Virtual school

Virtual school

A virtual school or cyberschool describes an institution that teaches courses entirely or primarily through online methods. Though there are tens of thousands of commercial and non-accredited courses available online, the term "virtual school" is generally reserved for accredited schools that teach a full-time (or nearly full-time) course of instruction designed to lead to a degree. Virtual public and private schools serving every grade level including graduate programs may elect to pursue accreditation through various regional and national organizations. Accredited schools must meet rigorous standards as defined by the issuing organization and are designed to insure that students are receiving the highest quality instruction and education. Examples of organizations that issue school accreditation include: [1] Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, [2] Northwest Association of Accredited Schools

All or a majority of the student services are conducted via Internet technology. The virtual school differ/contrasts from the traditional school through the physical media that links administrators, teachers, and students. Virtual schools are an alliance of public distance learning schools. Many states in the United States have their own virtual school often with a student population numbering in the thousands.

There are many different virtual school instructional and enrollment models. Instructional models range from fully independent self paced (asynchronous) courses to semester based virtual (synchronous) teacher facilitated courses. Class sizes range widely with anywhere from 25 students to as many as 200 students in each class section. Students keep in contact with teachers and collaborate with other students through web communication tools provided in the course delivery platforms like Blackboard [3] or Desire2Learn [4] or Moodle [5]. In some cases students communicate by phone with instructors. To help with communication many virtual schools have implemented their own system programs to help build courses and maintain student profiles. There are also many books and training manuals to aid in the development of such schools and courses.

Contents

History

Many of today's virtual schools are descendants of correspondence schools. Sometimes referred to as "distance learning," correspondence schools offered students an alternative to the traditional brick and mortar meetings within a schoolhouse. These schools utilized the postal service for student-teacher interaction, or used two-way radio transmissions, sometimes with pre-recorded television broadcasts. Students were expected to study their learning material independently and, in some cases, meet with a proctor to be tested. Modern virtual schools provide similar alternatives to students with a more ubiquitous and, often, interactive approach.

Virtual Schools now exist all around the world. Some of these virtual schools have been integrated into public schools (particularly in the United States), where students sit in computer labs and do their work online. In other situations, students can be completely homeschooled, or they can take any combination of public/private/homeschooling and online classes.

Pricing and location

Virtual schools may be free if the state pays for the courses, otherwise, there will be a course fee to be paid for by the student or parent(s). If a virtual school is chartered through a public supporting school district, there would be no cost associated for a student to attend the school or receive the materials/supplies needed to complete the schooling.

If the school requires a financial fee from the student or parent, materials do add up. Most courses will provide electronic materials free of cost, but others require some shopping on the students part. Textbooks are not required but can be used as an aid for coursework.

Materials

As mentioned earlier, many materials are provided free of cost. Some schools provide programs, usually for web design classes. Some popular materials include Adobe Systems products, Jasc products, and products from Macromedia. Other schools may use Corel products as a cheaper alternative. These products are usually free. Student usually receives the full version of the selected program, with a limited license, usually 1 year or so. These programs are key in the success of virtual schools, and help them to improve each year. Many schools will also provide a brand new computer for all students in need of one. Generally, these computers run using the Microsoft operating system, Windows XP, but depending on lesson needs and coursework the school may also use Linux based computers or Apple Macintoshes. Some Virtual School provide a free loaner computer for use throughout the school year.

Virtual Schools may also provide students with a wide variety of materials that include, but are not limited to just a laptop computer. Some Virtual Schools in the United States may also provide students with the following materials free of charge: Textbooks, Study Guides, Course Guides, Art Supplies (markers, crayons, construction paper, etc.), Science Kits, a Calculator, an All-in-One Printer, a Laptop Case, a Laptop Charger, a Head Set that is equipped with a microphone, a Bamboo Tablet (by Wacom)and a wireless router.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advocates of virtual learning believe that virtual schools hold advantages including: not being required to attend and travel to face-to-face classes and the integration digital media into the curricula. Virtual schools also give a student the opportunity to stay in school when traditional brick and mortar schools will no longer accept them. Some reasons for this could be extensive absences due to medical reasons, teen pregnancy, or for other reasons that the school system may deem distracting to the school body. Virtual schools are a great equalizer. No matter what their social, economic, religious, ethnic or physical or mental differences, virtual education gives all students the same opportunity to reach their full potential. Some virtual schools include online study groups in which students interact with each other online. Students are able to meet in these groups using Elluminate, Wimba or other means.

Unlike traditional education delivery methods, students at virtual schools sometimes do not directly interact with professors, while at other times it is as frequent as in traditional brick and mortar schools and merely takes on a different form. Hence, virtual education is considered by many to be equivalent to a directed-learning program. Because students do not interact with their instructors or peers face-to-face, "lack of socialization" is often quoted,[1] as a disadvantage by detractors. Recent anecdotal evidence provided by one virtual school [2] from one live cyberschool indicates that, while socialization may be different, it is not necessarily lacking. It is also recommended that students enrolled in virtual schools be involved in social activities outside school, much like homeschooled children. Another perceived disadvantage to distance learning is the added challenge of staying focused while in the home environment, and many students report that staying on task is the most difficult aspect of learning online.[3]

Many students are drawn to online learning for a variety of reasons; particularly, the ability to avoid the requirement of traveling to a physical location, which may be impossible for some non-traditional learners. Critics argue that for online education to be taken seriously, online programs must adhere to generally accepted educational standards. One way that virtual schools are proving their effectiveness is the implementation of the same standardized testing that brick and mortar schools require of their students. To reduce this criticism, The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has developed a set of standards released on February 21, 2008. Some believe that this is an important first step in monitoring online programs, but while every provider of education must be accredited, the quality of accreditation varies significantly. For instance, the non-profit AACSB [4] is the most prestigious accreditation agency for business schools and no virtual schools have received accreditation by the agency.[5]

See also

References

External links


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