What is the Best Model for Online Learning at Independent Schools? | Marcus Muster | 2 Min Read

The Kiski School, an all-boys boarding school located just outside of Pittsburgh, PA, has been involved with online education in one form or another since 2007. I have been teaching remotely through various platforms and scenarios since then, even teaching my Precalculus class at 5:30 a.m. from a hotel room just before my first OESIS Conference in Marina Del Rey, California. When the global pandemic struck in the spring of 2020, Kiski was well-positioned for a transition to remote learning. As we look forward to what our schools will look like in the fall, I am sure some independent schools are implementing or are considering an online branch of their brand. This concept should be viewed through multiple lenses based on our experience.

Independent schools come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of financial means, each with its challenges. Financially speaking, both day schools and boarding schools would want to consider a reduced tuition rate to their online students. By doing so, day schools would risk cannibalizing the market they are trying to target. Boarding schools would splinter the communities that make them unique while still demanding an incrementally higher cost with the risk of impacting in-person programming and narrowing the pool of prospective families, particularly in the international segment.

From our first offering in 2007, we have been adamant that synchronous online learning was our strength. The Hy-Flex model that many of us adopted this year, simultaneous and synchronous in-person and online classes, worked for Kiski but presented many difficulties throughout the year. The different teaching modalities required our faculty to be nimble and our students and parents to be patient. It is hard to see this model being successful at full-scale in a post-pandemic climate, meaning that schools will not be able to simply add remote students to their current on-campus classroom enrollments.

Staffing becomes one of the measuring sticks if you are to considering an online branch of your brand. In a perfect world, online and in-person classes would be separate. It is a challenge to ask current faculty to teach both if the plan is to offer a full-scale diploma-granting program. Teaching the same course online and in-person essentially doubles the work for them. Additional factors to consider are time zone differences, school and student access to technology and bandwidth, dress code and classroom etiquette, accountability, and discipline.

At Kiski, we have tried many models and approaches. We have targeted the home school market, international market, credit recovery market, and most recently, serving a student body with synchronous instruction both in-person and online during the pandemic. From experience, the preparation to pivot is essential for your online offerings and requires the same flexibility we had to show in the spring of 2020. A one size fits all model doesn’t work. The program that you ultimately launch will need to speak to the strengths of the school, the faculty, the students, and the systems currently in place. We did not compromise Kiski’s identity and standards to make these programs work.

So what has been successful for us? We continue to offer enrichment classes online in the summer, some for credit and others without credit for our current students, and others interested in looking for supplemental summer school opportunities. While we have faced many challenges along the way in our 10+ year journey through the online education space, we continue to find variations and solutions to the problem while remaining true to our school’s mission and values.

Marcus Muster

Marcus Muster has been at the Kiski School since 1987. He is currently the Math Department Chairman and Director of Technology. Over the past 34 years, he has held numerous positions at the school including Chair of the Honor and Discipline Counsel, Head Football Coach and, Head Baseball Coach. Appointed as Director of Technology in 1994 he implemented Kiski’s one-to-one laptop program in 1997.

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