The MSON Program Explained by Josh Bottomly

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Arabic. Nuclear Engineering. Advanced Science and Mathematics. What do all of these things have in common? They will all be offered as classes to a select group of Casady students next year! In advisory last week, you were likely informed of these exciting, new course offerings for next year. Casady will be joining The Malone Schools Online Network: a program that offers advanced courses such as these to outstanding students in conjunction with nineteen other independent schools. I sat down with Mr. Bottomly, the king of word choice and college counseling, to talk a little bit more about this opportunity.

John Zuk: First of all, what is the Malone Foundation Class Program/System?

Mr. Bottomly: That’s a great question. So the Malone School Online Network (MSON) is a co-op program among twenty independent schools throughout the United States. So about six or seven years ago, nineteen schools at the time (we’ll be the twentieth member) came together and said: ‘Hey, we have advanced courses that we think are unique, one of kind, with top expert faculty. What if we offer that class to you all and you identify an advanced, unique, one of kind course you can offer to us?’ So, it will be a way of enhancing our curriculum offerings and to fill some curricular gaps. We, for instance, cannot staff a course in economics, but we can now have a course in economics. It also represents kind of the trend where some of twenty-first century education is going, which is more toward these blended models of education, where there is a synchronous element: an online component and an offline component. So, there is a sense that we’ll be seeing more of this populating higher education, and it’s also a great opportunity to give students an experience in that type of model to prepare them for college.

John Zuk: How will these courses be offered to Casady students next year?

Mr. Bottomly: So what we decided in this first year is to offer these courses to primarily seniors first, who have established a track record of being outstanding students in the classroom, and being very reliable students. These courses will sometimes require students to miss class at Casady, and they’ll have to be able to make up that work. So that’s where we decided “okay, baseline GPA of 3.75 to be considered.” Then you have to go through the department chair to get approval for each of the classes you are interested in. Those are kind of the baselines we put in place, but we’re hoping that this grows into a popular program mainly among our seniors first, so we can give them some very unique course offerings.

John Zuk: Will there be a cap on students in this program next year?

Mr Bottomly: There will. Not a cap that we’re placing, but what we have done is paid a fee that allows up to ten enrollments. So we will be guaranteed ten enrollments for next year. That doesn’t mean that we will fill them all, but we are guaranteed those enrollments. If we exceed that number, then we’ll just pay extra, which Casady is more than willing to do. And that is the key: Casady is going to pay for these classes for students. These expenses will not be covered by students.

John Zuk: Will students apply to do this, or will you select students?

Mr. Bottomly: It will be both. We want students to take the initiative in “here are the courses you can sign up for.” You will apply in order to get into this program, and we will essentially submit an application to the MSON program, then they will decide which and how many of our students will be enrolled in those courses. These courses are especially unique because they are capped at no more than sixteen students. So they are trying to create a virtual, Harkness model so that it encourages real, dynamic dialogue between the actual students.

John Zuk: So will this be online, or in an actual classroom?

Mr. Bottomly: It will be an actual classroom. It will feel a bit like a production in terms of the fact that students will be interacting with the other students in the class in live time. Think of The Brady Bunch opening scene, with the six windows. That’s essentially what the students will see. They’ll see the other students in small boxes, and they’ll press a button and be able to chime in. The faculty member will be one of those boxes, so yeah, it will be live and interactive, twice a week for an hour. And then there will be the asynchronous portion where students will interact through platforms that are built for discussion like Google Docs and other course work through attachments sent to the faculty member. The faculty member will also have hours through some sort of discussion platform.

John Zuk: And these faculty members will be from colleges and universities?

Mr. Bottomly: Some of them are. Stanford was the original school that started this program. Of course the Stanford online school is made up of Stanford professors. So, for students that will take classes in Arabic next year, that is taught by a Stanford professor. The other courses will be taught largely by faculty at the independent schools […] most of them have PHD’s and backgrounds teaching college, but they are full time employees at the independent schools.

John Zuk: So what are some of the examples of courses? What will the options be?

Mr. Bottomly: There is a wide range of courses from Arabic and Greek, to courses in Advanced Math and Advanced Science topics. There is even a course in Introduction to Nuclear Engineering.  There are courses that will be offered in Computer Science, both introductory and advanced. In addition, there will be kind of interdisciplinary History courses, Philosophy, Pop Culture. So basically, what you are going to find is that the course offerings are going to usually overlap with core disciplines: Math, Science, English, Language, and History.

John Zuk: And will these courses count for Casady credit?

Mr. Bottomly: They will. They will count toward a student’s total graduation requirements. At this time, they will not count as a core Casady graduation requirement. So for example, if you need three Histories, you can’t take this History instead of our History course. However, if you have three history courses under your belt, and you decide to take a fourth history in the program, it will count towards your core. These courses will go on the transcript and it will be weighted like an AP course. We will convert the grade to our grading scale. So if the student gets an 85 in a math course, MSON will convert that to an A- on the transcript.

John Zuk: Very cool. So the classes are basically like the icing on your transcript cake.

Mr. Bottomly: They will be. That’s one of the things I’m excited about.  Two things, actually. It’s an opportunity for Casady to expand its geographical footprint. It will allow us to hopefully gain a greater national reputation, grow our brand nationally with other independent schools like us. And that’s exciting. I think the other thing is it’s going to give our kids an opportunity to interact with students and faculty at other outstanding independent schools, and to be ambassadors for Casady and get [an] academic experience they can’t get anywhere else. That’s the important thing – we’ll be the only school in Oklahoma to be a part of this co-op program. No other independent school here has this opportunity.

Mr. Bottomly really said it all. These new courses are going to fill gaps in the Casady curriculum with interesting subjects taught by expert teachers. Participation in the MSON program will augment the prestige of the school and spread the Casady name across the country. Perhaps most importantly, it will help make the participating senior’s applications more impressive, and better their chances of getting into their first-choice colleges and universities. With Mr. Bottomly moving into a roll where he is in charge of the curriculum next year, more interesting and beneficial opportunities such as the MSON program will continue to fall into hands of Casady students in the years to come.