Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.
Program model: Enriched Virtual
Students attend class face-to-face two days per week for a total of six hours per week, and then do the rest online remotely. The face-to-face teacher also serves as the online teacher.
History and context
Fairmont Preparatory Academy (Fairmont) is the largest and oldest non-sectarian independent school in Orange County, Calif. In 2009 it began an e-learning strategy it called “build out from the core.” The first prong of this strategy was to bring the best technologies to the school’s traditional classrooms and develop teacher skills related to technology. Pursuant to this goal, Fairmont began equipping its classrooms with interactive whiteboards paired with an extensive library of flipcharts. It also invested in a Blackboard learning management system, available beginning in the fall of 2010, to facilitate parent-teacher-student communication.
The second prong of Fairmont’s strategy was to offer new online courses to Fairmont students and then extend the reach of the courses beyond Fairmont’s constituents. Fairmont kicked off this strategy in the summer of 2010 with a blended summer school program.
Fairmont offered 18 blended courses during its summer 2010 program, including the following: Biology Honors and College Prep, Chemistry Honors and College Prep, English I/II/III, Pre-calculus, Algebra I, Algebra II/Trigonometry, Geometry, Health, U.S. History, World History, U.S. Government, and Economics. These courses served 156 students, grades 9–12. It made these courses available to students throughout Orange County for their summer needs because of budget cuts elsewhere. In total, 69 percent of enrollees were Fairmont Prep students and 31 percent were from other schools.
Enrolled students attended class face-to-face two days per week for a total of six hours per week. During this time, teachers presented key lectures, assigned small group and individual work, conducted labs, and presented reviews. For the rest of the week, students worked online remotely by logging in to the Blackboard learning management system to access their coursework. The same teacher interacted with the students for both the face-to-face and online components of the class. They exchanged emails and held synchronous discussions with their students when not on-site. Teachers kept their students learning at the same pace so that they were in synch when they met face-to-face as a group.
Teachers created their own content by modifying University of California (UC) College Prep and Aventa Learning courses.
Fairmont realized a 33 percent cost-per-student reduction over the summer, as it was able to spread its cost per course over a larger number of participants.
As for academic performance, remediation students—meaning students who were retaking a course because of a failing grade—made moderate improvements in the blended environment compared to comparable remediation students in a traditional environment in prior years. Eighty-three percent of remediation students earned a higher grade in the blended course than they had in the traditional classroom. This compared to 80 percent in 2009 and 78 percent in 2008 for remediation students retaking courses in traditional classrooms.
Students taking blended courses for credit advancement faired comparably, on average, to students in traditional classrooms taking the same courses in prior years. Eighty-eight percent of these students earned passing grades in the blended course compared to traditional classroom (same) courses in 2009 at 93 percent and 2008 at 88 percent.
Teachers who participated in this rotation-model pilot study recommended the following best practices as a result of their experience:
- Schedule time in the computer lab once a week to make sure students are not struggling with their computer skills.
- For math, present a face-to-face overview of the major topics and have students practice problems in class and then follow-up with reading and other assignments online.
- Devote the first half-hour of class to questions from the online material.
- Structure wet lab science courses with two days of in-class activity and a third day of in-class labs.
- Post announcements each morning with the daily assignment to keep everyone at the same pace.
- Keep course navigation wide open to encourage exploration of the learning content.
- Determine attendance by meaningful interactions between student and teacher (such as synchronous communications, daily email questions and answers, discussion boards, and chat sessions). Set regular virtual office hours for students to contact the teacher with questions or homework issues.
- Tee-up virtual collaboration by assigning group projects in class.
- Give clear instructions and expectations for the use of the learning management syste.
- Give the final exam through the learning management system.
Most of the teachers who participated—12 out of 15—agreed with the statement “I like it,” when asked about their experience teaching a blended course. The three teachers who expressed dissatisfaction cited concerns such as not rigorous enough content or too many English-language learners. During the pilot, teachers enjoyed the scheduling flexibility that came with being able to teach off-campus three of the five days per week.
Student satisfaction with the pilot was relatively high. When asked, “Would you take a hybrid course again?” 74 percent said “yes,” 14 percent said “maybe—depends on course schedule,” and 14 percent said “no.”
On the horizon
Fairmont has begun selling its blended courses outside of its school under the brand Thesys International. For the 2010–11 school year, it offered 36 courses, targeted mainly at independent schools and charters, and it launched additional pilot blended programs.