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Traveling the World Through Cyberspace

Four years ago, Eric Hedinger successfully pursued his vision of allowing PD students to plug into a global network of online courses to supplement and enhance their in-person learning.

He had no idea how far ahead of his time he was.

Now, of course, the world is embracing remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Providence Day was unusually well positioned for it, thanks to the Upper School partnership dating to 2016 with Global Online Academy (GOA), a nonprofit organization that “reimagines learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society.” 

The core of the GOA program includes small, interactive online courses in which students learn from passionate teachers alongside peers based all over the world. “The first couple of years were met with questions like, ‘At Providence Day School where we have these incredible faculty resources, why do we need GOA?’” recalls Kristen Kral, Assistant Head of School for Finance and Risk Management, and a current Board Member of Global Online Academy. “However, the more I looked into GOA I realized it was a first-rate, first-class program.” 

The online academy’s goals match up with the PD Passport which outlines the essential skills, character dispositions, and necessary knowledge to embark as a global citizen upon completion of a PD education. “To successfully complete the GOA online courses, each student must meet standards needed to comprehend, understand, synthesize, and evaluate, which is what our teachers do regularly,” says Hedinger. “Certain standards and measurements then translate into grades.”

Initially, very few students took the online courses. “Three years ago… we were asked, ‘Are we doing the right thing with the amount of money we are paying for the number of kids involved?’” recalls Hedinger. “This year, I was told ‘Thank you, you did the right thing by holding out to prove the entity.’” During the fall semester of 2020, a record number of 50 PD students enrolled in the courses. 

Meanwhile, dozens more faculty have benefited from the training and resources they have been able to access thanks to the online academy.

Global Online Academy was first made available to only juniors and seniors. As that proved successful, PD opened it up to sophomores with additional success but found that it did not go as well for freshmen. This summer, “I tried again and opened it up to rising 9th graders because statistical data shows that you can do it,” says Hedinger. “Most GOA schools in our consortium don’t allow 9th graders, but we proved the success.”

Assistant Head of Upper School Tosha Arriola manages the Global Online Academy relationship and currently heads up the Global Studies Diploma program. “If you are a GOA school, you also have access to educator classes,” she says. “GOA is aligned with the best practices on online learning for teachers including how to keep kids motivated, problem-solving, critical thinking, and how to remain resilient and equipped to be adaptable in addition to your daily responsibilities.” 

When the school rapidly moved to remote learning in March of 2020, 13 PD teachers took GOA classes on a variety of online learning best practices topics and then handed remote learning resources to Hedinger and the leadership team. “My teachers ate [the resources] up and created remote learning for the spring and even now. That symbiotic side has enriched how we have adapted to being a leader in remote learning today.” 

The demand for a resource like Global Online Academy skyrocketed when COVID-19 lockdowns began. “The number of member schools went off the charts,” recalls Kral. “When you look at our faculty who are GOA instructors, they do instruction for students and professional development for our faculty. So during COVID, they truly have saved a lot of schools as far as offering at no cost to all member schools training for faculty on how to become online instructors.”  PD saw a spike with a record number of 22 students taking summer courses. 

While there are other players offering online courses, what separates GOA from other online schools is the quality of the staff and the courses offered. “GOA is a premium service for premium, top-tier schools like PD,” says Kral. “The team that works there is amazing.” Hedinger adds, “GOA and PD align their values within the teaching and learning experience and in the passion for the unique subjects that enrich our students’ learning opportunities.”

With online courses becoming a critical component of college curriculums, GOA “expands the depth of the classroom we can offer through qualified educators and it’s a great opportunity for our kids because it’s the world they are entering,” says Kral. “I’m thrilled that we have so many kids taking classes and it aligns with our focus on student well-being, wellness, and balance.”

The courses can work with a variety of schedules. “Some are year-long and unique like Japanese; some complement curriculum like entrepreneurship or an economics prequel to an AP class; certain classes come in where it doesn’t work in your schedule to get the English class you want at PD, but now you can be nimble and take the English class also offered at that time through GOA,” says Hedinger.

