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How to overcome skepticism in online learning

Posted on Jun 13, 2012

A portrait of Dr. Nellie AspelThis week I interviewed Dr. Nellie Aspel who is currently working as principal of North Shelby School in North Carolina. She has won many awards including the Wachovia Southwest Region Principal of the year and the Cleveland County Distinguished Woman in 2007. Because Aspel was one of the main writers in charge of the rewrite process and development of courses for the  Occupational Course of Study program, her insights provided a good history lesson into the formation of an online program for students with disabilities.

As I discussed in an interview with North Carolina Teacher Leslie Fetzer, OCS is a blending learning program where students get two teachers, one online and one in the classroom. It first started with the committee called, Alternative Course of Study. In this committee, members decided to focus OCS for students with minor or intermediate disabilities, because they are a group of students that Aspel feels had been left out.

Some were skeptical about the online part of the program, thinking that students were just going to have the students sit on a computer. Aspel overcame this by doing many demonstrations about the OCS program which helped others to understand the program better.

“We did a presentation for the State School Board that includes testimonials from these programs and also showed research that supports students working in paid jobs prior to graduation from high school as an indicator of post-school success,” Aspel said.

Critics saw how well the interactions were done and the learning skills that could be taught online. This changed their minds drastically.

In 2000, OCS was approved for all schools in North Carolina by the state school board. In its current form, it is a way for students with disabilities to get a high school degree that looks nearly identical except for some minor changes on the transcript. The classes through OCS are just as hard as any traditional high school and meet the same needs. The committee made sure of this though text books, end-of-course tests, pacing guides, progress monitoring, documentation of vocational training hours, competitive employment requirement, career portfolio, technology skill development, CTE courses (and pre/post testing for those courses), and additional teacher training.

Aspel feels the future of the OCS program is only going to grow and get better. They are constantly gaining more classes like, English 1 and 2, Intro to Math, Algebra A and B, Biology. As Aspel says, “OCS has become well ingrained in North Carolina. It is not going anywhere.”


Katie Mulich is a blogger and reporter for the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.

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