The Information Highway Can Be the Instruction Highway

By Lindsey L. Hurd.

Last year, as Mom was getting her curriculum in order for the new school year, she almost passed out when she realized that she would be juggling seven different grade levels in the up-coming school year. In addition to that, she must motivate and keep everyone caught up – monumental work to be sure! And then what about algebra? Yes, a few outside classes could be an option, but all the driving involved would almost negate the advantages.

She heard of Internet classes, and we took the plunge. Mom loves it, for it has freed her for more time to work with the little ones’ academics. She also enjoys seeing us sweat as we experience deadlines and get a taste of the classroom competition, exams, and improving study habits. We kids love it because when Mom is happy, everybody is happy! Seriously, our first year of Internet schooling was a success and pleasure for all, and we anticipate that the next year will be equally rewarding.

Why use Internet education? Look at a hypothetical homeschooling day: Jane has an English enrichment class at 10:00 two days a week; and eight-year-old Dick must do his handwriting, spelling, and math. Can Mom leave him home to do his school while she takes Jane to her class? No. She and Dick must drop everything while she drives Jane to her class. When they get home, she sighs about the hefty gasoline bill that will accumulate over the week and tries to squeeze in as much of Dick’s school as possible before it’s time to pick up Jane. Of course, if there are three, five, maybe ten(!) children in the family, Mom may find that the ins and outs of the normal school week could be enough to push her into a mental hospital if not worse! As hard as it is to admit, the average homeschooling mom cannot do and teach her children everything she wishes she could. This, of course, is where your friendly Internet tutorials step in to help.

With an Internet tutor a parent is able to spend time with everyone’s school instead of interrupting the children’s school day while taking different ones to different classes. Remember, less time on the road means more study and school! Additionally, the classroom environment promotes competition among the students without having to deal with negative peer influences. In an Internet class, a child will have the beneficial motivation without the cost of enrichment schools and the gas bill that the family can incur transporting children hither and thither.

Internet classes are not just lectures or electronic correspondence courses. The instructor requires students to answer questions and participate in class discussions that demonstrate their knowledge of the material, type answers from their workbook, or work math problems on a whiteboard for all to see. Each tutor has his own unique style–some love to have fun with their students; others are stricter.

The classroom formats with which we are familiar are text and text/audio/video. The text classroom resembles an “Instant Messenger” format in which the instructor and students interact in a chat room using programs such as MIRC. The audio classroom allows students to interact via audio and typing. Some software also has video and whiteboard capabilities (for working math problems), such as CeUCeMe. Other software requirements include a web browser and some kind of word processor such as Microsoft Works or Word (preferably with spell checking capabilities). Because different schools use different software, it is best to decide on the school first and then meet their software requirements for the classes.

What will be the computer requirements? A text class will not require many special computer capabilities; a generic PC with a 28K modem is sufficient. The text/audio/video version is more demanding. This will require a computer with, at minimum, a 133mz processor, a 56K modem, as well as a minimum of 64K RAM. Also, a reliable sound card is very important to allow the student to hear the voice of the instructor and be heard.

Internet classes have become a valuable tool for our homeschooling family. We are enjoying the benefit of classroom interaction in the safety and supervision of our own home, as well as the personal instruction that has enhanced the quality of our academic life. If you do not feel that yours is the perfect homeschool, I encourage you to spend time exploring the possibility of integrating Internet classes into your school. Check out the links I have listed, talk to others who are in classes, and consider the potential benefit to you and your children. It could help you plan a school year in which you can preserve your sanity. Always remember when Mom is happy, everybody is happy. Really!

We have only begun to scratch the surface of Internet schools. Below are the two we have taken classes from and can recommend, so this list is by no means exhaustive. Be sure to check into the many colleges and universities that are offering Internet classes. There is much to be discovered, so go for it.

The Institute for Study of the Liberal Arts and Sciences (ISLAS) offers a complete academic curriculum at the college preparatory level. This provides the opportunity for students to pick and choose in order to compensate for weaknesses they may have in a subject, solidify their knowledge in a favorite subject, or to enroll in their complete high school curriculum. ISLAS offers history, natural science, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, Greek, Latin, world, western, English and American literature, English and world history, and an extensive writing program. ISLAS also offers special summer courses. ISLAS shares its facilities and technical resources with its sister-school, Regina Coeli Academy (RCA), a preparation program for students ages 10-13. ISLAS and RCA conduct all their classes in text. ISLAS tuition is around $150 per semester, per class. Additional information may be found at the ISLAS web-site.

Escondido Tutorial Service (ETS) offers classes similar to ISLAS but does not attempt to offer a whole curriculum. Rather ETS offers classes such as, geometry, Saxon math, history, Great Books, Latin, Greek, Christian apologetics, logic, rhetoric, history of art, etc. from a classical approach. These classes can be used by homeschool moms to supplement areas in which they do not have the confidence or knowledge to teach their children. ETS uses the text/audio/video format. ETS tuition ranges from $150-$175, with the ability to audit the class via sound files for cost reduction. In addition, there are many different Internet schools using the ETS server. Take a peek.

Lindsey Hurd, 16-year-old (in 2000, at the time of this writing) daughter of Pat and Carrie Hurd, was homeschooled with her younger nine siblings in Weatherford, Texas. Lindsey is now a home school graduate, and her father is on the Board of Texas Home School Coalition.