For underprivileged high school students without access to college-prep measures such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses, it is difficult to gain a competitive edge when applying to and entering college. But with the help of improved technology and appropriated funding, UC Davis' Mediaworks has played a leading role in creating a viable solution: offering AP courses online.
As part of the University of California's College Prep (UCCP) initiative, Mediaworks was assigned the task of developing two multimedia-based AP Spanish courses\027one language, the other literature. The first of the two courses is currently being tested by a group of high school students in Santa Cruz, where UCCP is headquartered. Both courses are scheduled for completion by late this calendar year.
The courses are of "extremely high quality," says Kirk Alexander, Manager of Educational Technologies at Mediaworks. He adds that when presented at conferences, the online courses received "rave reviews."
"It's one of the best pedagogically-inspired courses that UCCP has ever offered," Alexander says.
Designed to be the equivalent of a third-year college language course, the course prepares high school students for the study of advanced Spanish language composition and conversation at the college level as well as introductory courses on Latin American and Peninsular literature and culture. As students develop their language skills, they learn subject matter that relates to different disciplines in their high school curricula. These range from art and literature to politics and environmental studies in the target cultures. In addition to providing thorough preparation for the College Board AP Spanish Language Examination, this media-rich course will assist students in developing language skills to communicate and interact within a community of Spanish speakers. It incorporates many collaboration features (made possible by online technology) that will help foster a sense of community among the geographically-dispersed students. The second course covers Spanish Literature.
In the spring of 2002, UCCP had already been offering eleven AP and honors courses online, in addition to college-prep resources such as tutoring and AP Exam review. Nearly 2,500 students from high schools with underdeveloped AP programs'specifically, with poor academic performance and insufficient resources?were able to benefit from the courses, according to the UC Office of the President.
?We offer courses to high schools that can't offer the courses themselves,? says Valentine Garcia, UCCP Regional Coordinator for Yolo and other northeast counties. This allows for brighter students to move ahead at their own speed, rather than have to wait for their classmates to catch up.
The UCCP initiative requires that participating high schools take the appropriate measures to provide the computing resources for connecting to the online course, as well as on-site supervisors and mentors for enrolled students and administrative duties so that students receive the appropriate credit for their work.
The foundation of the UCCP project was laid in the spring of 2002, when UCCP determined that Mediaworks had the capacity to produce the course and offered them a grant. Professors from the Spanish departments at UC Davis UC Santa Cruz developed the course content, constructing the classes "from the ground up," says Alexander. After writing course content, instructors sent Word documents to Mediaworks to be rewritten into Flash animation and interactive layouts.
One challenge of developing the courses is their technological intricacy, says Alexander. "The level of complexity in the interactive exercises is phenomenal," he says. For example, he notes that the self quizzes allow students several tries at each question, requiring the program to give multiple pieces of feedback for each one. In addition, there are about 20 to 25 activities per lesson, each of which takes an immense amount of effort to delineate. However, it helps that the courses are SCORM-compliant, which means that they work with multiple course management systems, including Blackboard and WebCT.
With all of the work and planning that goes into the courses' development, one might wonder what's in it for UC Davis. The answer, according to Alexander, is that the rigors of developing the AP Spanish courses will help Mediaworks develop a higher level of future course materials here on campus. But besides that, Mediaworks will be helping students across California and everywhere achieve their academic goals. "Students anywhere at anytime can benefit," Alexander says.