Ashford University, a Bridgepoint Education academic institution, has become a leading provider of online education to college students around the world, but Ashford’s most recent initiative is helping to bring online education to students at San Diego middle and high schools. Ashford has partnered with the San Diego County Office of Education to assist them with launching an online Algebra course for San Diego students.
“This is really about transforming our classrooms and creating 21st century-skilled graduates,” said San Diego County superintendent of schools Dr. Randolph Ward. “It’s also about providing more options for our students in terms of their learning environment. It’s a hybrid option, because it’s not totally online. It’s in-class and online. It’s still connected to a teacher, but it uses technology to help students learn more.”
The idea to create a primary school course online sprang out of a meeting between Dr. Ward and Bridgepoint Education executive vice president/chief academic officer Dr. Jane McAuliffe. At that meeting, Dr. Ward expressed an interest in exploring online courses for San Diego schools. Having launched numerous online courses, Bridgepoint Education and Ashford University were ideal partners for Dr. Ward’s vision.
In September 2010, key representatives from Ashford University and the superintendents from several local school districts met at one of Bridgepoint Education’s San Diego locations to begin working on the plan to make an online course a reality. Ashford’s Academics department was able to provide leadership to the school district representatives who had little experience with online education.
“Very few school districts have the expertise to create an online course like this and many people are unsure about the whole idea of online education,” said Dr. Andrew Shean, who is currently a member of Ashford University’s full-time faculty but was previously the technology integration specialist leading the Poway Unified School District’s Virtual School Initiative. “Ashford has successfully gone down this road many times and we were able to spearhead the team.”
At the initial meetings, it was decided that the program to introduce online education would focus on an Algebra course since the subject is crucial for college-bound students.
“Algebra is the gatekeeper for college. It’s one of the main challenges for many of our students,” said Dr. Ward. “It’s one of the biggest hurdles for many students in completing the A-G course sequence required for entry into the UC and CSU systems.”
The online Algebra course was assembled over the next few months. The National Repository for Online Courses developed course content with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an HP Technology for Teaching grant. The course is being delivered by Moodle, a web application that manages courses for educators.
With the technology in place and the course ready to be taught, it was time for a rollout. On the evening of January 19, the online Algebra course was launched at a training session for two dozen teachers from around the county and San Diego County Office of Education staff. The pilot program had officially begun.
“We now have 25 teachers who are piloting it in different school districts around San Diego County – including Santee, Poway, Julian and others,” said Ashford University executive dean Rebecca Wardlow. “They are using it in various ways. Some are using it within the classroom through the one-to-one computing program in San Diego schools. Others are using it as a presentation lesson for classes. It’s also being used as homework or for follow-up assignments, depending on the teacher’s need for the second semester.”
“It extends the school day and the school week because students can log on at home, on their own time,” added Dr. Ward. “It provides more resources for our students, in terms of both learning materials and tutoring materials.”
“What’s nice about the online Algebra course is that it’s being built into the existing course so every student will get some exposure to a form of online education without committing to an entire year or semester,” said Helen Olmsted, a teacher at Oak Valley Middle School who is participating in the pilot program. “Online education provides another pathway for students to learn. By making the material accessible from anywhere, anytime, students can access it when they’re ready for it – which may not be the hour they spend in the classroom.”
Thousands of students in San Diego County have access to the online Algebra course via the pilot program. But this is only the beginning for online education in San Diego schools. In May, the teachers who are currently participating in the pilot program will meet with the team that created the online Algebra course to offer feedback and plan how to move forward. One thing appears clear – online education is here to stay.
“Research from Ambient Insight estimates that the majority of college students will be taking some of their classes online by 2014,” said Dr. Shean. “But school districts are not preparing students for online learning. Students aren’t learning how to be responsible for their own time, how to collaborate online and other skills that will be valuable for their college education. Online courses like this will prepare today’s students for their future college experiences.”
About Bridgepoint Education
Bridgepoint Education’s postsecondary education services focus on offering associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in such disciplines as business, education, psychology, social sciences and health sciences. Bridgepoint Education’s regionally accredited academic institutions – Ashford University and University of the Rockies – deliver their programs online as well as at traditional campuses located in Clinton, Iowa, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. For more information about Bridgepoint Education, visit www.bridgepointeducation.com or call Shari Rodriguez, associate vice president of Public Relations, at 858.668.2580.
About Ashford University
Founded in 1918, Ashford University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (www.ncahlc.org). The University offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs online and at its Clinton, Iowa, campus. The University is known for its high quality yet highly affordable online and on-campus programs. For more information, please visit www.ashford.edu or call Shari Rodriguez, associate vice president of Public Relations, at 858.513.9240 x2513.