Stanford University Affiliates with Online High School

November 20th, 2011

As the line between virtual and classroom-based learning continues to blur, some see Stanford’s move as a sign that so, too, will the line between secondary and higher education. Several other universities — though none with the pedigree of Stanford — already operate online high schools, a development that has raised some questions about expertise and motives.

The Times reports that Stanford has affiliated with the Education Program for Gifted Youth. This is part of a larger trend I was not aware of:

The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and the University of Missouri have awarded diplomas to about 250 and 85 students, respectively, annually for the last several years. The George Washington University Online High School opened in January.

Capitalizing on its reputation in foreign language instruction, Middlebury College in Vermont last year worked with K12, a for-profit company, to develop online high school language courses serving 50,000 students nationwide. An individual student’s course costs $749 per year, and Middlebury will share the profits. Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury’s president, said that while “it looks like mission creep beyond belief,” the opportunity to raise revenue carried the decision.

So how does it work?

Ms. Patrick said the typical online high school student lives in a remote area, was previously home-schooled or is deeply involved in an extracurricular activity that is incompatible with traditional schooling.

In this growing market, Stanford Online High School aims to be the destination for the most talented students. About 20 percent of the current 120 students receive financial aid to offset the $14,800 tuition, which is about half the average private-school tuition nationwide but far more than the University of Nebraska program’s $2,500. About 300 more students take one or more $3,200-per-year classes to supplement a bricks-and-mortar program.

Stanford officials said that the online high school had not yet yielded a profit, but that if it did, the money would be used for high school financial aid, not for the wider institution.

There is no entrance exam, but a college-like application requires essays, letters of recommendation and standardized test scores. About 70 percent of the applicants were accepted this year, a far cry from Stanford University’s 7.3 percent acceptance rate in 2010-11.

Of the high school’s 75 graduates, 69 so far have enrolled directly in four-year colleges, according to Raymond Ravaglia, the high school’s executive director. Eight attend Stanford, and 25 others are at Ivy League institutions or other elite campuses.

And what is a class like?

In a typical class session, about 14 students simultaneously watch a live-streamed lecture, with video clips, diagrams and other animations to enliven the lesson. Instead of raising hands, students click into a queue when they have questions or comments; teachers call on them by choosing their audio stream, to be heard by all. An instant-messaging window allows for constant discussion among the students who, in conventional settings, might be chastised for talking in class.

“You’re interacting with people all the time — with people all over the world,” said Nick Benson, a senior whose career as an actor required the flexibility of online schooling. “The nature of the classes is that you do interact with people quote-unquote in person — you’re seeing their face and responding to them like in any normal class.” …

Students taking a full five-course load must be present for 10 seminars per week, each of them 60 to 90 minutes, with an additional 15 to 20 lectures of about 15 minutes that are recorded by the teachers and viewable at the students’ convenience. Fridays are reserved for activities like a student newspaper and an engineering team. Papers are submitted electronically, and students are required to find a Stanford-approved proctor to oversee exams.

I can borrow from this model for my in-class pedagogy.