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D-200 hopes to expand online classroom presence by next year

Community Unit School District 200 students may soon have access to a more diverse array of classes due to a multi-district effort to expand online course offerings.

D-200 and four other local school districts are working together to explore creating and sharing online teachers, resources and digital classrooms. Some of those new resources could start to be phased in as soon as next year, according to Faith Dahlquist, the district's assistant superintendent of educational services.

"With all of the digital learning tools that are available, we need to seize those opportunities not only to expand the different types of classes that we could offer but also to be able to differentiate instruction and provide more effective instruction during our regular school day," Dahlquist said.

The digital classrooms would be "blended," she said. There would not be a full "digital experience" where students simply watch online videos. Instead, courses could include chatrooms across districts, outside reading links and more.

Despite a heavier reliance on technology, Dahlquist said that the initiative will be about meeting learning goals and giving students more opportunities, not replacing teachers. She said there would still be "face-to-face time with a human teacher."

Dahlquist said that one model could involve a teacher from one district leading a digital classroom during or outside school hours with students from several districts. The teacher then would meet with the students personally on a less frequent basis.

Such a model could allow schools to provide classes that would otherwise lack the student interest to warrant a full classroom, including certain AP classes or foreign languages such as Mandarin. It could also provide additional learning opportunities for students who need extra practice with coursework.

The online and digital opportunities would prepare students for college and careers as well. Digital classrooms and workplaces are becoming increasingly common, Dahlquist said.

The talks between D-200 and Batavia Public School District 101, Kaneland School District 302, and Naperville districts 203 and 204 are still in the early phases, according to Dahlquist. She hopes that representatives from the districts will have some idea of course offerings for grades six through 12 by January.

These endeavors are part of the school board's larger efforts to offer more digital options, said Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Bill Farley. He said that the district has tried to focus its resources towards technology for staff and students, including allocating increased funds for resources and tech staff in next year's budget.

"Technology changes rapidly and the uses that we’re looking at to meet that need are always a challenge. It wasn’t in school budgets 30 years ago," Farley said. "21st century skills are so important, and we want to line the priorities and our resources for students and staff to access technology."

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