The number of Utah high school students taking online courses more than doubled this school year to 475.
Educators said Monday they expect even greater participation this fall when students can enroll in up to three free, online courses. Also, home-school and private-school students will be eligible for the first time.
"There's a wide plethora of options for parents to customize the education of their children," said Judith Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education.
During the 2010 legislative session, Choice officials helped spearhead greater online options that resulted in 190 students signing up for online classes the first year in 2011.
As part of the state's online education initiative, students could sign up for two Web courses this year, which will expand to three this fall.
On Monday, online educators showcased what they have to offer before lawmakers at the Capitol. Utah ranked No. 1 in the nation for K-12 digital learning and ranked No. 2 for homes with Internet access.
Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, was on the House education committee four years ago when lawmakers first considered the online options.
"This will never replace K-12 education but [online education] is a great enhancement," Edwards said, waving to the booths set up around her that included: iSchool, Electronic High School, Imagine Learning, Utah Connections Academy, Utah Students Connect, UpStart, Utah Virtual Academy, iReady, Utah Education Online, Innovations High School and Mountain Heights Academy.
Hannah Bender, 18, of Lindon, signed up at Mountain Heights Academy two years ago as a way to support her dancing.
Mountain Heights educators offer an online middle and high school education in which students have no set schedule but divide schoolwork into weekly modules. Students can access the modules from any computer.
Bender, for example, follows this typical weekday schedule: 6:30 to 11:15 a.m. works at her job; completes schoolwork until 1:45 p.m. at home; dance lessons from 3 to 6 p.m.; returns home to finish up schoolwork.
"I do it all from my laptop," Bender said. "I'd recommend it for anyone needing greater flexibility."
Bender and her teachers interact by using real-time online tools such as Google hangouts and video programs such as Sliderocket, Oneeko and Voicethread. Her teachers also record lessons that Bender can watch throughout the week.
"Through technology, students can gain an education tailored to their specific needs and can be better prepared for the modern, technology-driven world they will enter upon graduation," Mountain Heights Academy Director DeLaina Tonks said.
High school students eligible for more online classes
Utah students enrolled in a public school in grades 9-12, including home-school and private-school students, are eligible for up to three online courses for the 2013-14 school year. The online courses are free for students, who choose both the classes and the providers. The courses are accredited and part of the public-school system, so they all count toward graduation. There are all kinds of courses, including core subjects, electives, advanced-placement and International Baccalaureate classes, along with foreign languages, among others.
O Check out the Utah online courses and various providers at choiceineducation.org.