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Hall County students learn other languages in online set-up
System features live teacher and online lessons
Blended learning Spanish instructor Wes Vonier discusses his course with the Hall County school board. - photo by Kristen Oliver

A handful of students sit in their bedrooms, headphones plugged into their ears, as they listen to their Spanish teacher talk.

Hall County students in middle and high school have access to Blended Learning Academy courses that combine a live teacher and online lessons.

Wes Vonier, a Hall County foreign language instructor, teaches multiple Spanish courses with Damien Turpin. Students are able to connect to their virtual classroom and interact live with their teachers, all from home.

“Although the content is online, this is not what you’d think of with a typical online course,” Vonier said. “This is not a matter of viewing a video and taking a quiz. ... There is a high level of interaction or time spent working with the teacher and classmates.”

The district has taught more than 400 students through blended Spanish courses, and more than 100 are enrolled now in the various courses.

Vonier gave a presentation about the courses to the Hall County Board of Education at its regular meeting Monday night.

Superintendent Will Schofield said Spanish and Mandarin language courses have been a priority for the school board for years.

“This is what learning in the 21st century more and more is going to look like,” he said.

During Vonier’s presentation Monday, he connected to five students and fellow instructor Turpin to show the board the virtual classroom.

“No matter where the students are, they can be connected,” Turpin said via video conference. “Whether they’re sitting in a classroom, a media center ... they will be connected to work and have real, live interaction.”

Vonier said the course is built on a district platform called Canvas, and it includes a variety of lessons and study modes depending on how students choose or prefer to learn.

The class also includes different assignments that students can upload online, including tests, quizzes, writing assignments, presentations and discussion-based assignments.

Vonier said these discussions are one of the best parts of his course.

“This is a time, at the end of each unit, when Mr. Turpin and I connect with each student on a conference,” Vonier said. “We have a 10- to 15-minute conversation, almost entirely in Spanish, based on what students learned during the module. We’re able to identify their learning weaknesses and strengths before we move on and progress to the next module.”

Vonier said in a traditional classroom, he wouldn’t be able to take 10 minutes to meet with every single student periodically, the way he can in the blended classes.

This type of course would come in handy not only as an alternative to the traditional classroom, but on snow days, field trips and more, he said. The district also offers similar courses in health and personal fitness, and is developing three more courses.

“It’s great to have this course available for students to access knowledge anywhere,” Vonier said.

School board chair Nath Morris asked Vonier how the course compares to the traditional classroom.

“I see a higher level of mastery involved in this,” he replied. “There’s constant communication between the teacher and student, and on the discussion-based assessments, we identify what areas need improvements. Students are motivated by that.”

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