Taking GOA courses includes clear benefits. Students “have a great sense of accomplishment and gain confidence built with small successes,” says Arriola. If the class content is global in context or offers a global perspective, it can count as an elective toward the Global Studies Diploma. Additionally, there is a drop/add period for GOA so PD can advise families if it’s not working. “The level of support is scaffolded to what they need.” 

Several classes remain popular among PD students. “In the last four years there’s been a huge interest in Medical Problem Solving, Global Health, and any form of Psychology – Abnormal Psych, Intro to Psych, and Positive Psychology,” says Hedinger. “Our kids are into Psychology more than ever because of their own cerebral awareness, so it’s no surprise to us.” 

Students at Providence Day have become adept at navigating online learning through apps including Twist and Zoom, which makes this opportunity to connect with students across the nation and the globe even easier. “Operating as a globally-minded school, this is what we want to provide,” says Hedinger. “You can get to know a child learning in Vermont as easily as one learning in China.”

On the other hand, “GOA has lots of great courses but it’s not great for all students,” Arriola adds. “You have to have self-motivation because there is no teacher hovering over you. You must be organized and need good time management – that’s a huge part. It works for students who lean in and get to know their classmates and teachers from all over the world.”

Before students start any of the academy’s classes, Upper School administrators look at student records, consider their learning style, and talk with their parents to gauge potential success and ensure it’s the right match for that student.

As with any remote learning, “One shortcoming is that you feel less of a personal rapport than with a PD teacher because you don’t physically see the teacher in person and the partnering is not the same as a daily check-in in the classroom,” says Hedinger. At the same time, PD students are set up for the GOA experience because, “as our alumni say, they go to the teacher in college because they learn to do that at PD.”

GOA classes appear on the PD transcript and factor into each participating student’s GPA. “This is a game-changer for our kids because they can boost their GPA and get credit for graduation. It really showcases to universities that they can do online learning, so it's a highlight for certain schools,” says Hedinger.

In the future, PD hopes to partner with international schools to grow the program. Learn more about GOA here:

Faculty Profile:
 Jennifer Bray

“I have been teaching for GOA since 2018. I teach Neuropsychology and serve as a Learning Design Coach and head up the Neuropsychology and Introduction to Psychology teams. I joined GOA after completing a graduate certification at Johns Hopkins in Neuroeducation. That program was fully online, and I saw the possibilities for online education through my own student experience. 

“It was clear to me that this experience would allow me to evolve with the teaching profession. Of course, I had no idea that PD would be fully remote at one time, but my experience as an online educator prepared me incredibly well for last spring. Creating a curriculum for a successful online course extends beyond simply recording lessons and posting them online. It requires thoughtful educational design and innovative assessment methods, and GOA helped me to develop these skills which benefit both my brick-and-mortar and online students. 

“At GOA, courses focus on the necessary skills needed to demonstrate mastery in a subject. For example, we don’t give students a quiz on terms associated with psychological ethics, but instead, we ask them to redesign a previously performed experiment which clearly was unethical. The ability to analyze and apply ethical principles are put into action with this assignment, not simply memorized for a typical assessment. 

“Any student from PD can be successful at GOA. My only recommendation would be to choose a course you are truly curious about and choose a semester where you will be able to organize your time effectively to meet your GOA responsibilities during the study hall PD provides for the course. 

“GOA provides a variety of specialized elective courses that are not available on campus, classes meet synchronously every few weeks, but the majority of work will be done asynchronously during your school week, and  these courses provide a great way for students to explore a variety of fields before applying to colleges.”

Faculty Profile:
Andrea Gowin

“Global Online Academy is an opportunity to work and interact with motivated, intelligent, and globally-focused professionals and students. I chose to pursue working with GOA due to the opportunity to collaborate with teachers around the world, teach a course of my interests (Legal Thinking), and I believe in their method of competency-based learning. 

“One of the things I have enjoyed most about teaching for GOA is working on an instructional design with my team for our course. The most rewarding aspects of teaching for GOA are the meet-ups and feedback opportunities with students. Also, professional development opportunities are endless. 

