Web site lets parents track kids' work

Posted: Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Local parents with computers may be able to keep track of their high school students' progress thanks to class Web pages. And students may use the Internet more to keep up with their work.

Juneau-Douglas High School began JDHS Online, which allows teachers to offer a class Web page, this fall. It can be reached at http://jdsonline.jun.alaska.edu/online.

Not every teacher uses it so far, or uses it the same way. And the server occasionally doesn't work. Some classes use it only as an e-mail site, or to describe the course. Other sites offer space for teachers or students to list recommended Web sites or books. Paula Dybdahl's world history site has links to dozens of Web sites on social issues.

A few teachers post assignments and grades by student ID numbers. Kristin Garot's world literature site includes vocabulary lists for Sophocles' play "Antigone," a test review and detailed assignments.

"Each teacher has to decide how much time is this saving as far as communication. The basic idea is to increase communication between students and teachers, and teachers and parents," said Mary-Lou Gervais, a math teacher who worked on the project with the University of Alaska Southeast, which supplied the software for free.

Math teacher Alan Degener developed his own class Web site last December to post assignments and grades. It's had nearly 4,000 visits since then, he said.

"I found it made a big difference," Degener said. "It was one of the best things I'd done for my classroom. It allowed parents to keep track of where the kids were at. No surprises."

Now, instead of asking how their kid is doing, parents ask what can be done to improve their child's grades, he said.

UAS put its courses online in fall 1999, said Michael Ciri, the university's manager of computer services. Without the sort of "courseware" UAS wrote and offers to JDHS, it would be a lot of work for teachers to set up their own Web page and maintain it, he said.

UAS professors use the online system to distribute materials that normally would be handed out in class, such as lecture notes or slides. The university's system also allows for online discussions among students, and lets students work as groups on their own time.

The high school's online system doesn't allow for that kind of interaction, said JDHS English teacher Alison McKenna. She has had her own Web page for three years, thanks to help from the UAS Professional Education Center.

McKenna uses her Web page for an advanced American literature course mainly to extend classroom discussions about books. She also posts assignments, vocabulary lists and links to readings.

"I fear the trend to have technology replace authentic human interaction, so I strive to use computers to connect people, to enhance discussions, to extend our class beyond the physical and temporal limitations of class," she said.

For some books she requires students to respond online twice a week to other students' comments.

"It's like the discussions don't just stop when class stops," said junior Matthew Monagle. "They go on all day."

Having to write their comments pushes students to think more deeply, and they care about their responses more because their peers are the audience, not just the teacher, McKenna said.

If students turn in a paper, then only the teacher sees it and they don't benefit from other people's thoughts, said junior Laura Martinson.

The online discussions let students make comments they might not think of in class, Monagle said. "You know when you're at a party and you think of a line 'That's what I should have said' so I go on the Internet and slap it down."

"And people that don't usually speak out in class have an opportunity to do it on the Internet," said junior Karl Twelker.

If more teachers start to require Internet use on a regular basis, it could raise the question of equity. Not every family has a home computer with Internet access. Math teacher Degener, for example, also sends student progress reports home on paper every two weeks.

But McKenna said in her years of using online discussions only three students haven't had home computers. Students can use computers at the school or public libraries, or turn in assignments on paper.

"It's no different from teachers requiring things to be typed," said Martinson. "Students should be required to use the Internet because it's so much a part of what we do today."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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