16 Feb IQ Academies brings online learning into Wisconsin homes
Through Feburary 25, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will foot the bill if high-school students enroll in a school outside their districts, including a completely online program offered by the Waukesha district called the IQ Academies.
IQ Academies, the largest accredited online high school in the state, is in its second year and educates hundreds of students across Wisconsin. Students get a Macintosh iBook computer, a color printer, $20 per month to pay for Internet access and an online alternative to traditional, face-to-face learning.
The organizers work closely with KC Distance Learning in Portland, Oregon, to run the program, which is KC’s first of this kind.
“Because these [iBook] computers have voice chips, wireless cards, and internal modems, these students can be anywhere that learning can happen,” said Kelly Garrett, executive director of the academies with KC. “This is the idea of creating lifetime learners by giving students the opportunity to make learning an ever-present part of their days. The educator in me gets really jazzed up about that stuff.”
Students enrolled in the school will make their final decision on attendance in June, but need to be signed up by the deadline on February 25 in order to receive free tuition. They take the same core courses they would in a traditional high school, meeting DPI’s requirements in English, math, science, social studies, and health. At the same time, students are provided the opportunity to take honors, dual-credit, and Advanced Placement courses, as well as specialized courses that local high schools may not offer.
While students are generally encouraged to spend one hour on each course five days a week, they may log into the IQ system 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Students use online research and communication tools such as Blackboard to supplement their lessons, and turn in assignments electronically, receiving feedback from instructors within 72 hours. Parents can check grades online.
“Blackboard is an asynchronous learning tool, so students can get online any time, night or day,” Garrett said. “We [also] work closely with Elluminate; it’s kind of like being in a classroom, only you can’t see the other classmates. You have voice over IP, you have a whiteboard section. Students can text message each other, or draw on the whiteboard and write out equations, and teachers can upload presentations for students. We make sure that these tools create a powerful and effective learning experience for the kids.”
Lisa McClure, operations manager for IQ Academies, said a few more pieces are involved. “We supply students with software that’s used – Dreamweaver and Photoshop are provided for one of the multimedia courses – otherwise, all of the software that’s needed is provided through Blackboard,” she said. “Apex offers some of our AP and language courses; students actually log in to the Apex server for that portion of their courses.”
Diplomas from the IQ Academies are recognized by institutions of higher learning across the country, since students spend as much time on the online courses as they would in a traditional high school. Full-credit courses generally require about 180 hours, or 36 weeks, to complete.
Several programs help parents stay connected to their children’s education. Parents can arrange opportunities for their students to get together with other IQ students, and at regional meetings students, parents, teachers, and staff get together to discuss the program.
“What’s been amazing to watch has been the quality and the level of interaction that students are engaging in,” Garrett said. “We always worry whether or not students are getting the interaction they need, but these students are interacting in really powerful, meaningful ways, and there’ll be four times as many posts on the philosophy message board as there are on the TV message board.”