Easy Essay Writing from Bridgeway Academy (review)
Easy Essays with Ms. Kimberly Kulp from Bridgeway Academy is part of their Learning Labs series, an online class with one 90-minute meeting per week for nine weeks. Students are part of an online co-op, interacting during class meetings with the instructor and other students via audio, video, and chat. The purpose of Easy Essays is to both instruct and improve the confidence of students in writing a variety of essay types. These include definition, description, compare & contrast, persuasive, cause and effect, and process analysis. Designed to provide a 1/2 credit worth of instruction in a quarter’s worth of time, Easy Essays is for high school students. Michael feels that, given the wide variety of features accessible in the online meeting place, and the combination of personal interaction with individual assignments, it should be easily usable by most high school students. (He shrugged off my “that are familiar with a computer” suggestion – those kids, few and far between, wouldn’t be looking to sign up for an online class anyway.) A few things are required for the class, of course:
- Computer. Desktop or laptop, either works.
- High speed internet access
- USB headset
A webcam is optional, and they didn’t use it much for this class. The teacher has control of who is viewable on webcam, and the vast majority of the time, it remained on her. Students may also wish to have pencil (or pen) and paper on hand for notetaking. There is a note function in the classroom, with both personal and group (added to by everyone) notes, and using this is recommended over writing on paper, but Michael just felt more comfortable noting some things down on paper. Students receive several files during the class:
- Syllabus – this was updated multiple times as the class progressed. It included a chart that had detailed instructions on the homework assignments for each week, allowing students to plan for them right from the start.
- A PDF ebook about writing that students are given reading assignments to complete during the week, and that Michael feels will be useful for future reference.
- A PDF of graphic organizers, to help in setting up essays.
- Another ebook, this one described by Michael as the equivalent of the graphic organizers, but without the pictures.
On the first class day, the classroom opened early so that any technical difficulties could be addressed. It seems that all Learning Lab classes have an open house or an early first-day start to address potential issues – it’s always a good idea to take advantage of this sort of opportunity to (help) ensure a smooth experience later. Classes are recorded, though there was some sort of the issue the first day which resulted in the recording not occurring. After each class, recordings of the class are made available, which has three benefits that we noted.
- If a student needs to miss a class, they can “make up” the class and get the instruction that they missed by not being there “in person’
- A student can rewatch classes; in effect, it’s a lot like having video notes.
- The parent can view the class and their child’s interactions and participation, without needing to be present at the time.
Other files, such as Powerpoints or videos that were used during the class session, may also be made available for the student to access individually. A typical class lasts 90 minutes, and begins with a short review of what was previously covered. Then, during the main part of the class, the teacher leads the students through Powerpoint presentations, both lecturing and asking questions about the material. Interactions happened in a variety of ways, from conversational – both audio and (text) chat, using an in-classroom whiteboard, and utilizing the classroom’s individual and group notes features. Other options in the classroom allowed students to “raise their hand” or indicate technical difficulties. A class closed with a reminder about homework that generally included more detail on the expectations; Michael stated that the homework generally took him 1-2 hours to complete outside of class. I inquired, because he hadn’t mentioned it, if the student’s writing was ever read out loud during class. He said that yes, sometimes students would read their own writing, but it wasn’t necessarily something that every person did every class. (And to clarify, this was apparently just over audio, not over webcam.) Homework assignments were due by 5pm Friday in the student’s time zone, though Michael did indicate that the instructor was at time a bit relaxed with that requirement. After an assignment was turned in, if there were issues with your homework, the instructor would send suggestions for “improvements” in a direct email. These were due either by the next class meeting or by the next homework due time. Bridgeway Academy Learning Lab classes, by their very nature, are restricted to provider designated dates and times. While most homeschoolers are used to adhering to only their own schedule, there are benefits of the student at times needing to follow outside requirements; they’ll soon find that much of their adult life works the same way. This was Michael’s only real dismay, he came to discover. He’s most definitely NOT a morning person, especially Monday mornings. As I work outside the home on Mondays, my involvement in the class was almost totally hands-off. It consisted of:
- waking him up on Monday mornings if he wasn’t up by the time I left for work
- forwarding him relevant emails, since they came to my email address
- occasionally asking – when I remembered – if he’d gotten his homework done
This is probably the least-parent-involvement class that he’s ever done as a homeschooler… I’ve loved having the pressure – and time commitment – freedom from one class. Additionally, I think he’s benefitted from being largely self-reliant. This is *much* more like college classes will be than anything he has experienced so far. As a result, the Bridgeway Academy Learning Lab classes don’t lend themselves to adaption, and in this case, that’s ok. So long as your student is comfortable handling the class on their own – for high school classes – there’s no need for adaptions. If a student had special needs, it’s really something that the parent would need to chat with Bridgeway about whether or not it would be appropriate for them – with the primary instructor being someone else, it’s just plain – different – than the typical homeschool resource. Michael’s summary: It was a lot easier than I expected to be, both tech-wise and class-wise. I’d expected an annoyance and a hassle, and it was actually fairly simple to set-up and use, and went much smoother than I expected. The class was great; I’ve learned a lot and feel much more confident about writing essays now. The hardest part was getting up in the morning; it would have been better for me if it were later in the day. There isn’t really much that I’d say could be improved, other than not being in the morning. If there were tech troubles, it was usually funny. Life if someone’s headset wasn’t working right, you’d hear this analog machine gun sound, and the teacher would yank off her headset and have this sad little look on her face. Overall, it had my stamp of approval! [Even though he doesn’t have one. He now realizes he needs a stamp.] And Mom’s thoughts: He’s right that the primary reason he was taking the class was because I wanted him to; he didn’t really feel that he needed it, and he wasn’t thrilled about having to deal with people over the computer that he didn’t know. It didn’t take long before he realized that he was both enjoying the class and it wasn’t this huge irritation that he’d anticipated. He assures me that the headset interlude was genuine, but was resolved by the student getting a not-broken headset; it’s good to hear that even tech troubles were handled with grace. The classes offered by Bridgeway Academy in the online Learning Labs vary from term to term; the pricing this class – and it appears most high school classes – is $245. Keeping in mind that it does offer 1/2 credit of instruction in a shorter timeframe, the intensity – and low parent commitment – make it an appealing option for high school students.