Gwinnett Online Campus (GOC) is the oldest online educational program in the state of Georgia. The school began serving students in 2009. In 2010, it adopted Brightspace as its learning platform. In the fall of 2011, GOC became a full-time charter school. They now serve over 5,000 students through full-time and supplemental programs.
Educators at GOC have worked to build a full-time online school designed specifically to engage the K–12 learner. When they started developing their middle school program, they realized they had to be cautious about how they delivered the learning experience for younger grades. “Sometimes we think we can just take a high school and water it down and it’s going to be a middle school. Then, if it’s watered down a little bit more it’s going to be an elementary school,” says Dr. Christopher Ray, Principal at GOC. “We needed to provide students with the right scaffolding at these different levels in order for them to be successful and organize our school to meet the needs of students within that continuum.”
With that in mind, the GOC team knew they had to build a learning environment suited for their entire student population. “We realized early on in designing the school that it was very important for students to always feel welcomed when they come to school. This meant creating an interactive and inviting online environment where younger students can feel they are listening to their teachers and their administrators first-hand,” says Dr. Ginger O’Neal, Assistant Principal at GOC.
Using Creative Design Elements to Engage Students
GOC administrators recognized that design would be important for providing online students with an appealing ‘real-world’ school experience. To help with the designs, GOC worked with a Brazilian company that specializes in creating graphics for video games and children’s television shows. Collaborating with this vendor, the team created classroom interfaces and course navigation bars of the same artwork style. They also produced illustrations of teachers to link to their introductions.
The learning environment within the Brightspace platform received equal care and attention. It’s completely customized to meet the needs of K–12 learners. Specifically, students are able to click throughout multiple graphic interfaces, navigating quickly to the tools and resources they need in their online courses and face-to-face interactions. In addition to the external campus depiction that welcomes them when they initially log on, students can navigate to interactive classrooms for grades 4–5, 6–8, and 9–12.
Building Meaningful Relationships in the Online Environment
For GOC, the key behind engaging students is hiring and investing in the best possible online teachers. “I get the luxury of choosing the best of the best out there,” says Dr. Ray. “These are teachers that have a drive for online learning. It’s not just people walking in and saying, ‘Let’s teach in the online environment.’ We then put them through our Teacher Institute so we’re really developing those teachers to make sure that they are meeting our expectations—which are extremely high.”
With a focus on hiring and retaining passionate online teachers, GOC opens up a world of possibilities for instructors to use the tools within Brightspace. The pictorial representations of the Grade Book, Checklist, and Calendar tools help provide students with a highly interactive learning experience. Teachers also make use of graphics within their courses. These graphics help make lessons for the youngest students engaging and easy to understand.
“Technology should help students–never hinder their learning or discourage them because it is frustrating to use. The Brightspace platform is simple and easy to use for our students at every level, from elementary, to middle school, and high school. Having kids literally be able to click once or twice to get to the different things they need to do–that’s a big deal.”
Dan Lollis, Language Arts Teacher, Gwinnett Online Campus
Using a blended instructional model, teachers at GOC use the Brightspace platform to offer students an interactive and engaging learning experience. Brightspace also allows teachers to provide individual attention to each student. Full-time online enrollment at GOC has increased 25% year over year. In addition to increased enrollment, state test scores have been simply outstanding with GOC, students consistently meet or exceed state standards.
Overall, GOC student test scores are showing just how effective online learning is. Students who are engaged in the process excel in a blended environment. “I really see blended learning becoming the standard in all our brick and mortar schools. It is not the exception anymore,” says Dr. Ray. “Our key core value is exceptional quality instruction and Brightspace helps us achieve that. It provides a platform that ensures the delivery of high-quality instruction to students while at the same time putting that learning into rich digital content.”