Online Advanced Placement courses offer boost for students

Chris Magnum, Music Department Coordinator at Long Island

Chris Magnum, Music Department Coordinator at Long Island High School for the Art in Syosset, is shown with his students during a music theory class. Magnum created a virtual AP class in Music Theory that will soon be available to students in other Long Island High Schools. (Jan. 15, 2014) (Credit: Alejandra Villa Alejandra Villa)

More than 200 Long Island high school students are taking newly available online Advanced Placement courses, with extra offerings to come in the fall.

Eight online AP courses now are being offered in 15 districts, an initiative funded by a $2 million state grant to a Nassau BOCES-led consortium that includes both Eastern and Western Suffolk BOCES. Six new virtual Advanced Placement courses are in development and will be available in September, officials said.

The new interactive courses, which use PowerPoint, video and other forms of multimedia, are the first to be designed by a team of 11 Long Island teachers. Each class, except AP studio art, will have two instructors.


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"We're pioneers," said Chris Mangum, department coordinator for music at Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset. "It's going to be the future of education." He is arranging a virtual AP music theory course for the BOCES program.

Advanced Placement courses are administered by the College Board, a Manhattan-based nonprofit also known for the SAT and PSAT assessments. High school students who perform well enough in AP courses can use them to fulfill college-level requirements.

"It's an opportunity for our students that they wouldn't have otherwise," said Gerard Poole, assistant superintendent for curriculum and construction in the Freeport school district.

In the past, Freeport and other districts could not afford to hire teachers for an AP course if only five students were enrolled, Poole said. While the expense of traditional AP classes varies in each district, it costs more to offer the courses on-site than it does online, said Angela Marshall, public information officer at Nassau BOCES.

The online AP courses will provide opportunities for districts that previously did not offer certain AP courses, Nassau BOCES coordinator Regina Moraitis said.

BOCES plans to save all course material in a repository that students and educators can permanently access, Eastern Suffolk BOCES officials said. Components of each course can even be extracted to help organize similar courses.

The grant also supplied schools with new technology, including iPads, laptops and printers, which means a savings on textbooks.

For some, the shift from face-to-face to virtual interaction prompted skepticism.

"The delivery aspect from teacher to student -- is it making a difference in learning?" said Ellen Moore, administrative coordinator at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. "Although teachers are learning a new medium to share . . . information, the methodology stays the same."

Moore suggested that children, as natives of the digital age, may be more receptive to virtual learning. However, some believe there always will be a need for personal interaction between student and teacher, she said.

Mangum said he does not believe there will be a day where he will only work from home.

"I think that education is about being together," he said, adding that the real challenge is to figure out which materials transfer best through online courses.

The state Department of Education grant is due to run out in August. But Moraitis said this is just the start.

"We are building a virtual school, so when the grant ends we will sustain what we've achieved until that point," she said.

Participating districts in Nassau County are Freeport, Glen Cove, Hempstead, Malverne, Roosevelt and West Hempstead, and in Suffolk County are Amityville, Bridgehampton, Deer Park, Lindenhurst, North Babylon, South Country, Southampton, West Babylon and Wyandanch.

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