Fifty high school students will be enrolled in “Arkansas High School” next year, attending classes by computer and learning from teachers miles away.

A $166,000 grant from the state Education Department to the Arch Ford Education Cooperative is paying for computer equipment, online services, and professional training for the pilot program, which begins in January 2000.

Students will be able to choose from eight subjects—Spanish, algebra, world history, U.S. history, calculus, English, biology, and oral communications—via the internet.

The program will target students who cannot take the courses in a regular classroom. Students enrolled in the program will enter “course rooms” to read their teachers’ lectures and find out current assignments.

They will work at their own pace and have the option of doing homework on personal computers at home or in computer labs at their schools.

Teachers will grade tests and assignments and check in on class discussions regularly to give students an idea of how they are doing in class.

“That’s the beauty of this—no one has to be at any certain place to teach or take a class at any one time,” said Bill Beavers, project director. “With this, a teacher in Danville can teach students in south Arkansas and Little Rock at the same time. It’s incredibly flexible.”

Beavers said the virtual school’s 11 teachers have taken three courses in online education and will train every Saturday through the fall. As part of the training, they are learning about some of the drawbacks of online teaching.

For example, teachers may have to work harder at keeping students interested by making lessons interactive. And they won’t have body language or verbal cues to tell them whether students understand their lectures.

To get around those problems, they can use clip art to break up big blocks of text, audio and video to engage students in learning, and compressed video—two-way live television used in many classrooms—or eMail to talk one-on-one with students.

“This is not meant to replace teachers. I don’t see anybody doing this exclusively, but it’s a great supplement to what we already have,” Beavers said. “If a student is, say, sick and can’t come to school he could use this, or if he needs a particular course—like German, for example—and his school district can’t spend the money for such a limited-demand resource, he could take one of these online courses.”

Arkansas Department of Education