Sunday, April 12, 2009

Virtual Schools and Cyberschools

In a report from Education Sector in June 2007, Virtual Schools are examined and their contrast to cyberschools is discussed. If you don't know the difference, don't worry. You are not alone. Cyberschools are schools that we typically think of where students attend full-time and all of their schools is online. However, virtual schools are typically used to supplement learning and students generally attend school in a traditional setting.

Why is this relevant to ed tech? Because with online courseware popping everywhere from places like Kaplan University and MIT's Open Courseware to iTunes U and YouTube EDU, online supplemental learning will become part of an ed tech educator's bag of tricks. You just have to know when to pull out the right tool.

Here is my assessment of the article:

I hadn’t given a lot of thought to all the aspects of online learning before reading this article. I also hadn’t considered that many home schooling families might transition to cyberschools or integrate virtual school courses as a supplement, but I think that it makes a lot of sense. A few of the points mentioned in the article are worth noting and expanding upon.

1) On page 1, the authors speak about the impact that iTunes had on the way people collect, listen to and share music and more recently videos but they fall short of mentioning iTunes as a management system for many online courses delivered in podcast or videocast formats. iTunes U offers a whole new dimension to online learning that many K-12 schools and higher education universities are already tapping into.

2) The advantages of the personalized learning highlighted by FLVS on page 2 as “any time, any place, any path, any pace” is an interesting perspective. I think we can all agree on the first three items – this class is an example of any time, any place, as I have logged in at times convenient for me throughout the week and from any location including my home office, laptop anywhere, and work office. Even any path is clear as we select the courses that we want to take to design the curriculum required by our chosen Master’s. However, any pace is not something that I have experienced in any of my TC online courses. At least not the way they explain it in the article. Any pace in a TC course is work as slow or as fast as you want within the week on a given unit, but there are also units in the syallbus and assignment deadlines associated with each one. I don’t believe that any TC online courses are organized in such a way that you can complete the course in less than a semester or take longer than a semester to complete it. Has anyone had experiences with courses like this? Do you think it would be beneficial if there were courses like this at TC?

3) I think the article does a good job of identifying challenges such as costs (and how they differ from traditional classrooms), online teachers and the differing methods by which they must teach, funding considerations and growth aspects.

4) The fourth and final point I would like to make is that emphasis for virtual schooling seems to revolve around the high school level and yet the article refers often to “K-12” experiences. Do you think that virtual schooling could be effective for younger grades? In what way? What would be the different design configurations that would need to be considered?

Regarding the Box on Pages 9-13:

In the box on page 9, there is a discussion about the fear that cyberschool students would not develop “social skills and real world survival abilities” but I think this is an irrational fear, dependent upon how the online school is implemented. While students would not have the same in-person socialization - parents and others would need to ensure they get this from outside school experiences, and many would already be getting through in person classes they are taking or through their athletic and artistic pursuits – they will also be getting a digital socialization that many in solely traditional classrooms would not experience. This digital socialization will be key for any future 21st century career. Likewise, online schools have a unique ability to offer constructivist, and hence, more real-world like opportunities for learning.

I liked that the policy recommendation on page 10 discusses the future innovations that will only serve to enhance the types of online learning that could be made available in the future and that they specifically mention things like immersive simulations and cognitive tutors that we have discussed in this class. It’s good to know that policy makers are considering these tools.

I also liked that policy makers are considering ways to take advantage of economies of scale thorough things like collaborative curriculum design and sharing of lessons and methods. For example, the non-profit Curriki is trying to encourage this very behavior among teachers everywhere.

Lastly, I have experienced, in several TC courses, the trend towards blended learning and I believe that this practice will continue and grow in the future.

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