In rural towns, inner cities, and other communities with limited resources, gifted students often find that the selection of school courses does not meet their needs for variety and academic challenge. Many high schools have too few students enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) classes to continue offering them. Other students find that the AP courses they wish to take conflict with required courses or other activities. Students who are homeschooled also search for ways to learn more advanced material.
One option for these students is to take AP courses online via the World Wide Web. There are several advantages to taking AP courses online. First, students can complete the work as it fits into their schedules. Second, they have a chance to communicate with other students with similar interests and abilities. Finally, they have access to teachers who are trained to challenge them and prepare them for college-level work.
Apex Learning offers online courses designed by teachers familiar with AP curriculum requirements. An online AP instructor and up to twenty-five students interact via online discussion groups, chats, and e-mail. Each course includes online curricula, activities on CD-ROM, reading materials, and free access to Apex’s AP Exam Review in the spring.
In fall 2000, Apex Learning will offer two-semester courses in calculus AB, English language and composition, English literature and composition, physics, statistics, and U.S. history, and one-semester courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and U.S. government and politics. The cost is $395 per fifteen-week semester. Through online demonstrations, students can get a sense of course components, which include multimedia tutorials, study guides, online discussion, assignments, interactive tests, and a student center.
Pennsylvania Homeschoolers offers online AP courses exclusively for students who are educated at home. One-semester courses cost $250, and two-semester courses cost $350–$400; book fees are additional (the semester length varies). Offerings include art history, economics, English language and composition, English literature and composition, French, music theory, psychology, U.S. government and politics, and U.S. history. Because each teacher designs his or her course independently, interactivity varies among courses. Teachers have rated their courses on a three-point scale, with 1 indicating low interactivity and 3 indicating high interactivity. A sample U.S. history course is available for students to explore.
Both sites recommend that students take one course at a time, so that they do not overload themselves. Students who cannot afford or do not wish to take the online courses can still prepare for AP exams online and through materials they can use on their own computers.
At College Board Online, students have several options for exam preparation. With EssayPrep, students submit answers to sample essay questions for the biology, English language, English literature, and U.S. history exams. Trained readers evaluate the answers, and the results are available within five business days. The cost of this service is $15 for one essay evaluation and $36 for three.
College Board Online also offers AP test preparation materials on CD-ROM (APCD) for $49 each, plus $5 shipping. APCDs are available for English language, English literature, European history, and U.S. history. Each APCD includes an orientation workshop, two or three full-length multiple-choice sections from actual AP exams, a dozen essay or free-response tutorials, and a test prep planner. Free demonstration copies can be downloaded from the site.
Apex Learning’s AP Exam Review allows students to prepare for the exam online with live, instructor-led audio chats; study plans with self-check quizzes; support from experienced AP teachers; study tips and test-taking strategies; and chat rooms in which students can interact. The reviews cost $39.95 for one course, with discounts for multiple subject reviews.
—G. Denise Lance, PhD
Denise Lance is research associate at the BeachCenter on Disability at the University of Kansas and teaches an on-line course on including exceptional children in general education for the University ofSan Diego.