By Jennifer LaRue
"Can you hear me now?" Ohio University-Lancaster Associate Professor Franco Guerriero asked his students -- some at a high school in the next county and others in a Lancaster campus classroom -- when he welcomed them to Math 163A, Introduction to Calculus.
The course, linking Miller High School students from their classroom in rural Hemlock, Ohio, and university students in Ohio University-Lancaster's Herrold Hall via technology, is the campus' first distance-learning effort to offer college courses at a high school in Perry County.
John Furlow, associate dean at the Lancaster campus, credits the determination of Southern Local School District's learning coordinator, Molly Jewett, for the existence of the combined class. Jewett wanted to offer advanced courses to Miller High students, but there often are limitations -- posed by funding, demographics and staffing -- to the types of courses a school system can offer.
"Molly Jewett and I shared our concerns about the need to offer advanced placement or distance-learning courses in our rural schools," Furlow said. Jewett expressed her hope to expand the foreign language and math offerings at Miller High, and Guerrierro's calculus class fit the topic and the schedule.
Miller High School already had the ability to carry a live broadcast of the class thanks to an earlier grant award and the technology offered through the Southeastern Ohio Voluntary Education Cooperative. Jewett made sure the Miller High students who would enroll took the exams necessary to qualify them for the post secondary enrollment options program. PSEO is a state program that enables high school students who meet eligibility criteria to take college courses for both high school and college credit. Students must meet guidelines from both their high school and the campus they will attend.
Other than large-screen TVs and monitors, the technology that links the classrooms is surprisingly unobtrusive. In the Lancaster campus classroom, microphones are tucked in ceiling hoods rather than positioned on desks, and the technology is less complex than previously used, according to OU-L student Ryan Stump, who provides tech support for distance-learning classes.
Guerriero said teaching the class has been a learning experience for him. "In a traditional classroom, my focus is on the students in front of me," he said. In this setting, he also must be aware of and interact with his Miller High students.
OU-L student Brianna Burgett said the Miller students are an active part of the class. "It might be difficult to concentrate without a teacher in front of you," she said, "but they (Miller High students) do contribute." Burgett's classmates appear to be comfortable with the technology and the shared location process as they swivel in their seats to view screens at the front and rear of the room.
Jewett also is pleased with the Miller students' participation, "both in preparedness and in their willingness to challenge themselves," she said. She also praised Guerriero and his students at Lancaster for their patience in adjusting to the technology and has been grateful for Ohio University's expertise in distance-learning delivery.
Jewett's determination and the Lancaster campus' collaboration have paid off by increasing opportunities for students. After successfully blazing the trail with this class, other options are under discussion.
And about those snow days.... The class can be captured on video, so if Miller High is closed, students there can easily catch up with their college peers.