Can Free Online Classes Empower Homeschooled High Schoolers?

Have you ever heard of MOOCs? The acronym MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Classes. Many colleges and universities offer these courses for free, with the option to pay a bit more for credit or certification. For motivated high school students, these classes can provide an excellent way to include topics that may be tough for Mom to teach.

I’m no stranger to MOOCs. I’ve extended my understanding of history, health, music, and languages through some of these online courses. My son, who graduated two years ago, completed several computer science courses using both free and paid virtual classes. Since these courses empowered him to excel in this area, I didn’t hesitate to list them on his transcript for high school credit. Now that my daughter is a junior in high school, would MOOCs help her?

While highly motivated in topics such as history and photography, she balks at subjects like math, science, and writing. Often, she turns her nose up at both traditional textbooks and literature-based approaches to learning. During the fall semester, she puttered through a Calvert Homeschool Online Chemistry course. Having completed half of it, she pleaded for an alternative for the spring semester. What a great time to introduce her to MOOCs!

I encouraged her to search on Class Central for potential courses. I offered to give her high school credit for completing the courses based on how many hours of instruction the class included.

She immediately chose an 8-week Forensic Science course and a 7-week Modern History class, each of which would give her a quarter credit. Incidentally, both of these courses are on the Coursera learning platform. Choosing courses like this will prepare her for the freedom she’s likely to experience in a college environment.

As she dove into the classes, I could tell she was learning. Frequently, she excitedly informed us about the courses’ high points. I was thrilled to see how much she appreciated learning about applied science in the Forensic Science course. To her astonishment, the class included a bit of chemistry as well. It was the perfect bridge between the theoretical knowledge she picked up last semester and its practical application.

The forensic science class also introduced her to peer assessment. Reading responses from her classmates gave her additional insights she had not picked up from the lectures alone. Since other students were grading her work as well, it required her to work harder to perform well.

Having completed both of these courses, she’s anticipating starting four more next week. Since she is passionate about history but needs a science credit, she selected a course that combines the two: Osteoarchaeology. She’s also adding in a course on Egyptology. For elective credit, she will be learning about the history of photography. To add variety to her study of literature, she’ll be taking a course about Greek and Roman Mythology. Have you ever met a student who studied such varied topics in high school?

These online courses free me up to work more closely with her younger sisters while actively planning and grading her other subjects. Since the girls are all using the Structure and Style curriculum from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, I frequently suggest improvements and score their work. For my high schooler’s math, I’ve switched back to Khan Academy, which allows me to quickly and easily assign topics she needs to master. I appreciate how MOOCs are entirely planned out, leaving me free to plan other things.

I’m looking forward to the beginning of her next online classes. Now that she’s gotten her feet wet with this type of learning, she is anxious to branch out to more specialized courses. Continuing to study topics that fascinate her, she’s sure to share a wealth of information with the rest of the family. In the coming weeks, I’m excited to hear her regale us with what she’s learning.

Has your family already taken advantage of MOOCs? Which ones? If you haven’t discovered MOOCs yet, search Class Central for topics you or your student may want to learn about. Share your interesting finds in the comments.