Is a virtual school the best option for the next generation?

Is a virtual school the best option for the next generation?

Summary: Are virtual schools the future of learning?

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Virtual schools differ from the thousands of commercial, free and non-accredited courses available online through portals including iTunes U and independent course providers. The term is generally reserved for paid degree courses, but now there is a new trend -- traditional high schools that are considering a move to fully-virtual learning.

According to Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade association, 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools in 30 states. K12 Inc. of Herndon is the largest provider of virtual courses, Fairfax high school is considering the move to virtual classrooms, and Capistrano Unified School District has held discussions for a K-8 option.

Opinion concerning fully-virtual learning for young children tends to vary. In First College, an online school for UK students, 22 children log in from 9am - 2pm, Monday to Thursday.

After entering a password-protected classroom, the BBC reports they study English, maths, history, geography, combined sciences, French and international GCSEs.

One student, Natalie, used to attend a private school before attending the virtual school. She said:

"At my previous school, teachers were bullies and kids were bullies in the playground. I didn't learn much. I used to be afraid of maths because my teacher was really horrible.

Now you feel more confident because it is texting instead of speaking out loud and standing up. My old friends thought it was really cool but their parents thought 'internet school'? - I don't know about that. I don't think I would ever go back to real school again."

There is a growing demand demonstrated by the next generation of students who want to be able to take courses online. A number of studies have indicated that today's young people, generally more comfortable with technology than their predecessors, are more reliant than ever on digital sources for information and entertainment.

This also relates to their learning; through search facilities including Google and Wikipedia for information, social networks such as Twitter for news, apps for daily tasks and platforms including iTunes U to access interactive lessons and course material.

Using virtual resources allows for a greater flexibility in the day -- often associated with Gen-Y as something they desire in both study and the workplace.

For some teenagers, especially those with other commitments -- such as performing arts, athletes or musicians -- more flexibility is required than usual. If virtual schooling is available and the quality is up to an acceptable standard, then being able to study in their own time and around other commitments would save many of the problems that young people with these responsibilities face.

It may also be the case that virtual schools can help students who are homebound, disabled or who have been withdrawn from school due to bullying; families who live abroad can secure an English education for their child, and it may be a method to combat dropping attendance numbers in certain school districts.

These are the possible benefits of virtual schools, and yet there are a number of possible disadvantages. Students require a strong Internet connection and modern devices to access such courses; something traditional schools -- unless they include bring your own device (BYOD) schemes -- do not require.

Parents will also require assurance that online courses are delivering the same quality that traditional, physical classrooms can provide. Online learning is not heavily regulated, and without restriction there may be further fragmentation in learning environments.

It is also important to note that traditional educational establishments are not only concerned with their students passing exams -- it is also a place for children to acquire the social skills necessary for them to function well in Western society; from maintaining eye-contact with teachers and peers to learning how to speak up in class.

Although these skills can be learned elsewhere, if every school became virtual, then young people may miss out on certain 'rites of passage' and daily interaction with others their own age which takes place in schools.

Currently, there is not enough research on virtual schools to say with certainty how younger students perform in full-time online settings in comparison to traditional classrooms. Virtual networks may not be suitable for every student, but it may be a comparable to distance-based degree courses for those who work whilst studying -- and allow younger people a flexible, alternative means of learning.

Image credit: UTC library

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12 comments
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  • As a Former Educator

    As a former educator, I'd say that online learning is the wrong choice for about 99% of the population.

    Sure, there are a very few well disciplined, highly motivated, very intelligent individuals who can make a virtual classroom work for them. But the majority of students need the routine, interaction, peer pressure and professorial oversight that only a physical clasroom full of students and a human professor can provide.

    Let me add: online classrooms are all the rage right now because they would seem to allow a school to serve a large student population very cheaply, and thus help the institution maximize revenues. But they really do a disservice to our youth. We should not sacrifice future generations to our own miserly instincts. Our kids are worth the extra investment, I promise!
    dsf3g
  • Virtual schools v. brick and (crumbling) mortar schools

    Most single parents work outside the home, and many couples also have both parents working outside the home during the day, so children need a space where they will be supervised. Thus virtual schooling is a solution only for those children who have parents at home with them.

    Unless, of course, traditional schools make themselves available for these virtual classes. But converting classrooms in already overcrowded schools for this purpose is expensive. And if you do it in school buildings you would still need teachers to supervise the kids and help them along when they have difficulty, so there is little cost reduction there to offset the cost of providing the computers, software, and bandwidth. The only benefit from doing it in traditional classrooms is that, if done well enough, students would be able to progress at their own pace, and teachers can devote more time and effort into helping students that need it the most.

