Even though I’ve had four years’ experience teaching part-time for a virtual school, I’ve always had questions about it. It all comes down to a basic problem:
What is education?
If it is just an accumulation of facts and some related skills, then we should all do virtual ed. In fact, we should just jump to the sci-fi method of doing a brain download of all known info, as in the TV show “Chuck.”
However, education has to be more than that. It has to be the process of refinement as we grow up into virtuous human beings. That, I think, is why we have teachers, who offer us many models of being as we grow up. The information is secondary (although legislators and governments always disagree: test! test! test).
For a time, I thought that such a personal process excluded virtual education by its very nature, but last summer changed my mind….which I realize may change many times along the way, just as all of our minds must change as we journey into the virtual world.
This happened when my national school/company chose me to teach one of its week-long summer camps, this one for kids grades 6-8, on digital art and photography. The live meetings are held in Elluminate (or Blackboard, whichever you call it). The teacher (me!) prepares an hour of activities using PowerPoint as a platform. I put up activities, slides, and everything I could think of–online games–including using Picasa to show student work. The kids would do the projects and put up their work. I used that work to teach more stuff.
Well, imagine my surprise when hundreds of kids and their parents showed up on the Blackboard site–and this an hour and more before class was set to start. There were about 700 each day! The curriculum company provided a “helper” teacher to handle technical matters so I could just respond to students.
These kids and their folks were so genuine, so engaged, so warm–and they really learned the cool stuff we were doing, about composition, image manipulation and so on, as well as other art projects. Each day was a revelation of that personal stuff I used to think happened only in classrooms.
Hmmmm….nothing is set in stone anymore. I do know that a preponderance of parents will not have the tools or time to stay at home to guide their kids through online education, but now I also know that there really is potential for personal transformation in virtual education, even from a distance.