I've been wanting to learn a little more about the proliferation of virtual high schools, and even complete virtual K-12 programs. To this end, I've been including this as one of the topics I suggest to guest writers. Earlier this month Pamela Rossow gave us the article, “The Emergence of Virtual High Schools – What You Need to Know“. Today we have a new article taking a further look at this phenomenon. I would really love to hear from students or parents of students who are in virtual high school, or teachers teaching there, to get a deeper look at ways in which this is working out well, and at challenges that need to be addressed. – KW
Virtual high school is not for everyone. There are no hall monitors, no study halls and it is not “forced” learning. For students who are self-motivated and interested in learning, though, it can be a broadening experience. However, virtual learning is not limited to gifted students. There are online learning systems that are successful for special needs and at-risk students, as well as some with limited English proficiency.
Thanks to the technology available, students who learn in a virtual classroom have many ways to engage with other students and teachers, just as they would in a traditional school. Students learning virtually have as much, if not more, interaction with teachers and other students, especially because virtual learning often employs team projects. Students begin to engage both online and offline; not only are they connecting to students and teachers elsewhere in the world, but they’re encouraged to participate in their local communities, which gives them exposure to people and places that they might not have in a traditional education setting.
The Connections Academy describes itself as “a challenging, standards-based alternative to a brick-and-mortar school curriculum or a high school homeschool curriculum”. Its curriculum includes core courses, electives and honors/AP courses, much like a traditional high school. In addition, students have access to certified school counselors and college and career planning. They can participate in workshops that guide through the college application process, along with information about local colleges or universities. As well, there are financial aid and scholarship assistance workshops, along with extracurricular activities.
Some virtual high schools, like Penn Foster Virtual High School, offer print-based as well as online courses. Penn Foster print courses include printed study guides, textbooks, exams and activities. Internet access is still required because there are online supplements and assessments, but there is no live-streaming component for that option.
Often, virtual high schools are able to offer courses and programs that traditional high school students can’t. For example, through Michigan Virtual School, students can take courses like Chinese language, Mathematics in Baseball and other creative options. The school’s philosophy is that every child should be prepared for a globally competitive future that’s integrated with technology and “focused on the knowledge economy”. Its mission is to offer equal access to diverse courses so that students can build technology skills and use tools to help them succeed.
So How Does it Work?
With all of that being said, how does virtual learning work? Students are connecting to others through computers, tablets, smartphones, Internet TVs and other devices. Most schools will set forth specific technology that your computer needs in order to participate in the virtual environment. For example, the program run by the Prince William County Public Schools has a very specific list on its website of operating system requirements that include 64 MB of RAM, Java script and cookies enabled, recommended browsers and other details. However, Connections Academy requires only a device that live-streams Internet video, along with a microphone and speakers.
However, in order to fully and successfully participate in a virtual schooling program, you need to be sure to have a strong and reliable infrastructure in place. In traditional school, if a student arrives without her pencils, textbooks and notebooks, she would be unprepared for class. Certainly, Internet outages happen and there is an occasional technology failure that is no one’s fault. That happens. However, before enrolling in a virtual program, you should be sure that you’re as prepared to show up each day ready to work with whatever tools and devices you need as you would be for “regular” school.
Students who are tech-savvy enough to be virtual learners could have an above-average interest in and ability for web learning and communication. They might be writing blogs, creating websites or even developing apps – all skills that will ultimately lead to success in today’s increasingly virtual world. Therefore, think of the computer as a data-heavy locker. Rather than storing textbooks, it’s storing all of the technology that you’re going to need in order to be successful in the virtual environment. First, just like high school students are cautioned about sharing locker combinations with friends, it’s necessary to ensure that your data is secure. Because your student will be transmitting personal data and her own work product over the Internet, you need to ensure that your device has ample security.
Virtual learning is about both the education and the technology; you can’t successfully do one without the other. Advocates would argue that learning to be comfortable with emerging technology is as important for today’s high school students as is the traditional reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. I would concur; virtual learning will teach all of the basics, but with the added technological flair that comes from not only learning the science behind it, but also from having to use and troubleshoot it on a day-to-day basis. And that’s worth something.
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
The Emergence of Virtual High Schools – What You Need to Know
The 10 Most Important Emerging Instructional and Education Technologies and Concepts (2013 Update)
Combining 1:1 and OER is an Educational Game Changer