    This is where I see virtual tools helping to improve education the most. If classrooms were set up to take advantage of it, teachers could set up their curriculum to be delivered in several ways- by reading, watching videos, or playing games or using other interactive media. Students would progress at their own rates, and teachers could pay more attention to students who were struggling with the concepts or having motivational issues, while providing enrichment opportunities for highly motivated students. And students could come together to do group activities during designated days and times. Those students who have parents at home could opt to do some or most of their schoolwork at home, coming in only for the group activities.

    Of course, doing this would require enormous investment in developing hardware, software, and management systems for this to work, and involve retraining of thousands of teachers who currently do things a different way. With federal, state, and local authorities cutting back on education of all types and focusing on one-size-fits-all testing as a panacea for education's ills, I doubt that this will come to pass within my professional lifetime.
    ssaha
  • From bad to Worse.

    As children spend more and more time with technology, they are spending less and less time with parents.

    You think this generation, raised by TV is bad, wait until the raised by social media generation grows up.

    I think it's great that my 3 year old grand daughter has already learned the basics of operating desktop and mobile devices but, she does not, and will not, operate them without adult supervison until she buys her own with her own income.
    Sqrly
  • Real people

    I don't think that virtual schools should or could ever replace real classrooms. Children need interaction with real human beings -- adults and fellow students.

    I thought it was interesting when Charlie mentioned maintaining eye contact with teachers and peers because I have recently coached a woman in her 40s who has returned to college and remarked that the young people with whom she has class do not make eye contact.

    Socialization is an important part of growing up. We live in a world of human beings and cannot expect to isolate ourselves totally from them. If we do so from childhood, we never learn how to respect others (especially those who are different from us), carry on a conversation face-to-face, build a relationship that is any deeper than a few minutes' chat or texting, or empathize with others.

    Dealing with real people is a great deal messier than dealing with people who are nothing more than a picture and a username, but the real world is actually the one future generations will have to live in, whether they like it or not, and for better or worse.
    sissy sue
  • Agreeing with Sissy Sue

    Schools are much more than just pouring some facts into the kid's head. They're not perfect, what with overfilled class rooms, bullies on the playground, etc. But then, neither is life perfect. Learning to cope with others is probably more important than learning when the Magna Carta was signed (1215).
    Shara8
  • If teacher can be replaced by machine, (s)he should be replaced

    These are not my words, but words of highly successful Indian self-teaching researcher Sugata Mitra. The main moral is that we need only good teachers. If teacher can be replaced by the machine - teacher is not good enough and can be even one of the causes of bad education.

    Also online schools solve problem in geographical areas were class room education is not available for everyone.

    It took 5 years for people to believe that self teaching can have such tremendous results.

    See this very interesting TED presentation: Sugata Mitra's new experiments in self-teaching (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk60sYrU2RU)

    Radio is not dead, but online TV has very big advantages ;)
    Tomas M.
    • ?????

      online learning (in actual accredited courses) is not learning from a machine... the machine is a connection point but there is still a teacher. Online learning would replace the classroom, not the teacher.
      doh123
      • I think it's going to be mixed system

        With live tutors and with automated online self learning courses. If you will see that video, you will understand what I'm talking about ;)
        Tomas M.
  • Teachers and their unions won't allow it...

    once it starts eating into the funding for schools, or reducing that funding due to a lesser need for teachers.

    Especially, liberals won't allow it, since, public schools is a place they use very well to indoctrinate the young and easily trained minds.

    Besides, most kids don't have the discipline, or the parents to supervise and discipline those kids. Schools are pretty bad right now with education, but, the internet would be many times worse, especially with so many distractions which are easily accessible through those computers/tablets, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

    And, that kid who was interviewed is an example of what could go wrong when he stated that, texting would be the way to communicate. Imagine every sentence full of "lol" and "omg" and "k" and "u no", etc.

    Sorry, BAD idea, and, NOT gonna hap. (How's that for internet speak?)

    We'll be regressing to stone age communications skills if we don't have traditional schools doing the training. What is needed is better schools and better teachers, and NO UNIONS, and no politics driving the management of that schooling.
    adornoe
  • Only if we want a generation with anti-social behaviors

    Education is not only stuff on books ... social skills can only be learn by interacting with other people.
    wackoae
    • Kids can have their social time after the "school time".

      There are so many opportunities to develop that social skill. But who wants to think about their kids in the XXIst century?
      Tomas M.
  • Online is great!

    Online is great for college level and later... but K12? no... no... not yet. Maybe 15 or 30 years from now,but we aren't there yet.
    doh123