PA Cyber introduces hybrid of virtual and self-paced online courses

“FLEX” courses, a hybrid model combining some of the best features of self-paced and virtual online instruction, are being offered this year at the high school level by the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

The new FLEX curriculum is a hybrid of the self-paced Lincoln Interactive and real-time Virtual Classroom (VC) courses, said Dr. Michael J. Conti, CEO of PA Cyber.

“FLEX is a great option for students who do not want to commit to a full-time VC class, but who can benefit from the structure and live teacher interaction of synchronous instruction,” said Dr. Conti.

FLEX courses available in grades 9-12 for the 2012-2013 school year are English 10, American History, World Cultures, Earth Science, Biology, Spanish 1, French 1 and German 1. More courses are to be offered in the FLEX model if it proves to be as effective and popular as the school’s curriculum developers anticipate.

In FLEX courses, students will meet with their teacher and classmates live online one day per week (Tuesday or Thursday) for 90 minutes in Blackboard Collaborate, the online meeting program used for VC classes.

On the remaining four days, students will be required to independently complete one lesson each day in Schoology. Schoology is a secure online learning management system used by PA Cyber to create and share academic content.

Jennifer Shoaf, PA Cyber director of curriculum and instruction, said the FLEX option provides students with more structure and real-time teacher interaction than self-paced Lincoln Interactive courses, while allowing the student to work and study independently on the course material. FLEX teachers will be available for individual tutoring on a regular weekly schedule.

Because they are so new, FLEX courses are not listed in the school’s 2012-2013 course catalog. Shoaf said instructional supervisors are sharing information about FLEX courses with students and their parents, so that they can then make the best decision about which model of instruction matches the student’s learning style and educational goals: self-paced Lincoln Interactive, Virtual Classroom or FLEX. FLEX courses are available to all PA Cyber high school students with the consent of their instructional supervisors.

Every independent day begins with the student viewing a short introductory video from the teacher explaining the day’s lesson. Lessons may include working on projects, doing research, participating in discussion groups, and other tasks. Each self-paced lesson is designed to take approximately 50 minutes.

Each day’s lesson will be available at 8 a.m. If the lesson contains an assignment, the assignment will have a due date that may be that same day or a different day. The student has until midnight of the due date to turn in the assignment.

“Courses offered in the FLEX model keep students on pace,” said Shoaf. “The schedule and calendar for FLEX will be the same as for our Virtual Classroom courses, in which students start school on a certain day and end on a certain day.”

“PA Cyber continues to lead the way in educational innovation,” said Dr. Conti. “Our teachers and curriculum staff deserve credit for introducing an exciting new option in online learning.”

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