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Virtual schooling was initially conceived in 1996 in two regions of the United States following the invention of the Virtual High School and the Florida Virtual School. Five years down the line, between 40,000 and 50,000 learners enrolled in virtual classes (Clark, 2001, as cited in Barbour, 2006).
Approximately a decade later since the initiation of a virtual school, Setzer and Lewis (2005, as cited in Barbour, 2006) postulated that there was about 328,000 public schools recruitment in video-based or online learning. This academic projection excludes home school and charter school students who are additionally admitted in cyber as well as in virtual schools.
Virtual learning is rapidly increasing allover the united states concurrent with the expanding number of teachers and policymakers who appreciate education that is unrestricted by proximity and time. By September 2006, 38 states had implemented online learning curriculum, important rules controlling virtual schooling or both.
In the previous year, many states have adopted new state-led curriculums or set up online learning policies, including Nebraska, South Dakota South Carolina, and Missouri.
Expansion in the amount of students in various obtainable curriculums has been continued, as reflected by the 18% growth of Louisiana Virtual School, 22% of joint Ohio’s eCommunity Schools, more than 50% of Idaho Digital Learning academy and Florida Virtual School, and 24% of Virtual High School (Watson & Ryan, 2006).
Based on Lowes, (n.d as cited in Watson & Ryan, 2006), terms such as virtual courses, virtual classrooms, and virtual resources can be distinguished as below:
- Virtual resources are afforded through the internet, although they are probably applied in face-to-face classrooms as frequently as in web-based courses. Virtual resources, including electronic textbooks, document archives, and simulations, are becoming increasingly accessible and sophisticated.
- Virtual courses essentially concerns virtual resources, are provided via the internet, and basically take two forms. First, self-paced with negligible teacher’s participation, like a correspondence course. Second, self-paced with continuing live teacher-student dealings, essential through chat, email, phone, among other digital medium.
- Virtual classroom encompass virtual resources and teacher-student interface besides facilitating comprehensive student-student interface, typically using course organization system’s discussion conferences. Although these courses are often asynchronous, they are not self-paced because of facilitated student-student interface. Virtual classrooms usually comprise of groups of virtual learners, abide by a course calendar, and employ a range of discussion conferences as the major spot of teacher-student and student-student interface. In addition, typical synchronous programs are a subset of such classrooms.
An assortment of students are enrolled in this new learning environment, ranging from students who pursue online lessons in a computer lab within their district schools to home school learners or students who require a exceptional challenge. The initial Virtual High School was occupied by students who had timetable challenges or students who required a particular lesson from an instructor situated from far.
On the contrary, the contemporary population comprises of primary students taking lesson from home, and higher placement scholars who pursue college lessons from high school. State financial support has motivated numerous academically or socially challenged students to enroll in virtual schools.
Every state is granted the liberty to invest in internet connections and computers to accommodate virtual students by the contemporary political status impacted by the No Child Left Behind Act recognizing poor performing schools, so that students are given the chance to select their preferred schools, augmenting the diversity of students in the setting (Schulz, 2003).
Eng (2003) asserts that school organization are focusing their per pupil disbursement to implement charter or substitute schools equipped with an online provider. The provider affords the curriculum, whereas the district school provides internet access and a computer for the learners, and also employing teachers to work in this background.
The variation in online environment is directly proportionate to the variety of students in virtual schools. Initially, the delivery of online courses was facilitated via teleconferencing in appropriately designed TV lab, although presently they happen in computer labs besides a TV lab, or even at home.
Certain schools integrate motion videos with sound and music, at the same time preserving a humanistic setting (Hammonds & Reising, 1998). In spite of the initial employment of the teleconference set up by virtual schools, the continual application of the set up has been impeded due to high implementation cost and the technical attendance to run it.
However, the challenges of teleconferencing should be taken into consideration, although it does should not disqualify teleconference labs as an important instrument for virtual schools. Such environments can set in learners home or in a regional school computer lab. Bearing in mind the various types of virtual learning environment, one poses a question concerning the virtual study curriculum, as well as teaching and learning approaches employed by virtual schools.
Individually paced courses are the strong hold of the curriculum, with provision of the hand-on courses taken by a student pursuing a multimedia topic on the computer, a parent at home, or in concurrence with an internet evaluation providing immediate feedback subsequent to a lesson.
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Teaching approaches may involve systematic presentation of information through online wording or joint projects, autonomous study, or multimedia files. According to Hammonds & Reising (1998), some virtual learners adopt inquiry learning when developing, devising and team working, despite having to adapt to higher motivation and a quicker study pace. All in all, unit courses offered by state schools are facilitated by credentialed educators whereas online charter-schools rely on parent to supervise student education (Thomas, 2002).
Nevertheless, many online programs are distinct from one another such that they often are confused by teachers, parents, and policymakers. An online curriculum may be permanent or supplemental, be synchronous or asynchronous, statewide or be confined within one local school, provide course that are self-paced or those that run in groups (each of this alternatives have policy consequences).
Categories of online programs
State-led program: – this refers to an online curriculum designed by a state-level agency or government legislation, and/or governed by a state education bureau, and/or directly sponsored by a state grant with the aim of availing online education opportunities throughout the state (Watson & Ryan, 2006).
