As we at OC Online continue to partner with physical campus schools and serve our own campus, we know that parents can find it challenging to find information about quality online offerings and to understand how those online options coexist with traditional campus options. Collaborating between physical campus and online programs to find the best fit for each student takes time and resources. At the same time, this challenge is a worthy effort since it results in so many examples of student success and even joy.
We had the chance to talk about this with one of our campus parents (Amy) to hear about the challenges and rewards of being a campus parent seeking online courses.
Going Online Expands Course Options
I stumbled across the OC Online course offerings completely by accident. I clicked on the wrong link in an email, thinking I was looking at Oaks campus summer school class options. I started reading and saw all these interesting class options that I’d never seen before. I clicked through several to read the course descriptions and realized I was viewing OC Online class options. There were so many cool classes that I knew my three on-campus Oaks students would be interested in. As I looked further, I realized that taking these classes over the summer and online would allow my girls the opportunity to keep their brains engaged in something they each find interesting, while still allowing plenty of flexibility for their summer to not be too rigid and our family travel plans to not be interrupted.
Online Courses Really Do ‘Count’
Our family has been at Oaks for 7 years and this was all a new discovery to me! Luckily, I’m not afraid to ask questions. I emailed some questions to the OC Online contacts – like A LOT of questions and follow up questions and things that were potentially silly to ask. But I wanted to make sure that these classes would “count” just like a traditional Oaks class and that I properly understood the Online program. I truly thought OC Online could only be utilized by students who were 100% online learners. I didn’t realize you could essentially build your own curriculum by adding online courses to supplement your traditional on campus schedule. The stories I had heard made it sound like Oaks Online was only used by or available to students who couldn’t attend on campus for whatever reason – working actors, traveling students, etc. I learned that clearly isn’t the case. The OC Online team was extremely responsive and didn’t make me feel ridiculous asking all of my questions. I felt very supported during my process of learning about OC Online.
Online Courses Develop Student Passions
Through asking a number of questions, I found out that the Oaks Online classes count just like traditional Oaks on campus classes do. What that meant for my family is that my rising senior was able to take an Oaks Online class over summer that she had planned to take in the Fall. It was an elective that she was interested in but she had some concerns about filling her senior schedule with it because of other classes she wanted or needed to take. Taking this class online over the summer opened up a spot for an additional class for her senior year on campus schedule. For her, we even looked further at Oaks Online offerings and found 2 semester-long courses that supported what her anticipated college focus/major will likely be – and these are classes not offered in the traditional Oaks campus curriculum at all. Learning that was a major bonus because it allows her to explore those topics before going to college and have that expressed interest on her transcripts for her college applications. So, we added them to her senior schedule for this year. Win-win.
One of my other daughters took a psychology course this summer. It’s a subject she’s interested in but was concerned about having it fill a spot in her sophomore schedule because she wanted to add more science-focused electives, because she is likely to pursue that path in college. Taking the class through Oaks Online allowed her to explore psychology, have that experience and interest show up early on her transcript and retain space in her sophomore schedule for other elective courses. Another win-win.
For my third daughter, taking a Forensics Science course between her Freshman and Sophomore year allowed her to have that demonstrated interest on her transcript early, as this is a potential focus area/major for her in college when she applies. That course isn’t offered in the traditional on campus Oaks curriculum at all, so this was a great way for her to explore the subject while preparing her transcript purposefully for college applications when she applies in a couple of years. A third win-win.
Online Courses Use Different Technologies
The online courses felt pretty familiar to my girls – kind of like remote learning during the Covid pandemic. For their particular classes, all resources were accessed electronically, similar to selecting the e-book option for an on campus course. Communication with the instructors was similar, using email, text, etc.
The differences between online courses and campus courses were mostly around technology. On the technology front, the online courses use Canvas, so my girls had to learn that platform. It didn’t take long, but it felt odd to them initially.
Communication about coursework was pretty straightforward. The assignments were all posted when the semester began and the dashboard on the Canvas page made tracking progress very easy.
All of it wasn’t a big issue because their generation is so used to technology that they just played around to teach themselves how to use it.
Online Courses are Flexible
My girls found that there was a lot of opportunity to partner with the instructors in an open way about when to hold the live session. That meeting time was initially set at the beginning of the course, but the instructors were always checking in and being fluid in what worked best for the group. That was a nice feature for summer classes, when schedules aren’t as rigid and personal plans change more often for students and their families.
Online courses are not easy. But they are engaging.
The online coursework was challenging for sure and required a time commitment. I have heard people say that they believe OC Online courses to be easier than traditional classroom courses. That didn’t prove to be true for any of my daughters’ classes. There were a lot of assignments, and they were appropriately challenging. They’re not easier if you participate in them correctly. They’re just different.
The instructors seemed to be purposeful in trying to build experiential learning into the coursework which was fun. For example, we had a crime scene set up in our living room for a few days and my daughter kept going back to it to complete various assignments for that unit. It made for a cool way to learn and I appreciated the instructor building that in.
Online Teachers are Really There.
For all three of my daughters’ classes, the instructors often posted comments for individual assignments, giving constructive and supportive feedback, sometimes a full paragraph or more. I haven’t found that to always be the case in a traditional classroom setting. The instructors felt to me like they took a personal interest in my girls and wanted to help them succeed. There were conversations going back and forth regularly about tangential topics to the course and the instructors seemed to be very engaged with my girls. I appreciated that.
Regarding teacher interactions, the instructors felt to me like they were very available to my daughters. Emails were answered very quickly, questions were addressed quickly and feedback on assignments was provided quickly. The instructors provided personal experiences in their field as it related to the class and that made for a more interesting way to learn. The teachers also remained flexible in terms of live sessions and challenges with the course material. It felt like a partnership between the instructor and each of my daughters – like they were attacking the subject together. And the small class size allowed for a lot of interaction and sharing of ideas.
A Final Message to Parents
I would advise parents to spend some time looking through the OC Online course offerings. I would guess that most parents who have students in the traditional Oaks campus don’t have a sense of the breadth of course offerings through OC Online, nor understand that they can personalize a curriculum by utilizing online courses.
I’d also advise parents to talk with their student’s college counselor or Academic Dean to make sure they understand how the course will count on their transcript and what requirements it may fulfill. And I’d recommend parents consider online courses over the summer. The pressure of a full schedule is off so students can purposefully add to their transcript in support of their pending college applications and it gives them a chance to explore something they are interested in that might not be possible during the traditional campus school year.
As a parent, we’re all busy and feel like it’s easier to just let the campus curriculum take over and not complicate things by adding online courses where you have to learn the process, a new platform and track another database for your students’ progress. But, in my students’ case, they would have missed out on some cool classes and learning, so I’m happy I mistakenly hit the wrong link in that email.
You know your family and your kids best. What works for our family may not work for yours.
How lucky are we to have these options available to us as parents?!