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Dissecting HISD Virtual School’s Apex Learning

Screenshot was taken and edited by Kate Ham. All rights to Apex Learning.

Screenshot was taken and edited by Kate Ham. All rights to Apex Learning.

Kate Ham, HSPVA, 2016

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that very few people do online courses through HISD’s Virtual School Department. Each course is expensive enough and burdensome enough to encourage only a select few to take one. The only people that come to mind who are willing to take these courses are the GPA hungry students in the cutthroat race to the top (see other DearHISD posts) and those who don’t have the class at their school and really want to take it. That’s about it.

Maybe this lack of enrollment has kept complaints under the table, or maybe the opportunity itself has left students quiet in gratitude. Either way, I thought there were some frustrating flaws with the program that were worth mentioning.

Please note that I can only speak from my experience. I took the first semester of AP Statistics through Apex this past summer. What I can say is that many people I talked to have agreed with me.

The most glaring issue is the inability to review quizzes and tests after taking them. It is clearly a daunting task for students to learn course material by themselves. This makes it an even harder task. Students are stripped away of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Of all the graded work I do, the only feedback I receive is percentages in the gradebook—computer calculated ones and teacher entered ones. The most specific help I’ve gotten is “you missed question 2.” Grades are particularly worthless in the electronic quiz assignments, where the questions vanish into the ether. In fact, it is absolutely pointless on quizzes to specify which questions I missed if I can never see them again.

Essentially, there is no personalized feedback. Feedback is critical to the education process, as it is difficult to find your own flaws. And the inability to review tests and quizzes just makes students less prepared for further tests and quizzes. It’s a vicious cycle.

Joined with this issue is the inability to review your answers while taking a quiz. As I just mentioned, once I hit the submit button, I will never see that question again. I would think Apex’s testing process would be similar to that on paper: if you notice you made a mistake earlier in the test, you can go back and fix it. The inability to review seems to be a perk just for Apex, as other electronic testing programs (including the STAAR) prompt students to review their answers multiple times before submitting. I shouldn’t have to feel like a bomb diffuser every time I answer an Apex quiz question.

Furthermore, the grading system for quizzes is frustrating. Apex allows you to reattempt a quiz if you make below a 70. What they don’t tell you is that the second time around replaces your grade. In other words, I could either make a 70, or I could purposely fail the quiz the first time and see the same questions again a second time to make a 100. Of course, this is immoral and inefficient, but considering many of the enrolled students are GPA hungry, flaws in the grading system are magnified.

I’d also like to point out there were spelling and grammar errors in the questions, too many for me not to notice. Although that has nothing to do with the actual learning material, it’s just really unprofessional. It’s an online class, meaning it’s already difficult to take seriously. Even my grandpa knows how to use spellcheck.

Lastly, I argue that the course teacher is not helpful. In fact (this may be specific to my experience) calling them teachers would be a stretch. Students learn everything from the Apex videos (created by entirely different teachers) and possibly any other online resources. The only ways in which a teacher is helpful is through grading and through asking him or her specific questions. Grading has been so slow that I wasn’t sure of my actual class average for a month. As for questions, I found it curious that my teacher could not answer my question without reference to a specific question of a specific activity. This may imply that the teacher doesn’t know the material well enough and must repeat the exact same information from the lessons. Teachers help students by presenting information in different ways, or else everyone would just use the textbook alone.

This is probably a bit harsh of a review. For the record, I greatly appreciate that HISD has given me the opportunity to take a class online in the first place. However, these issues seem to be masked because the course is online; these conditions would be immediately deemed unacceptable in a traditional classroom.
I just ask that HISD uses their power to try to fix this program’s faulty system. Maybe then, more students seeking more classes and more to learn would not hesitate at the opportunity.

2 comments on “Dissecting HISD Virtual School’s Apex Learning

  1. Cyrus
    September 14, 2015

    I could not agree more with every point, Kate!

  2. Brutus
    September 24, 2015

    Miss Ham,

    Thanks for pointing out some of the toughest complications with implementation of Apex Learning products in our district. I am typing this on my phone, so I will be succinct.

    It is your Graduation Coach’s responsibility to ensure that you are getting proper feedback from your teacher of record. The Grad Coach (or the Apex “Site Coordinator”) is able to tell you, at the very least, which learning objectives were missed on a quiz. You should request that – all they need to do is double-click the quiz grade in their gradebook… It is an inadequacy that the provider is aware of, and we hope future students will have a different experience.

    It is also the Grad Coach’s responsibility to ensure that your teacher is accessible through tutorial times – that is something you should speak directly to administrators about if tutorials are not available (especially in AP Stats, for Pete’s sake!). Grading timeframes of these courses varies on every campus – it is reasonable to expect a grade within a week, but try to remember that this is actually an extra-duty for teachers, in addition to a full courseload. Hang in there, and don’t hesitate to approach you Grad Coach and other administrators with your valid concerns.

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2015 by and tagged , , , .

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