Beginning this fall, St. Paul’s School, in collaboration with the Eight Schools Association (ESA), will offer two online courses to Sixth Form students.
With permission from the dean of studies and the head of the Languages Department, select Sixth Formers may enroll in the online study of Arabic language. Also with permission, Sixth Form students may register for an interdisciplinary course called Water and Humanity.
The pilot programs will be team-taught by educators from the Eight Schools, including teachers from St. Paul’s, Choate, Deerfield, Hotchkiss, Lawrenceville, Northfield Mount Hermon, Phillips Andover, and Phillips Exeter.
According to Dean of Studies Alisa Barnard ’94, the decision to offer classes with an online study component came from the ESA’s technology and learning initiative, which determined that the schools could fill a need by creating blended learning opportunities for students across the Eight Schools.
“Blended learning means that we are combining online components with in-person, real-time classwork,” Barnard explains. “We are trying to be intentional about how we adopt online learning tools in a way that is mission-supportive. The beauty of the collaboration is that we can move forward in exploring this realm with other like-minded schools and, at the same time, bring opportunities to our students they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The Water and Humanity course will be team-taught by one instructor from a different discipline at each of the schools. Brian Schroyer, a fine arts faculty member at SPS, will teach on behalf of St. Paul’s. Faculty from other schools include teachers of physics, environmental sciences, math, and Latin. The course will be project-based and include online group work between students at the various schools plus coordinated in-person class time at each school with the teacher assigned to the class.
“This allows us to explore collaboration and interdisciplinary work,” says Barnard.
The Arabic language class differs in that it will be taught entirely online by instructors from Deerfield and Choate. The yearlong course will include online lectures, videos, and discussion boards and, even though it lacks the in-person component, says Barnard, students will be able to work at their own pace during each week and then come together at least once weekly for synchronized evening time online with others participating in the class. The class roster will be limited to seniors who already have satisfied their language requirement and are continuing at an advanced level with another language at their respective schools. The idea is to provide a foundation in an additional language for students who aspire to the study of linguistics at the college level.
Barnard and her Eight-School peers are aware of the reputation of online learning as impersonal, but she sees the pilot courses as an avenue for collaboration with peer schools and an opportunity to explore “what online learning could look like in a model that is authentic to our mission.”
“The fear around the phrase ‘online learning’ is that it is impersonal, one-way,” Barnard says. “But the fact is that the tools have evolved rapidly in the last few years to allow for the creation of an independent school classroom, even in the virtual sphere. There will be a low teacher-student ratio and a real opportunity for teachers and students to get to know one another. These classes will take all of those things that make our classrooms distinct, including learning driven by questions and discussions. It fits in with what we are all trying to do with building a learner-centered education.”