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A Publication of WTVP

Pac Man. Frogger. Tetris. Today’s teenagers can’t imagine having to go to an arcade with a pocket full of quarters just to play video games. Over half of teens in a recent Capital One survey said that the video games they play are at least sometimes educational, and 76 percent of the young people polled believe that educational gaming is a great way for them to learn. Educators must agree, because young people are also finding video games in the form of simulations and online learning to be more common in the classroom than ever before.

At our five-year-old daughter’s recent parent-teacher conference, I was surprised to find out students are now performing online reading and math assessments in kindergarten. Lincoln Grade School in Washington, Illinois, is wireless, and they are working on adding even more hardware than they currently have. In addition to a computer lab that children visit once a week, each classroom has a minimum of two computers. “Our children are very computer-savvy,” noted Principal Eveline Durham, “and we would be remiss if we don’t continue to enhance that in their education.”

Middle-grade students have dynamic online learning opportunities as well. In the new Junior Achievement (JA) Finance Park Virtual simulation, students design personalized avatars and are assigned a randomly-generated life scenario, including a fictional job, age, income, educational background and family. Based on that scenario, students are then tasked with meeting real-life needs such as successfully developing a budget, maintaining a household and pursuing a career. Participating schools can provide JA Finance Park Virtual through the classroom in conjunction with JA’s money-management curriculum beginning in seventh grade.

Area high schools are also starting online classes to help prepare students for higher education. Katie Jansen, a business teacher at Dunlap High School, taught a co-op class last semester with an online learning program called Haiku. The co-op class was the first that Dunlap has offered online; they are adding a world history class for the spring semester as well.

Online learning has been in existence in higher education for quite some time. Locally, the very first fully online class at Illinois Central College was taught in 1998. Of the 48 community colleges in Illinois, ICC is among those enrolling the highest number of online students each term. The new ICC Virtual Campus initiative is focused on providing the programs and services necessary to support students completing degrees and certificates completely online. “With this initiative, we hope to provide flexible online learning options for students who could not or would not otherwise attend or finish college degree or certificate programs,” said Patrice Hess, ICC interim associate dean of online learning.

While the use of technology for learning is not a new concept, students exposed to online learning today will clearly have an advantage in the future, as a growing number of jobs require technological competence. I’ve never heard of anyone using Atari skills on the job, but central Illinois students will be better prepared for the workforce as a result of the progressive strides being taken by local schools. iBi

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