“Students who succeed in GOA courses are self-motivated, organized, and communicate well with others. I recommend GOA to those students who are mature, those willing to create time in their schedules with a study hall or other means, eager to meet individuals their age around the world, and those who may want to explore an area of interest, such as medical biology or a business course.

“We are very lucky to be a member school of Global Online Academy and to provide this phenomenal learning experience for our students. Global Online Academy is an extremely unique opportunity that all should investigate and explore to see if it is a good fit for them. The social and educational experience is an opportunity I would not pass up!”

Faculty Profile:
Neely Gutierrez

“I first inquired about becoming a GOA teacher because I liked the idea of having an international classroom. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to learn new online technology skills that I could then use in my PD classes. This was all pre-COVID of course. I had no idea when I started with GOA a few years ago just how valuable the experience would become. The transition to remote learning was smoother than I expected and I owe much of that to my experience and training with GOA. 

“The best part? The best part of any teaching experience is the relationships built with my students. GOA is no exception to that!

“In order to thrive as a student in the GOA program, you must be super organized and great at time management.

“It's a fabulous way for our students to get involved in online learning in a true global setting. Their classmates will be from all over the world. Especially in the time of COVID, learning to navigate online learning is imperative for their eventual success in college.” 

Faculty Profile:
James Reeder

“I am the inaugural teacher from PD to teach for GOA (this is my 5th year and I have taught a total of 11 semesters). Truth be told, I had not heard of GOA until Eric [Hedinger] approached me and asked me if I would be interested in applying for an open position teaching Computer Science. I applied and was accepted! 

“The best thing about the experience is that I have an opportunity to teach students from all over the world – I have had students from all over the US, from Japan, China, India, Brazil, Jordan, Germany, etc. It is a great way to make connections and realize that essentially we have a lot in common with each other. Also, the faculty at GOA come from all over the world too, so interacting with them has been great too.

“Students who are independent learners and are able to navigate the online experience thrive in GOA. [It] is a great way to make connections with students across the world, be able to learn from dedicated teachers from across the globe, and have a chance to take classes that are not offered at PD, but still get credit for the course. It is a great way to expand your horizons without leaving the comfort of your home.”

Student Profile:
Katie Beason ’21

“I’ve taken Energy (one semester), Arabic (two semesters), and Medical Problem Solving (summer). I chose to participate in Energy as a Freshman because I wanted to change my schedule, but none of the available classes interested me. It was then that GOA was suggested to me, and I jumped at the chance to take Energy (a course focusing on the science and engineering of various energy sources). 

“Then, I chose Arabic because I’m interested in studying languages that aren’t available at Providence Day, and GOA gave me the opportunity to study Arabic with students and teachers from around the world, further enriching my study of Arabic culture and language. 

“Finally, I chose Medical Problem Solving because I was interested in taking a summer class but was concerned about losing time that I could otherwise use to work. Medical Problem Solving was that perfect intersection between wanting a class that interested me and needing a class that was flexible enough to accommodate my full-time job (with PD’s Summer Programs).

“I would recommend GOA to students who either have or would like to develop self-discipline in their academic studies. I feel [it] has prepared me for remote learning and college classes because we are required to organize our own schedules and use our time effectively. Global Online Academy also offers the opportunity to study various topics not available at PD alongside students from around the world. 

Student Profile:
Claudia Vasbinder ’21

“I took a filmmaking class last fall and had the BEST time! If I had room in my schedule, I would absolutely take another [course]. I was interested because GOA offered a variety of oddly specific courses that I otherwise wouldn't be able to take at PD. 

“It’s super easy to fit around your schedule and if there is a class that sounds interesting then I would highly recommend taking it because it will feel more like fun than school work. If anyone does decide to take a GOA (course) they need to be aware that (at least in my case) it is very open and you need to be self-motivated because it’s really easy to fall behind.”

“And finally, I would say that GOA is undoubtedly challenging and is by no means an easy A. But it is as rewarding as it is challenging, and with the support of the GOA teachers and PD teachers involved with the program, there is a great support system at PD for taking GOA.”  

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