The Problems and Possibilities of Virtual Schools

The Problems and Possibilities of Virtual Schools

Glenn Russell (Monash University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch245
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Abstract

Virtual schools are an alternative to the “bricks-andmortar” schools that have been synonymous with school education for hundreds of years. Traditionally, students have attended a school building for their education where they have been in the physical presence of a teacher. There are, of course, exceptions to this understanding of education, in which students have been involved in a form of distance education or distance learning by correspondence, or have used technologies such as radio and television. These developments have been particularly useful for students living in isolated communities, or those unable to attend a conventional school. Virtual schools are also a form of distance education or virtual instruction. Typically, they use online computers, and students are able to complete their schoolwork when it is convenient for them, without having to meet with their teacher and other students in a school building.
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Introduction: The Emergence Of The Virtual School

Virtual schools are an alternative to the “bricks-and-mortar” schools that have been synonymous with school education for hundreds of years. Traditionally, students have attended a school building for their education where they have been in the physical presence of a teacher. There are, of course, exceptions to this understanding of education, in which students have been involved in a form of distance education or distance learning by correspondence, or have used technologies such as radio and television. These developments have been particularly useful for students living in isolated communities, or those unable to attend a conventional school. Virtual schools are also a form of distance education or virtual instruction. Typically, they use online computers, and students are able to complete their schoolwork when it is convenient for them, without having to meet with their teacher and other students in a school building.

The term “virtual school” is generic, as a number of variations can be identified. Some schools use synchronous communication by having lessons available on an online computer in a conventional school from a remote location at an agreed time, such as the Virtual Schooling Service in Queensland, Australia (VSS 2006a). The form of educational technology used by the Virtual Schooling Service includes asynchronous communication for Web-based resources to “enable students to access subject content and the materials of individual lessons flexibly, either from home or school, in their own time.” (Prendergast, Kapitzke, Land, Luke and Bahr, 2002, p. 19). This approach allows students to participate in lessons at school. Computer-based resources are supplemented by the use of phones:

As a virtual school student you participate in online lessons with your teacher and other students. These lessons will allow you to talk with the teacher and other students by phone while using the computer to share information and ideas. (VSS 2006b)

Some virtual schools insist that their students are involved in face-to-face activities, while others provide an “Out-of-School Model” (Schnitz and Young, 1999), where computer-mediated interactions at a distance predominate. In Florida High School, “there is no Florida High School building and students and teachers can be anywhere in the world” (Florida High School Evaluation, 2000, p. 12). It is also possible to find mixed-mode examples, where some subjects are offered in virtual mode, but students are asked to visit the school on a regular basis to monitor their progress or to participate in face-to-face subjects or activities such as sport, drama, art, the laboratory component of science, and social activities.

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Background: The Growth Of Virtual Schools

Russell (2004) argues that the principal factors that account for the growth of virtual schools include globalization, technological change, availability of IT technology, economic rationalism, the model provided by higher education, perceptions about traditional schools, and the vested interest of those involved in them.

Globalization refers to a process whereby international businesses are able to use online technology to bypass geographic boundaries. The same concept can be applied to educational provision, and it is now possible for curriculum to be delivered remotely across state and national borders. Educational administrators can purchase online units of work for their school, and parents in developed countries can sometimes choose between a traditional school and its virtual counterpart.

The increased technological capacity of school systems is paralleled by the potential to deliver motivating and interactive curricula online. The increased adoption of broadband is likely to reduce the loading time of web pages and other information, and enable developments such as full-motion video clips, animations, desktop video conferencing, and online music. The generation that has grown up with a range of digital technologies is likely to be less tolerant of text, or pedagogies that they regard as uninteresting.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Globalization: The bypassing of traditional geographic borders using information technology to enable global orientation of business and remote curriculum delivery.

Virtual School: A form of schooling that uses online computers for part or all of a student’s education

Socialization: The process by which students internalize the norms and values necessary for living in a civilized community.

Bricks-and-mortar Schools: Conventional schools used for face-to-face classes.

Distance Education: A generic term referring to education where teachers and students are geographically separate. Modes employed include print and non-print technologies.

Interactivity: The relationship between the learner and the educational environment.

Experiential Learning: Learning based on direct and unmediated instruction, or on physical interaction with people and materials.

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