Thursday, November 17, 2011

Virtual School - Blessing or a Curse?

HoneyFern is a fan of technology. Computers can do amazing things; they can open the world and show us things we may never see in real life. Based on that premise alone, many people are turning to virtual schooling. Add in the money-saving factor, and many school districts are beginning to implement full-scale online schools.

Blessing, or a curse?

The New York Times offers a blog that believes virtual schooling may be a curse, positing that while virtual school may be a good thing for active students to get the basics (competitive sports participants, actors or any child who is otherwise engaged in an all-encompassing, semi-professional occupation), online schooling for the standard kid may be little more than parking a student in front of a computer and absolving oneself from responsibility. There is very little research on the success of virtual schooling; some of it says kids do better on tests, some say kids do worse. The research seems to skew towards the perspective of the researcher, so the data is unreliable right now.

HoneyFern has tried virtual schooling, both as an entire curriculum (disastrous, and quickly abandoned) and as a pick-and-choose model. Right now we are utilizing Aleks as an artificially intelligent math program with lots of success; each student has their own account and proceeds as quickly or slowly as they want to/need to/can, and we have opportunities for individual instruction when the explanations are not clear.

Of course, we also do lots of real-life math, from figuring compound interest in the Stock Market Game to budgeting for weekly shopping to finding sales tax, along with standard measuring in science using the metric system. So although we are using an online option, there is opportunity for application.

This is how online learning should be - applied. Classes of 40 kids spending all day in front of a computer while a teacher roams around (or surfs online at the back of the class) may save money, but it won't help  kids. Will kids in that virtual model learn more than 30 kids in person? Who knows? The data isn't there yet. What I do know is that decision-making in education has been based on money, not kids, for quite a while, and if things don't change, virtual schools will out. If there is no mixture of online and applied knowledge, results could be dismal.

In education, one size never fits all, or even most, and to think that online schools will save education is wishful thinking. It may save a few dollars, but that's all.

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