Ohio students will soon have the option of doing their driver's education coursework at a keyboard instead of in a classroom.
One of numerous provisions in the massive mid-term budget bill recently signed by Gov. John Kasich instructs the Ohio Department of Public Safety to develop standards for licensing entities that wish to provide online driver's ed. Students could take the online course instead of the 24 hours of classroom instruction currently required, although it would not replace the eight hours of instruction behind the wheel.
It was not immediately clear from the bill when the classes would start, but published reports indicate they could start in September.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Lower Salem resident Phoebe Thompson, 15, backs a Pioneer Driving School car up to turn around in the parking lot of the school’s Devola office
The change has drawn criticism from traditional driving schools in the state, who claim online instruction alone can't replace the personal interaction of the classroom and worry that jobs could be lost. Supporters say online courses are an effective option that can provide flexibility to students and families.
Lower Salem resident Phoebe Thompson, 15, said she might have appreciated being able to complete some of her driver's ed classroom work online, but feels there is an advantage to being in a class with other students.
"I like the classroom because you can watch all the videos with other people and get their perspective on it," she said. "There's almost an experience that you go through when you take driver's ed."
Ohio House Bill 487, the mid-term budget review bill, included a provision allowing beginning drivers younger than 18 to complete the 24 hours of instructional time previously required in a classroom online.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety is tasked with establishing standards for licensing online driver training enterprises and content requirements for the courses.
Eight hours of instruction behind the wheel would still be required.
Source: Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
Dolores Holiday, manager of Devola-based Pioneer Driving School, said she thinks having a portion of the course online could be beneficial to students and driving schools, freeing up more instructors to go driving with students.
"I personally think they need to lower the amount of classroom hours and increase the amount of driving hours because there are kids that need a lot more hours than they're getting," she said.
The blended approach with classroom and online components was advocated by the Driving School Association of Ohio.
Jack Cox, who founded The Heights Driving School Inc. in Richmond Heights in 1957 and is a past president of the association, likened teaching driver's ed completely online to "trying to coach basketball in a swimming pool."
Cox said it's important to talk and interact with the students, so their questions can be answered. Instructors tell them stories of situations where young drivers were injured or killed to drive home points about safety.
Gary Tsifrin, co-founder and chief operating officer of DriversEd.com, a California-based business that has provided online courses to more than 2 million students in 11 states, said blended courses would still be an option in Ohio and there is nothing preventing students from taking classes at the traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
"The choice, the option, needs to lie with Ohio families," he said.
According to the website, DriversEd.com's courses include interactive features, vivid animations and educational videos to engage students and drive home the importance of safe driving habits.
"It's not just a book that's on the Internet," Tsifrin said.
Students learn in different ways, and for some, online courses may be more effective, Tsifrin said. For others, the online courses may be easier to fit in with the rest of their schedules.
That could encourage more young drivers to take driver's ed courses, which would increase public safety, Tsifrin said.
"What we're seeing across the country is simply more students waiting until they're 18" and don't have to meet driver's ed requirements, he said.
One thing Cox and Tsifrin agree on is the importance of behind-the-wheel instruction. But Cox said that could be more difficult for students to get if smaller driving schools have to make cutbacks as more students opt for online courses.
"Now who indeed is going to take these children out on the road?" he said. "If (driving schools) close, (students) might have to ride miles to get it."
Tsifrin contended having online driving classes can actually create new jobs. When Indiana allowed it, it wasn't just outside companies like DriversEd.com that offered the service, with three operations based in the Hoosier State.