School board gets first look at VikingNet

Published 8:34 am Tuesday, January 23, 2007

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES – More than 900 Niles High School students are already using the district's online educational tool aimed at meeting new state graduation requirements for online learning.
A group of high school students, teachers and administrators demonstrated VikingNet Monday night to the board of education. Also in attendance were area lawmakers Sen. Ron Jelinek and Rep. Neal Nitz, who both praised the program and district for getting a jump-start on meeting Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements that go into effect beginning with the graduating class of 2011.
"Absolutely. It most definitely meets that requirement," said Jelinek, R-Three Oaks. "It gives purpose to that too, and that's important. It's not just, can you go online can you access a class, but can you actually use it in the class?"
VikingNet learning tools include online discussion boards, teacher assessments and quizzes, course vocabulary lists and links to Internet sites, reflective journals, workshops, and collaborative Web content like Wikipedia. Students also have their own My VikingNet page that displays course schedule, assignment due dates, incoming messages and upcoming events, such as tests and midterms.
The entire program is also transparent and can be viewed at anytime by teachers and administrators. Plus, outside parties cannot access the program or student pages without an access code.
"It can be done in a safe controlled environment," said Jim Craig, director of curriculum for Niles Community Schools.
Pat Malley, psychology and history teacher and VikingNet creator, was pleased with the response to the system.
"It's great to have a tool like this that I can link them up to a Web site. I also can keep the kids updated of what they need to do in class," Malley said. "The forum gives a classroom climate outside of the classroom," he added.
VikingNet allows teachers to present online assignments and quizzes that are individualized or set up so students cannot copy each other's answers. For example, all students would be asked to solve the same math problems on a quiz but each can be assigned different numbers in order to complete the questions. As a result, students are learning how to work through assignments on their own because they are asking classmates how they completed the problem and not just what the answer is.
Niles students also expressed their satisfaction with the program. Many said it was more exciting and attractive than learning from books because of the ability to have online conversations with classmates and teachers, learn from the peer review process and do homework assignments far ahead of deadline.
"It's nice if you were in class [and you] didn't understand … you can to back at home at night and refresh," said Niles senior Danny Rodts.
Nitz said he thought the program met the state's intentions of getting students familiar with the Internet and taking classes online.
"I have to take my hat off to the people that developed the program here at Niles. I think that they're a step ahead of a lot of other schools in the area and in the state and it's going to help the students compete in the real world once they get out of school," Nitz said.