Online Learning: The Spring Branch Independent School District in West Houston, Texas, faces a unique challenge. In a number of instances, students travel with their parents outside the United States, exposing these students to new cultures and languages. As a result, they must be able to continue their learning as they travel, and they are often interested in learning new languages when they return to the district.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Joel Smith, the eLearning Facilitator for the Spring Branch Independent School District, to discuss the district’s online learning program and how it’s helping to make education as mobile as the students. Here’s what Mr. Smith had to say.
LOTL: Can you tell us a bit about your district’s online education programs and how online learning is being used both inside and outside the classroom?
Mr. Smith: We have a very diverse catalog of online learning programs. One of those includes participating in the Texas Virtual School Network, which is a consortium of school districts and charter schools across the state.
Inside the classroom, we use online educational content that our faculty teaches via our learning management system. We’re also providing e-learning courses taught by third-party teachers that we wouldn’t be able to provide ourselves.
As a receiving district that accepts nonresident students from other school districts, we also provide online courses to our own students—as well as across the state. These classes can also be attended by students from private and homeschool that come and participate in our courses and are able to take subjects that were previously unavailable for them.
LOTL: What kinds of courses is the district offering online, and why is there such high demand for them?
Mr. Smith: Houston is a very diverse city. We have people coming in to our city, as well as people traveling abroad to other countries. We’ve had students who have gone to live temporarily overseas in places such as China as part of their parents’ careers. When they come back, they’re interested in continuing their education and becoming fluent in that language, but we’re not able to offer them a class.
Unfortunately, it’s very sporadic. We may have three or four students a semester interested in the course, but needing different levels of it—such as Mandarin 2 or Mandarin 1. This makes it difficult to justify the addition of a dedicated staff member to teach a particular subject.
Utilizing online learning, we’re able to offer a Mandarin course with outside teachers that we would not have be able to affordably staff with our own teacher for such a small number of students. And the ability to provide on-demand access to both courses and teachers from anywhere is really helpful for our more mobile students.
LOTL: Do you have any interesting anecdotes or stories of how the program has helped students from your district bring their courses with them when they traveled?
Mr. Smith: We have so many from students who are spending time in other states. One student had recently moved to Houston from Minnesota. During the summer, they were able to go back to Minnesota, participate in their sports activities with their friends and were still able to get credit for online courses taken during the summer, thanks to our online education program.
We also have had some affluent students that are traveling and are able to have some terrific experiences overseas during the summer. We had one student whose father was a businessman who was traveling to St. Petersburg, Paris and Barcelona. The student was taking Spanish via our online program and got the unique opportunity to be immersed in the language and culture in Barcelona while taking an online Spanish class. This program enabled us to provide that to the student online, overseas. The student was able to still have a rich summer doing their activities, their travel and spending time with their family while still getting credit in a very flexible environment.
A diverse and transient student body that needs flexibility and mobility in their classes can benefit from online learning programs. As Spring Branch Independent School District’s success illustrates, online learning is an effective and efficient way for students to see the world and bring their studies with them. It’s also an effective way for them to continue to learn languages and cultures from their travels when they return home.