Is Virtual Ed the Future of Education?

I’ve been teaching part-time online for a virtual academy; in fact, next year will be my fifth year. I’ve actually been with this school since it opened here in my state.

The school’s curriculum is supplied by a large national company that you may often seen advertised on television. And to be fair, the content and presentation from this company is about as good as you could hope for. It’s well-paced, well-synchronized (so you study the same periods of time in all content courses), beautifully illustrated, and well-conceived.

I know that proponents of this type of education tout it as the future of all education. Someday, they opine, all students will be able to learn in this “superior” way from the comfort of their own home.

Despite this hype, I don’t think so. I have come to realize that this format serves a few types of students very well: those who are so internally motivated to learn that they scarf up any and all new stuff with rabidity and completeness; those who travel or otherwise must miss lots of school for exceptional sports or performance venues; and those who are socially or physically or emotionally handicapped in such an extreme way that they cannot thrive in a typical school environment.

You could add the other reasons, such as those students whose behavior has kicked them out of all schools so virtual schools are the schools of last resort. But these students, along with many others who don’t have the drive and vision for education (and that sadly includes their parents, who are the key to making home online education work), often fall behind, then very far behind–and then they fail.

Put aside the real questions about virtual education, such as trying to understand what a good education is anyway, and just think about the everyday needs of doing this type of school. Our virtual academy supplies computer systems and printers/scanners to all students who require them (it is possible because we don’t run a physical plant for schools, and our school teaches K-12 so that would be a LOT of school buildings). The accoutrements are thus there, but then the student must log in and work every day.

Many families can make this work. And many, many cannot. You have to have the structure of every kid getting going in the morning early enough to accomplish a full day’s studies. Parents have to log attendance regularly. Students have to attend regularly scheduled live sessions. All of this takes daily focus.

For those families who can follow through, good. But many don’t. When I compare my pass/fail rates in this virtual school to those in my brick-and-mortar classroom, there’s no comparison. I have about a 70% pass rate (including D’s) in my online classes, but just about 100% in my B&M school. This is because the students appear in my classes and they must deal with ME. I stay with them and with the projects till they are DONE. Not so in the virtual venue, where the parents are the ones to make it work, to make kids work, and so often, they don’t.

It’s not hard to do well in a virtual academy. The work is rather pleasant and doable. However, it’s not the ideal and I believe it’s not the future, especially in a society where so many families need the two incomes of both parents just in order to survive.

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