Good Courses to Offer Online

What online course offerings best meet students’ needs? Initial ideas suggest four common types:

1. Elective courses in subject areas not offered at one’s school

2. Advanced courses for students who have completed the subject course sequence in their school.

3. Review courses for students who need more work to understand the material.

4. Courses for students who change schools and find that their previous coursework does not match up with their new school’s course sequence.

Missing from this list: the core, required courses of most schools. I wonder whether other, larger online course providers have success offering core courses that compete directly with schools’ core curriculum.

The Online School for Girls just announced their course offerings for 2011-12, and lo and behold, their courses fall neatly into the first three of these categories.

AP Computer Science
AP Music Theory
AP Psychology
AP Statistics
AP Macroeconomics
Environmental Science
Japanese I
Multivariable Calculus
Global Issues
Intro to Animation
Differential Equations
AP U.S. Government
Graphic Art
Intro to Human Anatomy, Physiology & Disease

Summer Courses
Intro to Computer Programming
Review of Algebra I
Write with Confidence, Clarity & Purpose
Transition from Spanish II to Spanish III
Transitions: French Enrichment Course

Photo credit: cindyfunk on Flickr


  1. Hey Richard, I think language learning classes are another category that could easily be offered online. We could expand our language learning offerings from the standard 3-5 languages that most schools offer to 30+ languages if we looked at some online possibilities like Rosetta Stone, etc. This model might support ‘just in time’ language learning as we look at sending our students to different countries for special projects and so forth.


  2. Richard says:

    I don’t know much about Rosetta Stone, but I wonder whether their courses would pass muster compared with independent school standards.

    The Online School for Girls course offerings include Japanese 1, or else I would have wondered where all of the language offerings were.

    I agree that language learning could be a great fit with online courses, but it may take longer for language teachers to ramp up to teaching online, as it won’t be easy to replicate the rich environment of the in-person language classroom. I’d love to see teachers offer Arabic and Swahili!

  3. Alex Ragone says:

    Check out Kahn Academy for how the core will be replaced:

  4. Really, Alex? That’s a collection of instructional videos.

  5. Alex Ragone says:

    Look at this:

    Not that it’s going to replace teachers, but right now, Kahn Academy is running self paced classes in schools and teachers are supporting the students who are having trouble.

    My gut tells me that many of the basic skills learning with be taken over by interactive systems like this. The teacher will be working with the top and bottom of the classes to make sure everyone is learning and school will be concentrating on different themes — Working on 21C skills like Creativity, Problem Solving, Collaboration, Communication and Ethics — Solving world problems, arts/drama, technology, or other themes. Social emotional learning is becoming more and more part of our learning communities.

    School change is going to happen quickly over the next few years.

  6. Richard says:

    I’ll readily admit that I don’t live in the U.S. educational mainstream, but I do think that it will be about 1,000 years before a place like Catlin Gabel would do that. Experiential learning builds the acquisition of basic skills and content within hands-on projects, so that it takes place within an authentic context. Our model of learning is far more sophisticated than self-paces lessons and extra help. 21st century skills are by definition embedded in authentic contexts. You can’t pull them out and treat them separately.

  7. Richard says:

    The Online School for Girls has found that teaching online requires *more* 1:1 teacher time, not less. In a classroom setting, students benefit from the dialog of the entire class. In an online environment, the work is more individualized, so they have a greater need for 1:1 teacher feedback. The future of online education is extremely intensive in terms of teacher time, not driven by self-paced video lessons.

  8. Alex and Richard- I think that this is a really interesting discussion here… and want to throw a wrinkle into it. I think that there is going to be a distinction developing between online learning at public schools versus online learning at independent schools. It is true that OSG has found that online learning is more 1:1 time intensive for a teacher through our approach; but that is not the case for all online learning systems. The difference: we have taken an approach to online learning that is modeled on independent schools– one that holds relationships between students and teachers (and students and students) at the heart.

  9. Richard says:

    Brad, thank you for joining the discussion. I know that national education dialogue tend to be reductionist, but we would all benefit greatly from terminology that distinguishes these different flavors of “learning.” Someone should coin a new term for the rich forms of online teaching that we are discussing, to distinguish from instructional videos and other forms of online training.

  10. I couldn’t agree more… I think that there is going to need to be terms not just for online learning, but for blended learning, too. Perhaps, it is even more important for blended learning, where there is almost an even wider gulf.

