At The Carlucci American International School of Lisbon, we use an American curriculum but also offer an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. Our student body of over 700 students has become increasingly diverse over the last few years and now includes students from around the world.
When I came on board as the school’s new academic coach, we were using a well-regarded online program that helped expand our Advanced Placement (AP) class offerings. The number of students using our online provider has been growing year after year. We have a conference with the students to set expectations and we use that time to talk about time management, priorities and deadlines.
Here are five key ways that online learning helps us expand our students’ educational horizons:
1. Allows students to work ahead. Online learning students get the opportunity to advance when they’ve already moved beyond foundational coursework. This allows us to offer differentiated learning across various skill sets and abilities. If a new 8th-grade student has already mastered Algebra 1—typically taught in 8th grade—we can put them into an online geometry class instead. It helps students who are ahead, whereas in the past they may have lost six months of learning.
2. Makes good use of elective learning time. Our school designates a specific period for students to work on the virtual courses. Instead of taking an elective that we offer, students do their online elective in a classroom devoted to that work. The class is 60 to 90 minutes in length, depending on the day of the week.
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3. Boosts transcripts. Our IB program is extremely challenging, and some students choose to follow it when they become juniors and seniors. Our online provider gave us an additional option for them that really boosts their transcripts.
4. Gives students the chance to explore non-traditional coursework. One of our students took both biochemistry and biotechnology just based on sheer interest—something that she may not have been able to do using standard course offerings. Another student took personal finance and health, while another used the opportunity to learn more about the human body and health. In some cases, the online coursework directly supports a student’s career aspirations. For example, one senior student who planned on attending theater school in the U.K. took online courses in film, literature, and screenwriting.
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5. Prepares us to seamlessly continue during global crises. When the global pandemic emerged, our school already had the infrastructure in place to support remote learning. Our students who were enrolled in online courses didn’t miss a beat, nor did they have to wait for a teacher to intervene and get them up to speed on how to do their coursework online. We never stopped. We were fortunate in that all of our students had laptops. Even during the pandemic, they were always being taught.
Why it’s a no brainer
The process of setting students up for success with online learning is pretty straightforward at our school: we share the course catalog with them and then I share those picks with their guidance counselor and academic coordinator. If the selections fulfill the credits that the students need—and about eight out of 10 times they do—the student is free to take those online courses.
I then monitor student progress in the online courses, check that they aren’t missing any assignments and check in with them periodically. Our students do extremely well and, overall, I think the lowest grade was a 92%. Students love it and it’s a great opportunity for schools that just can’t offer certain subjects. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want the students to have all these extra options that you might not be able to give to them yourself.