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Board may expand online classes

During a retreat meeting Tuesday night, Rochester School Board members discussed improving and expanding the district's offerings of online classes, as well as switching to a free, open-source software to handle them.

The board also is looking at turning online classes into a new revenue source by offering them to students outside the district.

Online classes are becoming increasingly popular in school districts across the nation. Students like the convenience and flexibility, and districts welcome the additional revenue they can collect from students outside their boundaries.

Currently, Rochester Public Schools has six online courses and will be adding six more for the next school year. The existing online high school courses are for accounting, advanced placement macro economics, physical education and health, computers, personal finance and writing.

Jean Lubke, executive director of curriculum and instruction, said she hopes the district will be able to broaden the offerings to more disciplines.


Advances in online learning software programs also could provide the school district an easier-to-use system for less money, said Lubke, who presented online learning options to the school board during the retreat.

For the past few years, the school district has used Blackboard Learning System 9.0 at a cost of $155,000 a year to provide online classes, Lubke said.

Four other options are possible:

• Schoology, which would cost $50,950 the first year and $37,950 a year after that.

• Brainhoney, which would cost $12,100 a year for the first year, based on 150 teachers being licensed to use the system, and $11,400 a year after that. The cost would increase depending on the number of teachers who use the system.

• Moodle, a free, open-source software that offers a full-featured learning management system used by many districts around the country.

• Edmodo, also a free, open-source software that offers a secure social networking platform. The difference is that it offers a limited learning management system.

A task force that studied the options recommended that the district go with both Moodle and Edmodo as a way to give teachers the option of what they'd like to use, Lubke said.


Elementary school teachers who want a way to communicate with parents, post lessons and documents, take polls of students and provide students with a safe introduction to social networking could use Edmodo, while secondary teachers could offer a full online curriculum through Moodle, she said.

The district didn't go with Moodle previously because it didn't offer the same capabilities as Blackboard and the district didn't have the resources or personnel to provide and manage it like it does now, she said.

With the Blackboard contract coming to an end in July, though, the district is looking at possibly switching systems sooner rather than later. The money savings from discontinuing the Blackboard contract could be put toward training for a new system, Lubke said. Plus, teachers who've created coursework in Blackboard should be able to transfer it to Moodle.

To enable the district to offer online classes outside the district, the district embarked on the 18-month process of becoming a state certified provider about four months ago, Lubke said. In the meantime, the district could become a member of the Southeast Service Cooperative and start offering classes to students outside the district even sooner, she said.

Membership costs $900 a year, but the district would receive $300 of the $350 that students pay to enroll in a class, she said. If the district becomes a certified provider, it would receive one-tenth of a student's state funding, which is more than $300.

Although the board members seemed enthusiastic about the possibilities, the retreat was only a learning session, not a chance to green light any changes.

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