The level of interest in online learning had been steadily increasing with social media as more and more students immersed themselves in the so-called dot-com world. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, there was a significant shift in focus away from classroom-based, face-to-face teaching to Internet-based instruction. The need for safety, due to the pandemic, forced students to adapt to a new approach to studying, and at the same time opened up a wider range of opportunities for them to manage how they studied, what they studied, and when they studied. Online learning effectively released students from the rigid classroom-based timetable environment to one that is completely under the control of the student. At the same time, it has also introduced a number of challenges for the student in how they decide which online school would work best for them.
Is the School Accredited?
In Ontario, only online high schools that have been inspected by the Ontario Ministry of Education are allowed to grant course credits that count towards the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). Online schools that have been inspected by the Ministry of Education and are found to meet their requirements are issued a Board School Identification (BSID) number. Most online schools display their BSID number on their websites, but if a student is unsure, they can also find the online school BSID on the Ontario Ministry of Education website (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca).
Online schools offer two ways to study; synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous learning is where a teacher delivers the course material live, as they would in a classroom, with the students watching via video conference. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, is where the course material is presented in a form that students can study independently with guidance and support from teachers.
The content and level of difficulty of course material are the same whether a student studies online or in a classroom, but in the case of online education, it offers greater flexibility in when and how the material is studied. Students can choose an approach that best suits their learning style and lifestyle. No matter which approach students choose, good teachers will conduct online learning to ensure students can make the most of their opportunities.
Assignments, Tests and Exams
In an online school environment, there is a need to ensure academic integrity by making sure that students enrolled in the courses are the ones actually doing the work. There are several ways this can be achieved. For example, in courses offered by Apex Academy Online, as students progress through the course, teachers will conduct a video conference with the student at the completion of a learning module to determine whether their understanding of the subject matter is consistent with the submitted assignments and tests. In the case of tests and exams, however, in online schools that require in-person exams, students will take the test or exam at a designated exam center, or in the case of Apex Academy Online, tests or exams are taken via an online proctoring service. Whether students are taking in-person or online proctored tests or exams, students will need to verify their identity with pre-determined documents that are unique to the student (i.e., photo ID). Once the test or exam begins, student activity is closely monitored either in-person or by the remote proctoring service, to ensure no unauthorized information is accessed.
The key to student academic success is effective time management skills; this is particularly important when students are taking part in online learning. Students must allocate time in their schedules to work through the material, interact with teachers, and complete the assignments, tests, and exams in a timely manner. In many ways, the online learning environment is similar to post–secondary education, where students have to take responsibility for ensuring they attend class and complete assignments and tests at the appropriate time. In this way, it can teach students the importance of working toward their goals using self–discipline, self–motivation, and self–reliance.
Not All Schools are Equal
One of the key decisions a student has to make is their choice of online school. It may seem that all schools are the same, but that’s not always the case. Online education is essentially an experience, and as such, the experience of one student may not be the experience of another. It is important, therefore, that students take the time to consider the elements that would make the experience of studying more effective, rather than just course availability and price. For instance, Apex Academy Online allocates a guidance counsellor to each high school student to offer support and advice, as needed throughout the course, as to how student’s academic goals can be achieved.
When considering which online school to choose, the answer will usually be based on several factors such as online school reputation, accreditation, tuition fees, the flexibility of payments, synchronous or asynchronous teaching, quality of lessons, ease of lesson navigation, available support, and final exam arrangements (i.e., online vs traveling to a designated exam center). Students should take the time to connect with the people managing the online school to ask questions to see if they are responsive and easy to work with, as it could mean the difference between a positive or negative experience.