These curriculums are basically supplemental, providing lessons for students are otherwise are admitted in customary school environment. Some illustrations of state-led online programs include Kentucky Virtual High School, University of California College Prep Online, and Illinois Virtual High School.
Online programs are continuously evolving such that certain programs are classified as state-led which do not eventually conform to the definition, although it did at some significant level in their development.
Particularly, Florida Virtual School which is currently self-determining and sponsored through the state’s Full Time Equivalent (FTE) civic education support, although in the past it received financial support through legislative appropriation (Watson & Ryan, 2006).
Cyber schools: – this is a virtual learning curriculum, which is essentially full-time, and where enrolled students are credited after completion of a course prior to academic advancement, or other selected educational opportunity. Pertinently, most cyber schools qualify as charter schools (Watson & Ryan, 2006).
Synchronous versus asynchronous programs
A small subset of online curriculum adopt synchronous teaching and learning in a considerable component of their program. Examples include many programs that are prominently asynchronous, but posses a synchronous element, and a few programs that are entirely synchronous. Synchronous programs relate with policies and practice issues differently from the asynchronous programs (Watson & Ryan, 2006)..
Most asynchronous programs possess synchronous technology potential by virtue of text-based chat, at least. Certain programs integrate one-/two system audio and video, application sharing, whiteboard, and other real-time teaching techniques. In addition, another set of curriculum, including Iowa Learning Online, integrate both asynchronous online learning with a synchronous video part.
Moreover, certain asynchronous programs give the teacher the liberty to the use of synchronous technology, whereas others need a synchronous element. For instance, learners enrolled in the Clark County School district’s Virtual High school are obliged to hold a discussion for 11/4 hours weekly for each virtual course they take.
The students subscribe in to an online classroom to team up and interact with their educators and classmates to develop the asynchronous constituent (Watson & Ryan, 2006).
Synchronous discussion has various advantages over asynchronous education, particularly when the teachers are not offered a proper professional training for asynchronous online course delivery. These benefits include (Watson & Ryan, 2006):
- The students develop an instant sense of connection with virtual classmates and educator, so that participation in class is enhanced. The possibility of interaction between learners and instructors afforded by a live forum facilitates learners to initiate unstructured discussions, share ideas while they are conceived, and ask impromptu questions.
- Synchronous interaction provide learners and teachers with video and audio support so that a rapport is built which will enable students to seek help when necessary and assist the teacher to identify instants of success and struggle.
- Educators are afforded the chance for video and audio prompt response in formative evaluation in the live conference. Further opportunities for extra types of formal and informal evaluation are provided, so that teachers can continually examine and develop their standards of instruction.
Incorporating a synchronous element to a program usually give rise to certain challenges. Virtual teaching practices are often taught from asynchronous technology perspective, so that synchronous technology training necessitates a consideration of a new innovation and various teaching practice.
Synchronous technology commonly necessitates more hardware, including headset and microphones, although certain types of synchronous courseware do not function optimally on specific dial up link. Noteworthy, a prerequisite synchronous element necessitates students to comply with predetermined timetable, which moderately counter the elasticity of an asynchronous program.
Models for state-based virtual programs
There are various models for state-led programs, namely:
- Under the state education bureau, such as Alabama ACCESS and Idaho Digital Learning Academy.
- Under the State Board of Education, such as Illinois Virtual High School.
- As a self-reliant entity, such as Colorado Online Learning.
- As a distinct local education bureau or school district, such as Florida virtual school.
- Confined in a university, such as University of California College Prep.
Certain states accommodate statewide charter schools that could transform into a model for a state-led program. For instance, University of California College Prep has established a charter high school and is projecting to expand it the following years, which may eventual attain a state of a statewide charter. In fact the state already has numerous multi-county cyber charter schools, although none is has attained statewide operation.
The aforementioned models are absolutely rigid and a program can emanate from an existing model. For example, Colorado Online Learning emerged from a syndicate of district into a self-determined unit, while the Florida Virtual School started as an interschool school districts project, afterward was funded by appropriations for many years, and currently is funded by state public education full-time equivalent (FTE) funds.
Various advantages and disadvantages are associated to various virtual learning organizations. The most known model, that has its state-led program accommodated in the state education agency, provides the advantage of operational and economies of scale, lessening of replication of resources and cost through out the state as well as the potential to exploit the agency bureaucrat and services, including office space, public relation, and general counsel, usually at low or zero cost to the program.
The major drawbacks to being an organ of the state education bureau is in likelihood of limitations, including in state contracting and acquisition policies and the requirement to evaluate decision using a formal and cumbersome control structure, that may impeded flexibility and expansion.
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Eng, P. (2003). Virtual School Daze: Online tech offers new choices in education. Web.
Hammonds, L., & Reising, B. (1998). The Virtual High School. Clearing House, 71(6), 324, 322 p.
Schulz, B. (2003). Surfing the cyberwave of reform: Evaluating K-12 virtual schools. Paper presented at the E-Learn 2003, Phoenix, Arizona.
Thomas, W. (2002). Virtual learning and charter schools: Issues and potential impact. Southern Regional Education Board. Web.
Watson, J., & Ryan, J. (2006). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: a review of state-level policy and practice. North American Council for Online Learning.