High school students increasingly opting for online classes


Alexandra Johnston-Carnes had trouble fitting gym class into her schedule last spring so she decided to try something new, eLearning.

The Hutchison High School senior took gym class in a computer lab with other students taking other eLearning classes. 

She said it involved more book work than a teacher-led gym class. Johnston-Carnes exercised at home, choosing her own activities, and kept a log. 

“It was definitely new and interesting,” she said. She signed up for another eLearning class this term. 

Officials with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District said eLearning, in its second full year, is making it easier for students to build a course schedule that meets their needs, offers a new way to redo a class after getting an F and is expanding course options at area high schools, especially the smaller ones. 

“The opportunities and options for your coursework should not be limited by zip code,” said Shaun Kraska, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

More than 500 high school students in the district are enrolled in an eLearning course this semester, according to data provided by the school district. 

The number has increased each semester since the program began two years ago at West Valley High School as a pilot project with 40 students. 

Students are taking algebra, biology, economics, foreign languages, health, psychology, history and more online. 

Many are working at their own pace and taking classes that otherwise would not be offered at their school. 

“We are giving students the options of their pace, their place and their pathway,” said Holly Cervin, director of alternative programs for the school district. 

The eLearning labs, present at the district’s five major high schools, each have a certified teacher to show students how the digital platform works, answer questions, troubleshoot technology and guide students through the coursework. 

Another certified teacher — who the students do not meet in person — interacts with the students online about the subject matter and grades their work. 

“You have two certified teachers looking over your shoulder while you are working on the content in the online course,” Cervin said. 

The online teachers also work for the school district and have agreed to lead online classes as an extra paid duty. 

Aubrey Congdon, a junior at Hutchison High, is taking two online classes, Spanish and multicultural studies.  

“I like it because it’s more personalized. I can get ahead if I want to,” she said. 

Congdon is good at math and has managed to get ahead in math by taking online courses. 

She would not choose online coursework for every subject, she said. Congdon would prefer a teacher-led class for science, a subject she feels less confident about. 

Ginger Hamlin, the eLab facilitator at Hutch, said eLearning works great for certain types of learners and certain classes. 

“This platform of learning works very well for some,” said Hamlin, a teacher for more than 20 years. “I think it depends on the course and the student.”

School counselors try to screen students and prepare them for eLearning, which Hamlin said can involve hours of coursework outside of the eLabs to get through the material. 

Taking a class at the eLab is very different than a traditional teacher-led class. 

On Thursday in Hamlin’s eLab, students started class by grabbing a laptop off of a cart and choosing a seat. 

Students on track or ahead in their coursework have extra privileges, Hamlin said, including more freedom for where to sit. 

Signs posted around the room said, “Cell phone use prohibited without  teacher permission.”