Virtual schools are institutions where teaching takes place via the internet. It allows students to gain information, take tests and earn credits towards graduation without having to present in a physical classroom. Sometimes called cyber-schools, they enable students to complete schoolwork from their homes or other locations.
Virtual schools can be valuable for people who are injured, ill, disabled or live too far from an institution of higher learning to attend classes in person. Some say it’s a prelude to a mode of teaching and learning that will be commonplace in the near future.
Over the past few decades college students have had the opportunity to take classes online. Initially employers were hesitant to accept degrees earned online. They were looked upon as being fakes or somehow less representative of a truly rigorous way to earn a degree.
However as more people who have earned part or all of their degrees online have distinguished themselves in the workplace as being just as, if not more, competent than people who earned their degrees on campus, online degrees have gained wider acceptance.
Virtual schools are a way of expanding online learning to meet the needs of students in grades K through 12.
There are a number of different types of virtual schools.
Some cater to small groups of 25 or less students. Others have classes which contain over 200 students. 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 to demonstrate mastery of the information and techniques being presented. Other schools offer semester based courses where the pace of learning is controlled by the teacher. There is even one traditional school in Florida which caters to students from kindergarten through the 12th grade where 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 and collaborate with other students. They also communicate via email, telephone, Skype and other forms of electronic and digital media. The students also use eBooks and other online study materials to do research and follow the material being presented by the teacher. Many students who 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 personal interaction 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 behavior and violence in brick and mortar schools. They also express hope the virtual classroom may also help address the high drop-out rate. On the other hand educators have expressed concern for the impact moving to the virtual classroom exclusively can have on poor children who have only limited access to computer technology necessary to participate. Schools have attempted to address this by lending computers to underprivileged students; but they admit more resources are necessary if they 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 deliver lessons from teachers to students. Students were forced to study independently and were tested by a proctor. The new virtual classroom improves on this concept by providing a variety of means for near instantaneous communication between teacher and class and vice versa. This new more interactive approach is seen as much more effective and has the potential to become the new norm.
Countries the world over now have virtual schools.
They are used to teaching students from kindergarten to college. Some public schools in the United States use a slightly modified concept. Students report to the school but all their work is done online. Cost seems to be one of the factors preventing cyber-schools from becoming more widespread. Currently the schools receive funding for the technology through grants, private donations 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 to attend brick and mortar schools. The cyber schools can also continue to educate student who are sick, pregnant, lack transportation or are physically disabled. It would also allow students who must work to take care of family responsibilities the flexibility to fit schooling into their schedules. It would allow rural communities with few teachers to reach students on isolated farms who would otherwise not receive formal education.
The opportunity to develop the skills necessary to succeed in the twenty-first century including computer literacy, collaboration and self-directed learning has many people excited about the schools.
Many see virtual schools as an idea whose time has come.
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