there are tools that lock down your browser, to prevent students from opening up other tabs.

“We have had teachers before that ask students to utilize their phone to do a Google Hangout. Where the teacher can hang out with them while they are testing” Stanfill said.

This has caused the district to revisit their assessments to see if they really are the best way to assess knowledge, if students can cheat and find the answers online.

“If we are asking students questions that they could just Google on their phone or ask Siri and get an answer then those might not be the best test questions. Because in life if you could do that than why not?” Stanfill said.

One way, to assess what the students have learned is to use assessments that make the student apply the knowledge. Instead of choosing from a list of possible definitions, the student may have to complete an assignment applying those words into their work.

“I think that that has been a positive. It has caused to look at some of our objective multiple choice test. Which they’re still out there, I get it.  But we also have tools within our learning management systems that scramble questions to have random  questions. There is a lot of ways to kind of do that within the system,” Stanfill said.

With any change in the way schools have been doing something, can come along with difficulties or concerns.

“I wouldn’t say these are Parkway concerns, I would say generally speaking its really difficult to know what the demand is going to be,” Stanfill said. MOVIP has been around for quite some time and usually families would have to pay for courses themselves.

“So parents had to be able to do that, so there was sort of an equity issue there,” Stanfill said. Now that Parkway will be paying for the courses, Stanfill believes it will be quite difficult to anticipate what those numbers will look like.

Another concern Stanfill sees is how many students will opt to take these courses online and how that will affect the in-school traditional courses.

          “I don’t think is problematic, but is  just a challenge and a different delivery option for students,” Stanfill said.

One last challenge that arises when outsourcing learning to a third party provider would be gaps in learning. Parkway does a lot of work in curriculum to make sure there is a logical sequence for the order of courses.

“Our curriculum spirals,” Stanfill said. “If you get on the off ramp and take a course over here it might be difficult to transition. There might be some gaps or holes in learning because the classes are not exactly the same.”

These virtual courses are still based on Missouri learning standards, as that is a requirement, but each district differs on which learning standards are more of a priority.

According to Stanfill another reality that Parkway needs to be aware of is if the student is taking a course outside of Parkway that has an EOC, the district still owns that test score data. Meaning it goes into Parkway overall achievement report, even though it was not a Parkway teacher responsible for delivering the instruction to the student.

Parkway is continuing to add more and more courses each year and they take into consideration what courses are in popular demand by students.

“The most important thing to us is that we are offering the courses that students need,” Stanfill aid. “And so that I think a goal would be that we are paying attention to students needs.”