Noble and Greenough Student Shares her GOA Experience at NAIS 2013

Noble and Greenough Student Shares her GOA Experience at NAIS 2013

By Melanie W., Noble and Greenough ’14

Last winterempty desks, I was sitting in a class meeting at my school when one of the teachers gave a presentation that piqued my interest. She talked about Global Online Academy, a program available to about 30 schools all over the country, and the world, where students can take a variety of unique online courses. Later that day, an email was sent out with a link the GOA website, so I decided to take a closer look and see what it was all about. Immediately, I noticed they offered a “Medical Problem Solving” class, and I was sold. I had always been interested in medicine, for I would actually pay attention whenever I went to the doctor, and I loved watching House, but my school did not offer any sort of medical courses. I decided that this GOA class would be a good opportunity to develop my interest in medicine and see if it’s something I would want to practice throughout my life.

Although I was excited to be pursuing my interest in medicine, I still did not know exactly what to expect from an online classroom. I assumed that the kids in the class would log on to Skype at the same time and listen to a teacher lecture, raising our hands over the internet and having discussions as we were taught new materials. After the first day of my Medical Problem Solving class, I realized, I could not have been more wrong. I quickly learned that, in fact, the class consisted of a series of case studies where students either worked independently or in a group, directing their own research. I would Skype with my teacher once a week to check in, discussing the topics I had researched, receiving feedback on my projects, and also just talking about school, sports, or whatever else was going on in our lives. At first I was nervous, for I had never learned in this student-directed style before, but after a few weeks, I realized that I actually enjoyed this format much more than a typical class because I was able to focus my research based on what I was interested in. Within the structured projects, there was a lot of room for personal preference, for I found myself clicking on links for case studies of past medical students, Googling different images of procedures or body structures, and watch different YouTube videos of surgeries and x-rays that were not necessarily related to the project, but that interested me and contained intriguing content.

In my online class, we studied a new unit about every two weeks. These units mainly consisted of case-studies, but we also had other assignments such as watching four Ted talks videos and having a written, online discussion with classmates, reading a medical book, then forming a podcast book review, and analyzing a medical TV show. At the beginning of the unit, we received a syllabus on our website detailing the homework for those weeks. Usually, we would have one assignment, or piece of a case study, due every other night giving ample time to put together a research page or write a diagnosis letter to a hypothetical patient. Teacher meetings consisted of Skypeing once a week, as well as constantly sending emails back and forth.

“Skype” is the main form of communication between GOA teachers and students. Although, at first, Skypeing with a teacher who I had never met was a little uncomfortable, my discomfort faded very quickly as I got to know my teacher extremely well. The setup of Skype ultimately encourages close student-teacher connections. At the end of my semester with GOA, even though I only talked to my teacher once a week instead of 4 days a week, I still felt like I knew my GOA teacher just as well if not better than my school teachers. We were able to talk easily, discussing the different projects as well as talking about college tennis, her life living in Hawaii, and actually diagnosing my own ankle injury. As well, although the short length of the meetings seemed like a weakness, they actually taught me to be very efficient and effective with the time I have with my teacher. I learned to make a list of questions beforehand and talk about my specific issues before talking about other non-related topics.

Another strength of Skype is that it forces you to be very outgoing and open up very quickly, which can really help for more reserved students. My greatest example of this is during my first group project, where I worked with another girl from Oregon. During our first Skype meeting to divide up the research and talk about potential hypotheses, she continued to say how “awkward” it was to Skype, considering the fact we had never met before. Despite this initial hesitation, the second time we Skyped, we both were able to overcome that initial discomfort, talking freely not only about the project, but also about our homes, schools, and interests.

Not only did I learn how to have efficient and effective meetings and quickly overcome barriers with new people, but I also gained useful time management skills, research skills, and the ability to learn online from my experience with GOA. In dealing with different time zones and not having a teacher there everyday to remind me when assignments were due, I developed a stronger sense of independence when dealing with my work. I learned to pace myself with my GOA work, getting ahead if I knew I had a lot of other homework, but then also knowing when it was appropriate to take advantage of the later due times, caused by the time difference. Because a lot of the course was student-directed research, GOA both taught me great research habits and gave me numerous opportunities to practice these new skills. In working with my teacher and exploring on my own, I learned how to save time by quickly skimming articles to see if they contained valuable information, how to find accurate images and videos to include in my research presentations, and how to sort through the billions of google results to find useful information. Lastly, through the numerous written discussions, I learned how to deal with this different class environment. In a class at school, I can use tone and expression to communicate my opinion or I can continue to elaborate if I misspeak or go off on a tangent, but in my online discussions I had to be clear, concise, and articulate in my comments in order to get my point across. In addition, I was able to practice group work in a different setting where I was working on documents and projects with classmates who I had never actually met in person.

Besides the online classroom setting, the most unfamiliar yet enriching aspect of my class was the global, worldwide perspective. During my 3 years at Nobles, I have grown accustomed to the specific teaching and writing styles taught by the school. Although obviously there are some minor variations, essentially all students learn to write and present information in the same fashion and most teachers share their knowledge with similar methods. Because, with GOA, you are in a class with kids from all different schools, states, and even countries, you are exposed to a wide variety of writing styles, discussion methods, and even project layouts. At the end of each assignment, we reviewed and commented on at least 3 other students’ work, and each time I was surprised not only by the content they found, but also by the new ways my classmates presented their information. I was so accustomed to the culture at my school that I did not recognize the fact that there are more than one successful ways to approach an assignment. Not only was I enlightened by the different styles and educational backgrounds of my GOA classmates, but also the plethora of cultural backgrounds significantly enhanced the class.

One week, our assignment, which was one of my favorites, was to watch 4 different Ted talks, post a response to each video, and then comment on peers’ posts, creating a sort of online discussion. One of the videos was about regenerative medicine and stem cells, which lent itself to a discussion about abortion. In Boston and specifically at my school most people are fairly liberal. When it came to the discussion of abortion, I had never second-guessed the prochoice side of the argument. When participating in the series of online comments, I became involved in a discussion with a very conservative student from Texas and an extremely liberal student from California. I was exposed to these other perspectives and the reasons behind their views, which ultimately caused me to question my opinion on this issue.

In another project, we each researched a disease that was local or important to us, for example I chose Lyme Disease which is very prominent in New England. Then we constructed our own community service project to help people suffering from that disease. After looking through everyone’s projects, it was very interesting to be able to see the different diseases around the world, hearing about more than the typical issues in my area. The experience that GOA gave me, allowing me to learn from and with students from all over the globe opened my eyes to new perspectives that I had never seen at my school. This experience is one that I firmly believe is so important in creating a globally aware student who will eventually be working and dealing with people around the world. GOA expanded my horizons, giving me an unforgettable course and invaluable lessons that have not only furthered my academic and global education, but that also turned out to be the most intriguing and exciting class I have ever taken. – February 29th, 2013, NAIS Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA