Virtual schools in the U.S.
Virtual schools were conceived in 1996 in two regions of the United States with the establishment 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).
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About a decade later, Seltzer and Lewis (2005, as cited in Barbour, 2006) postulated that there was approximately 328,000 public schools recruitment, excluding home schools and charter schools, in video-based or online learning.
Watson and Ryan (2006) elucidate that by September 2006, 38 states had implemented virtual curriculum, or important rules controlling virtual schooling, or both. They further, affirm that the previous year saw many states adopt new state-led curriculums or set up online learning policies.
These states include Nebraska, South Dakota South Carolina, and Missouri. Increase in the amount of students in different virtual programs has been observed with diverse increase made at various virtual schools; 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.
Virtual school program
Clark (2001) argues that many virtual schools were established with different mission in mind. However, they share one major objective of increasing access to superior curricula. For instance some like the West Virginia Virtual School was established to provide the quality courses using Internet technology, in spite of the size or location of a school.
Virtual school program design can be based on the target consumers, wherein it can be intended to serve remote regions such as a school district with limited road networks. Regardless of the target consumers, “the mission of Virtual School is to allow for two way interactive learning anytime anywhere for any student” (Clark, 2001, p. 3).
The federal government regards educational technology and virtual learning as instrumental in education reforms and upgrading endeavors (Clark and Else, 1998). The federal government has supported this trend of education through grants for enlargement of large-scale virtual high school study.
Noteworthy, state authorizations on the required characteristics of K-12 education and seat-time obligations for tax grant have effect on virtual in-schools models (Clark, 2001).
According to Clark (2001), certification and accreditation are mainly based at the state level. Regional certification bureau house their personnel for every state in the state education bureau, and work directly teachers accreditation, program appraisal and general SEA personnel.
Every state needs virtual teacher own accreditation, or cross-agreements if done in other states with which it share effect. A virtual school based in any state needs both state appraisal and regional accreditation to attract students at the district status.
The persons dealing with unbiased education opportunities have previously raised concern for impartial access to school curricula. Several state education departments have utilized a fraction of their Advanced Placement (AP) grants to procure services from virtual schools providing AP courses, and incorporate them in virtual schools allover the state to handle curriculum availability and equity concerns (Lorenzo, 2001).
Implementation and sustenance
Thomas (2000) argues that, in spite of their area of resident, students are able to access quality courses via the Web. In addition they have flexibility in regard of time and place to take the necessary courses.
Nevertheless, by virtue of this technology being new, fewer courses have been designed; fewer instructors have been trained on Web courses utility and unequal access to computers by teachers and students. However, the author asserts that concerns related to policy, management and instruction have to be resolved first in order for states, schools and students to gain fully from Web-based courses.
Several concerns on which funding and policies are based require being amended or removed to allow widespread application of Web-based teaching in high schools. Thomas (2000) further, asserts that the issues that need to be considered include student turnout and credit demands; states dissemination of grants to boost student education; teacher tasks; as well as the mandates for teacher accreditation.
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The application of the Web-based courses prerequisite states to perceive education differently; for instance, they will be mandated to change from sponsoring schools depending only on class dimension and turnout.
Virtual school administration, instructors, guidance counselors as well as parents require substantial information and support so that they adapt to applying this novice technology for student education.
Teaching will require to be tuned to satisfy students’ needs; specific students will demand greater interface with colleagues and their teachers relatively. Nevertheless, there is not much evidence for exorbitant drops out of Web-based courses at al levels.
Further research is prerequisite to invent new instruction strategies, so as to reduce the dropout rates. To attain success in these Web-based courses, instructors as well as students will require continuous technical support (Thomas, 2000).
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.
The recommended model for this particular state district is the consortium and the regionally-based model. Presently, several virtual school consortia have been developed in the United States. The virtual school consortia are characteristically national, regional, state-level and multi-state. Numerous regional education agencies have incorporated virtual K-12 courses in their service options for different schools.
