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New E-schools highlight growth of online education in Ohio

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For the first time since 2005, K-12 students in Ohio have the opportunity to enroll in new online education programs after three e-schools were approved by the Ohio Department of Education to open for the 2013-2014 school year.

The schools, including Insight School, Mosaica Online Academy, and Provost Academy, will be the first to come to Ohio since the moratorium enacted 8 years ago ended in July 2013. They will provide students with a wider range of education options than already exist in the state.

One of the advantages of e-schools, according to Ryan Rieder, instructor of a Technological Applications in Education course at Ohio University, is the ability for students and their families to seek out education beyond the reach of their own neighborhood.

“In the past, education depended on where you live, so if you’re from a big city or small town without a lot of resources it can be limiting. Now it doesn’t matter where you’re from. [Online education] really changes the game,” Rieder said.

Besides being able to choose from a wide variety of learning outlets, Rieder also believes that online learning enables his students to establish better relationships between both him and each other. He does this by splitting his class into three separate Google Hangout sessions of eight or nine students.

“Due to the smallness of the class I can see what issues they have. All the students can see each other and actively converse about assignments for the week,” Rieder said. “It helps the students connect with each other better since we meet in the same groups each week. It helps the camaraderie of the class.”

Naim Sanders, executive director of Provost Academy of Ohio, agrees with the idea that online learning provides a more individualized learning structure than a typical classroom setting.

“Online schools provide less distractions for students. There are no classroom disruptions and students receive a more personalized education that meets their needs,” Sanders said.

However, not everyone is as convinced that online education is as promising as Rieder and Sanders. In a 2012 study conducted by The Babson Survey Research Group and Inside Higher Ed, 58 percent of the surveyed education faculty said they were more fearful than excited about online education, and a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 29 percent of American adults believe that online courses are as equally educationally valuable as one in a classroom.

Both Rieder and Sanders acknowledge the fact that there are disadvantages that come with online education, especially regarding technology access or comfort-level with students. Rieder also noted that, although he thinks any student can succeed in online learning, if a class is set up without live interaction, like with recorded lectures, students may need to be more individually motivated.

Despite the imperfections associated with online education, Sanders believes that online schooling will become more common and helpful for giving students valuable skills for the real world.

“I think that online schooling is the wave of the future. Students today are more well-rounded and have an increased interest in technology…and online learning prepares students to incorporate technology in their everyday use at work and at home,” Sanders said.

For Rieder, while online education may not be the universal solution for all education problems, he still thinks thinks that it will become more important in the future.

“There’s no situation that is perfect for learning and there’s no easy answer for education,” Rieder said. “It’s constantly an experiment…but I do think online education will play a big role in the future.”

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