Pekin students take courses online

By Marc Strauss

October 5, 2011 Updated Oct 5, 2011 at 8:07 PM CDT

Few local schools are embracing technology like Pekin High School. Students there are able to take courses online.

Some are even earning credit in U.S. History without having to spend much time in a classroom.

"We have 18 students who are enrolled in the class and they take their class entirely online," said Cynthia Hinderliter, chairman of the school's instructional technology department. "They do all of their work online and they come in to take their tests."

The course curriculum is accessed by students through something called Blackboard, an internet-based learning platform that's used by some colleges and universities.

But it doesn't replace the teacher. In fact, at Pekin High it seems to make them more valuable than ever.

"(Rich Schurter) puts hours and hours and hours of content and time working with the class. Sometimes he'll have 200 e-mails a month from students just dealing with his online class," Hinderliter said of the teacher who oversees the online history course.

About 120 students at Pekin High School participate in online learning in what are called "flipped" classes. That means classes are literally flipped, with the original material introduced online after school while the application of that material takes place in class.

"For homework now they watch a podcast of the lesson material," said science teacher Sherry Spurlock.

When they come into class we work on any of the worksheets that they have. Their work that was typically homework before is now done in class where they have me as a resource to ask questions of."

Students like sophomore Ericka Ash are taking a flipped class in chemistry and physics. She says it not only gives her a head-start on the material but also thinks the information is more current.

"There's more information online than in the book and the information online gets updated daily or even hourly."

A school official says the online pilot program at Pekin High is likely to grow, beginning with the addition of courses that can be taken over the summer.