“Certainly we see a certain number of students come into it with unrealistic expectations,” Murray said. “They think it’s going to be fun and games, and it’s not. There’s a lot of self-discipline and organization involved.
“We also realized that students need mentors to help keep them organized, stay on track, to troubleshoot and advocate for students. When we put that kind of mentorship in, we triple our success rate.”
Katie Belanger, a mentor and director of online learning at Suttons Bay, said a mentor is required by the state to have contact with virtual students at least once weekly and often has more than that. She also encourages online students and teachers to reach out to each other whenever either has questions — something Murray said is easier for some students outside the traditional classroom setting.
Additionally, most online courses are set up so that students have to achieve a certain score on an assignment before they can open another.
“It keeps students from doing junk work and plowing through and failing everything,” Belanger said.
Murray said another common fear is that online learning will “ruin” public schools as we know them.
“We heard those same criticisms when the U.S. moved from an agricultural to an industrial society. And now, going from an industrial to an information society, we’re going through a shift,” he said. “If everything that’s being done is changing, then education needs to change as well.
As for the criticism that online learning will downgrade the role of the teacher, “What we found is that the teacher is the key role in online learning,” he said. “They know online students better than they know their face-to-face students.”
Micah Thoreson hopes to complete the eighth grade in May so that he can have an extended summer.
“I like that I can go at my own pace,” he said.