The Beginner’s Guide to Virtual Schoolshttp://onlinek12education.com/the- beginners- guide- to- virtual- schools/ April 10, 2013Dr. Patricia FiorielloVirtual schools are here to stay!Virtual schools are institutions where teaching takes place via the internet. It allows students togain information, take tests and earn credits towards graduation without having to present in aphysical classroom. Sometimes called cyber-schools, they enable students to completeschoolwork from their homes or other locations.Virtual schools can be valuable for people who are injured, ill, disabled or live too far from aninstitution of higher learning to attend classes in person. Some say it’s a prelude to a mode ofteaching and learning that will be commonplace in the near future.Over the past few decades college students havehad the opportunity to take classes online. Initiallyemployers were hesitant to accept degrees earnedonline. They were looked upon as being fakes orsomehow less representative of a truly rigorousway to earn a degree.However as more people who have earned part orall of their degrees online have distinguishedthemselves in the workplace as being just as, if notmore, competent than people who earned theirdegrees on campus, online degrees have gainedwider acceptance.Virtual schools are a way of expanding onlinelearning to meet the needs of students in grades Kthrough 12.There are a number of different typesof virtual schools.Some cater to small groups of 25 or less students.Others have classes which contain over 200students. The instructional models differ as well. Some virtual schools offer classes that are self-paced. The students decide on the speed with which topics are completed based on their ability todemonstrate mastery of the information and techniques being presented. Other schools offersemester based courses where the pace of learning is controlled by the teacher. There is even onetraditional school in Florida which caters to students from kindergarten through the 12th gradewhere the seniors must take at least one class online before they can graduate.In a virtual school students use internet communication tools to communicate with teachers andcollaborate with other students. They also communicate via email, telephone, Skype and otherforms of electronic and digital media. The students also use eBooks and other online studymaterials to do research and follow the material being presented by the teacher. Many studentswho have been raised during this period of widespread use of the internet say they prefer the
virtual school concept to the traditional model. Other students say they miss the personalinteraction they enjoy when they had to report to a school building each day.Some educators see virtual schools as a way to address the growing amount of unruly behaviorand violence in brick and mortar schools. They also express hope the virtual classroom may alsohelp address the high drop-out rate. On the other hand educators have expressed concern for theimpact moving to the virtual classroom exclusively can have on poor children who have only limitedaccess to computer technology necessary to participate. Schools have attempted to address thisby lending computers to underprivileged students; but they admit more resources are necessary ifthey are to meet the needs of all students.Virtual schools are seen by some as a modernization of the correspondence school concept.There the postal service, two-way radios or pre-recorded television programs were used to deliverlessons from teachers to students. Students were forced to study independently and were testedby a proctor. The new virtual classroom improves on this concept by providing a variety of meansfor near instantaneous communication between teacher and class and vice versa. This new moreinteractive approach is seen as much more effective and has the potential to become the newnorm.Countries the world over now have virtual schools.They are used to teaching students from kindergarten to college. Some public schools in theUnited States use a slightly modified concept. Students report to the school but all their work isdone online. Cost seems to be one of the factors preventing cyber-schools from becoming morewidespread. Currently the schools receive funding for the technology through grants, privatedonations or payments from parents. Many school districts are looking into ways to have federal,state or local governments fully fund the cyber schools.There are many advantages to online learning and virtual schools.It saves the time, expense and exposure to sometimes harsh weather conditions required toattend brick and mortar schools. The cyber schools can also continue to educate student who aresick, pregnant, lack transportation or are physically disabled. It would also allow students who mustwork to take care of family responsibilities the flexibility to fit schooling into their schedules. Itwould allow rural communities with few teachers to reach students on isolated farms who wouldotherwise not receive formal education.The opportunity to develop the skills necessary to succeed in the twenty-first century includingcomputer literacy, collaboration and self-directed learning has many people excited about theschools.Many see virtual schools as an idea whose time has come.Virtual schools on the rise, but are they right for K-12 students?From PCs in school to online schoolingAll You Need to Know About Effective Blended Learning ModelsState Virtual SchoolsFacts About K12 Public Virtual SchoolsVirtual Schools: Education NextVirtual schools are multiplying, but some question their educational value
AboutDr. Patricia Fioriello is an online education consultant and founder ofOnlineK12Education.com.