KSD adopts new online learning system to replace Odysseyware

A shiny pack of black ballpoint pens, some crisp looseleaf and maybe even a new backpack if mom is feeling generous. As morning alarms are dialed back from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m, items like these drop into shopping carts as a part of the annual back-to-school ritual.

Similarly, KHS has done some shopping of their own to prepare for the new year. This school year, students taking an online course will use LAUNCH, an online learning program, instead of the prior system, Odysseyware.

“It’s not the same as Odysseyware,” Dr. Michael Havener, principal, said. “It’s a little bit more in detail, a little bit more strenuous timelines. You are not going to be able to wait until the last two weeks of the semester to be able to get something done. That’s a mind shift that has to change before you sign up for an online course.”

This past June, KHS piloted Health and Personal Finance classes on LAUNCH. Sixty-six students were quizzed, spoke in discussion forums and wrote essays before taking their final exam via video chat with their instructor.

“A lot of the classes I take [at KHS] would be just as challenging [as online Health], but in different ways,” Holden Ave, junior, said. “The stuff you were learning [in class] would be difficult, as opposed to what we are learning here [online] isn’t difficult, but what is [challenging] are the assignments. When I’m taking a class here at Kirkwood, most of the time the assignments aren’t as much of a burden as the material.”

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KHS gives all students the opportunity to take Health, Personal Finance, Music Appreciation and Psychology online. Like many, Ave chose to take the infamously easy online Health course thinking he would save time in order to pursue his elective interests like Honors German IV and continue playing cello for Symphonic Orchestra.

“The basic [Odysseyware] courses, if they weren’t aligned to the Missouri standards, provided a basic course that isn’t very rigorous or challenging,” Dr. Michele Condon, KSD superintendent, said. “All classes at KHS are pretty challenging, so we wanted to have online coursework that reflected what KHS provides in the classroom.”

The newfound workload with LAUNCH also comes with a stricter schedule. According to Ave, students would receive a phone call every 24 hours they did not log onto the class, and late work would automatically receive a 10 percent deduction.

“At one point I was camping, and went in the car and typed up an essay,” Ave said. “It was a family camping trip. We could have been chilling and talking by a campfire, but I was in the car by myself typing an essay.”

This modernized software has not only been adopted by the KSD but also by 70 other school districts in Missouri. Created by staff from the Springfield School District, LAUNCH online courses fit Missouri curriculum standards and allows for more changes to be made by Kirkwood instructors, unlike out-of-state based Odysseyware.

“You had the ability to work ahead, but because the workload was so much, I never got around to doing that.”

“One of the things LAUNCH offers us is the ability to have Kirkwood staff closely invested with KHS students,” Dr. Michael Gavin, KSD director of learning and innovation, said. “I think Kirkwood is effective because of the caring, prepared, thoughtful, knowledgeable teachers [and] this system allows us to keep the continuity in a different setting.”

No matter how someone views the change in programs, the switch of programs is significant, especially for students. After enrolling in LAUNCH through their grade-level counselors, students will experience multiple assignments per night instead of multiple choice. Two weeks to complete a course on Odysseyware, compared to two warnings before being removed from a LAUNCH course.

“If we don’t provide our students an opportunity to make a high quality online course in high school, then maybe we aren’t doing as much of a service for our kids as we should,” Condon said. “I think is an obligation we need to fulfill.”