December 01, 2011 | Laurie Lemmen

High school students can round out their academic schedule with Calvin's online offerings in astronomy, computer science, history, and Latin.

What do Astronomy 101, Introduction to Computing, History of the West, and Elementary Latin have in common? For the first time in Calvin’s history, students will be able to take these courses online through a pilot program offered spring semester for high school students and during the summer 2012 for Calvin students. High school students who enroll will experience a significant academic challenge and gain transferable college credits at rock-bottom prices: four semester hours of credit for only $600 per course, about a quarter of the cost of a typical Calvin course.

Dubbed “Calvin Online,” the courses promise top-notch teaching by Calvin professors, combined with the convenience of on-demand lessons and assignments. With course materials available 24/7, students can complete class segments at their own pace and at times that work with their schedules.

Creating an online cohort

According to Calvin Online project manager Rob Bobeldyk, Calvin has been reluctant to hop on the online education bandwagon, fearing that students would miss out on non-negotiable aspects of a Calvin education, such as building community, educating the whole person, and interacting with peers in team settings. The professors who teach Calvin Online have designed their courses intentionally to address these concerns. They will create community by having students move through the class as a cohort, include team projects that can be completed through electronic communication, and build in regular, one-on-one, student-to-instructor and student-to-student interactions using online media. And Calvin Online will help students learn to navigate technology in a new way, adding skills to students’ tool belts that will transfer to the workplace.

Provost Claudia Beversluis, who worked with Bobeldyk to design the program, explains, “I am excited that this program will allow Calvin to offer a high-quality, Christian college experience to motivated high school students who are ready for an academic challenge.”

Professors teaching the course in the spring have been busy preparing materials this fall through a 13-week instructional design course run by online teaching experts in Calvin’s Teaching and Learning group, Dan Christian and Krista Spahr. While two of the professors are new to online courses, two others have been teaching online successfully for years. In fact, Astronomy Prof. Andrew Vanden Heuvel claims the title of 2011 Michigan Online Teacher of the Year for his instruction through Michigan Virtual School, and he was one of only five finalists nominated for the National Online Teacher of the Year Award.

Prof. Vanden Heuvel sees online learning as “much more than just glorified correspondence courses — it represents a new way of engaging students in learning.” This generation of students is already deeply engrained in the digital world, and online courses, according to Vanden Heuvel, make the materials more engaging and relevant to their experiences. He also stresses the importance of individualized learning styles, saying, “Students can learn at their own pace, working through difficult course material slowly and speeding through material that is review.”

Small classes, big benefits

Classes will be small — a maximum of 15 students. There will be a Calvin student enrolled in each section this spring to help build community among the high school cohort, strengthen the faith component of the course, share college experiences and study strategies, invite local students to campus and more.

Calvin already dual enrolls 16 students who are taking classes on campus that are not offered at their high schools. Public schools pay tuition for students who have surpassed relevant offerings at their high schools and enroll in college courses to remain challenged. With the implementation of Calvin Online, high school students from around the country and around the world will be able to take advantage of a Calvin education from wherever they live.

Professor Vanden Heuvel sees expanding Calvin’s outreach as a major benefit to Calvin Online. He says, “Calvin has many wonderful things happening on campus, and by expanding our online offerings, we can bring the Calvin experience to the rest of the world–literally.”

For more information or to apply for Calvin Online, visit

Professors prepare to teach onlin in the Digital Studio.

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