  11. While I think the Aaron Sams/flip model of teaching and learning has merit, I do have a few questions. For example, I wonder how this scales across classes. What would it look like if several of Johnny’s teachers used this method? It could potentially mean that Johnny ends up watching several boring videos at home for several nights each week…I’m not sure this is the progress we’re after.

    The other question I have is in the area of knowledge construction. As a former elementary school teacher with a deep interest in math learning, I strived to use methods and build context that allowed students to make their own meaning. eg, instead of delivering the standard algorithm for addition of fractions, I built a context with rich learning materials that honored background knowledge and allowed students to invent their own strategies. The Khan academy videos and teacher delivered content strikes me as contrary to constructivist approaches.

    And lastly, the Khan Academy videos don’t necessarily deal with another challenge, which is motivation. To me it still represents a just-in-case model of education. Students who aren’t motivated to learn algebra in a classroom setting are probably no more likely to be motivated to learn via Khan Academy resources. There needs to be some compelling reason for learning the material.

    Richard…I think most of us who live in the private school world are far outside of the educational mainstream 🙂 Imagine what our constituents would do if we started cutting arts/athletics programs, increased class sizes, paid people for how well their students scored on standardized exams, etc.

  12. Richard says:

    Matt, we certainly couldn’t charge $20-30k for that experience!

    Thankfully, many innovative public schools exist.

  13. Matt– You might be interested in looking at a number of the Blended Learning models that are out there, some of which include the Reverse/Flip Classroom idea, and some of which do not. Constructivist methodology can still be applied in an online setting (as can PBL and many other models). You might be interested in taking the OSG Blended Learning course (and this summer’s Blended Learning II course) to engage with some of the possible models out there.

  14. Brad, I don’t deny that progressive pedagogy can be implemented in online and hybrid courses. I help people strive to design such learning environments all the time-it’s my job. However, what I’m seeing with most formal online learning materials and OERs is a replication of instructivist pedagogy and approaches. I believe it is important for students to make their own meaning and invent their own solutions. Listening to Sal Khan talk about an algorithm for solving an algebraic equation doesn’t cut it for me. Not that it can’t be useful for a kid as he is trying to simply get through a course, but this isn’t the kind of deep and meaningful learning that I’m interested in.

    I like what middle school math teacher Eric Marcos does with vodcasting and ‘flipped’ instructional design. Instead of creating the learning materials and videos for the students, he invites his students to engage in this process. It’s empowering for youth to make their own meaning and then be able to share their invented strategies with other people that they’re learning with. I also like this strategy because it puts students in the role of the teacher-and as the saying goes, we learn best through the act of teaching.

  15. Alex Ragone says:

    I’m proud to be part of a community that kicks around such great debate topics in our spare time!

    I definitely think that tools that work at a learning station or to solidify skills for kids are helpful. There is so much general knowledge that we teach kids each year. Why not give them the best and most engaging lectures/presentations that we can find online or do some practice problems that give them immediate feedback to help them learn the material/skills.

    For example, kids at my school used Sal Kahn’s biology videos to study for a recent test and improved their performance. Having a different resource other than the textbook or teacher helped them.

    There’s a time and place for everything. In the public space, I can see Sal Kahn’s moving quickly. As for private schools, I’d also keep my eye out on — a part of We’re interviewing their head at on 3/9 at 12:30 EST.

    Not disagreeing with anything you gentlemen are saying. I believe in personalized education.

    Thanks to all of your for the great conversation. – Alex

  16. Alex and Matt–

    I agree… great to be kicking around these ideas. They are vital to the future of independent schools.

    And, Matt… I totally agree, and probably wasn’t clear in earlier posts. I think that you hit the nail on the head when you said: “Listening to Sal Khan talk about an algorithm for solving an algebraic equation doesn’t cut it for me. Not that it can’t be useful for a kid as he is trying to simply get through a course, but this isn’t the kind of deep and meaningful learning that I’m interested in.”

    That gets to the heart of my worries about Khan Academy, and others that have formulaic approaches to learning (like K12, Connections Academy, Kaplan, etc): how do they get to deep knowledge and understanding?

    And, Alex, I would be careful about identifying GW’s new venture as a “private school.” What really makes it “private”? The curriculum? Probably not… And, even if we can identify it as “private,” that is certainly different than “independent.” Think to what Pat Bassett talked about during NAIS: a new public purpose for independent schools, where they are, in part, laboratories for learning. A program like K12/GW that is based on formulaic, pre-developed, content-driven curriculum might not fit into that larger public purpose that Pat was envisioning.