This article was originally published in the summer 2013 Harker Quarterly.
In the spring of 2012, Harker began participating in the Global Online Academy (GOA), a consortium of independent schools located throughout the United States and abroad who organized during the 2010-11 school year to provide high-quality online classes to students at member schools.
Classes are taught by the faculty of member schools and cover a wide variety of topics, including playwriting, global health and app development for the iOS platform. This topical diversity was Harker’s primary reason for applying for membership in the GOA. “Continuously seeking broader programs and broader academics requires that we go beyond what we can deliver just with our own faculty,” said Dan Hudkins, director of instructional technology.
The quality of the schools involved in the GOA also meant little worry over the quality of the instruction. “All of the students are members of one of those schools, and all of the people who are teaching are people who are teaching in one of those schools, so we have no issues whatsoever about the quality of instruction or the peers whom the students will be working with,” Hudkins said.
In all, 14 students have taken GOA classes so far. Anushka Das, grade 10, enrolled in a global health class, taught by an instructor at the Lakeside School in Seattle, in the spring semester. One of the main motivators for her was the opportunity to collaborate with students from different areas and cultures. “Plus, it was a completely different setting,” she added. “The class involved lectures, video and technology that I had not used before, and the chance of having a new experience was enticing.”
The course itself also offered a new area of study. “I have always been interested in biology, and this course gave a totally new perspective into the world of diseases and how diseases affect and are affected by social, political and cultural systems,” she said. “It allowed me to globalize my knowledge and gain several new points of view on diseases around the world.”
Classes are conducted via a range of means, using tools such as Skype to video conference with classmates and teachers as well as Google Docs to collaborate on projects. Students also coordinate for their class projects using online discussion threads. Class sizes are capped at 18 students in order to help maximize effectiveness.
Evan Barth, dean of studies at the upper school, said students who participate in GOA should be prepared to take the online course as seriously as they would any of their other classes at Harker. “A lot of it comes down to mindset,” he said. “It takes a certain amount of time management skills. This class counts as one of their class periods.”
Harker plans to expand its participation in the GOA in the coming years, with some teachers already training to conduct classes online. “After teaching for 28 years, I don’t want to become one of those stuck teachers who doesn’t have the flexibility anymore to adjust to new needs and developments in the pedagogical field,” said upper school math teacher Gabriele Stahl. “At the same time, technology challenges me and sometimes scares me. So I chose this course to leave my comfort zone.”