Roger Loud teaches the online algebra class through North Country School.
While classrooms at North Country School are mostly quiet during summer months, a second floor room has hummed on recent mornings with the familiar murmurings of students and teacher at work.
“Wait, wait, let me do it,” a student exhorted her teacher and classmates. “Nobody help me. This is MY binomial, and I know how to square it.” She proceeded to work her way through the problem correctly, without assistance.
Though this exchange could have transpired in any algebra class, this was something different. The student was in Italy, her classmates in South Korea, and the teacher at North Country School.
Through special video conferencing software, all could see and hear one another, with the images of students and teacher displayed on each one’s computer screen. Students could also see the classroom whiteboard as their teacher, former NCS Head of School and math instructor Roger Loud, worked at the board, questioning and prompting his charges. A moderator familiar with the technology coordinated the electronic logistics.
Begun the last week of July, the fully accredited course meets for 90-minute sessions, five days a week, over six weeks. What makes the NCS program different from others is that it’s fully synchronous, to use the industry language, meaning that students and teacher can interact with one another in real time. Each class session is also recorded then posted online so students can go back and watch a lesson or parts of it later if they need more time to digest the material. Students complete homework on their own and take tests they receive via email as PDF documents.
Now semi-retired, Roger Loud has more than 50 years experience in education. He taught and was head of school at NCS for 22 years and later served as math department chair at Northwood School in Lake Placid, where he still teaches pre-calculus and the advanced placement calculus courses. Loud, who does not use a personal computer or keep an email address, was at first skeptical of the online learning environment.
Loud said that the interactive nature of the software is key.
“Because I can see and talk to students, and because they’re willing to yak back and forth, we can have the discussion that is part and parcel of a healthy classroom,” said Loud. “You set up a classroom like this, and a student home with the chicken pox can still participate.”
Administrators at North Country School have something like that in mind as they pilot this summer’s algebra class as a potential model for a larger online learning effort.
“We envision connecting multiple schools and offering a variety of classes to take top-notch instruction to students the least likely to encounter it,” said Todd Pinsonneault, dean of curriculum at NCS and moderator of the online algebra class. “For students in remote rural areas or places short on resources or those just physically removed from school for whatever reason, this could be an option for taking courses not otherwise available to them. They also get the added benefit of learning from teachers of Roger Loud’s caliber.”
With the software accommodating up to six video feeds and 100 audio feeds, the possibilities for scaling up are exciting. Plus, this week Pinnsoneault completed a successful test run of moderating the class remotely from a location in New Hampshire—proving feasible the idea of coordinating from here in Lake Placid a class of students from all over taught by a master teacher still somewhere else.