Majority of the virtual schools consortia serve as brokers for outside supplier opportunities or divide courses amongst affiliates (Clark, 2001). The author affirms that the nonprofit VHS Inc. in Massachusetts is the most effective barter or collaborative model of virtual schools present, expecting continuation via its wide network of engaged schools.
According to Tinker and Haavind (1996), the Virtual High School (VSH) Consortium Project tests a joint model of virtual teaching via NetCourses and netseminars. Based on His and Tinker (1996), NetCourses refers to those that uses the internet as the key instrument to disseminate information, conduct discussion, and evaluate student education.
This project examines important aspects virtual learning including:
- the feasibility of forging a strong liaison and communities linking teachers, content experts, technologist, and school administrators through collaborative technologies;
- the replicability and scalability of the electronic communities to sustain secondary school teachings and;
- the endorsement of constructivist teaching practices consistent with the worldwide education reforms.
A standard virtual school model possesses the following characteristics:
Various mathematics and science networking scheme and virtual teaching settings have shaped the design of the NetCourse representation. The fundamental model of the VHS NetCourse engages one instructor and twenty students in a unit teaching collaboration.
Every school in collaboration put in a minimum of 20% FTE of a unit teacher’s time to build and instruct a Web-based course. In addition, schools donate computers, personnel time, and internet connectivity. Moreover, each school is obliged to afford a VHA site coordinator accountable for VHS project administration and sustenance of teachers and students at their district VHS.
Noteworthy, His and Tinker (1996), asserts that the VHS funds facilitates financial maintenance for the site coordinator and training, technical, and software support. Every school member of the cooperative may admit 20 students to pursue NetCourses for every episode of a teacher’s session of the pool.
Quality teaching is sustained by ensuring that all teachers effectively accomplish a graduate-level NetCourse, on the design and expansion of web-based courses, counting teaching in constructivists learning philosophies and cooperative learning methods.
This design facilitates a low-cost process of broadly augmenting the set of courses a school can offer without increasing enrollment. It allows schools to provide their students with NetCourses varying from higher academic courses and innovative central courses, to elective technical courses and specialized courses intended for language minority learners.
The consequential flexibility will greatly facilitate schools to correspond their teaching abilities to meet the needs of the students. Because, schools provide additional teaching time, they are able to increase student capacity, and develop more NetCourses to disseminate among all the schools in the collaboration. Thus, the VHS cooperative can expand smoothly and with minimal additional grant.
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.
Synchronous and 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.
Developing virtual school model
The criteria for the XYZ district to follow when establishing an efficient virtual school model is outlined below based on Clark (2001) analysis of virtual schools in the U.S.
This is the first factor to be taken into account. Before embarking on establishing a virtual school the planner should weigh the funding implications, such as the costs and the gain of involvement in various virtual school models. One should consider the costs of course development and review. Importantly seek to detect soonest the most sustainable funding means for the virtual school.
Assess all technology alternatives, and think decisively and openly about technology over time. Focus on perpetrating transparency, usage convenience and interactivity, as well as a focus on education instead of technology. One-stop access to virtual courses alternatives allows maximization of turnover on preceding educational technology venture.
Establish afore, the course requirements of the targeted learners. When deciding building or leasing courses primarily, consider the key objective of the curriculum, in-house capabilities, and the instructional model you support.
Appraise external courses and the expense and advantages of adapting them. Regard the way the courses and programs provided will sustain equitable access to students. Importantly, give orientation assignments for novice online students.
In this respect assess a blend of online and on-site approaches for teachers training, and rely commendably on the resources of available schools and providers. Sustain and evaluate online instructors, and provide prompt feedback.
To accomplish this mission, the XYZ state requires forging alliances with relevant organizations including schools, to provide student services, although it needs to elucidate relative tasks and responsibilities. Aim at aligning the quality of virtual student services with that afforded to traditional learners.
Various advantages and disadvantages are associated with 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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