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Friday, April 01, 2005

Online Learning: A Panacea for Rural Schools?

Edutopia News, the weekly electronic newsletter from The George LucasEducational Foundation, appeared in my inbox this week with the main article about virtual high schools (see http://www.edutopia.org/magazine/ed1article.php?id=art_1270&issue=apr_05&d=0330). The essence of the article and, accompanying video, describes how this tenth grade student from a community of 26,600 (small for community in Florida) is the majority of courses through the Florida Virtual School.

The main reason the article caught my attention, above and beyond the fact that it has some good details about students' and teachers' experiences in the Florida Virtual School, is the comment:

Although virtual schools may open doors for young minds, they're not a cure-all for the shortfalls of public education. In fact, the idea that they are a panacea may be one of the few real dangers of online learning.
This is a curious comment, as the article (and those quoted in it) fear that an increase in the availability of online learning opportunities for rural communities will allow policy maker to see that as a substitute for adequately funding rural schools. In a state like I the one that I currently reside in (i.e., Georgia), where a series of the southern rural counties have taken legal action against the state because of inadequate funding (see http://www.accessnorthga.com/news/ap_newfullstory.asp?ID=56646), has recently announced is intentions to create a virtual high school (see http://www.nga.org/center/frontAndCenter/1,1188,C_FRONT_CENTER^D_7680,00.html).

While the timing is curious, I'm afraid I don't believe that the concern is justified. The use of virtual schooling in the K-12 environment began as a way to offer Advanced Placement (and other honors-level) courses to students who were unable to take them in their regular school. This meant students in urban and suburban schools who couldn't fit it into their schedule or wanted to take overload courses as much or more than it meant rural students who didn't have access to these courses due to low enrolment or lack of specially trained teachers.

With the advent and popularity of virtual schools in recent years, I have seen it more as an opportunity for schools (rural or urban) to supplement what is available in their brick and mortar schools. Are there others out there that share the concerns raised in the article? Or are these concerns unwarranted?

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4 Comments:

Blogger alistaire said...

I think their concern is a real one. I am an online student with a dad on a school board. He is the head of the technology comittee who made my classes and others possible through IVHS.

However, I have been pushing him since middle school (I am now a senior) for some sort of AP or honors program. Many local schools from similarly sized communities have AP classes. This has not happened in our school. It is mostly the fault of the principals, who feel that keeping the smart kids in normal classes will help other kids. This may be true, but it slows the smart kid's education. I think another reason no one has moved to make these classes available is because they are available through IVHS. I do not feel this is as good as a physical teacher, though.

With a physical teacher, I think more kids from my school could and would take advantage of AP classes, if they existed. The extra work and discipline necessary in online classes makes them accessible to only the most driven. I know several people who have dropped out, including a friend who could not hack online AP Calculus. Our normal Calculus curriculum is based on the AP one, and I have no doubt the student in question could have easily succeeded in that class.

I think in order for state run online academies to work as they should, to aid students at schools who truly can't support AP or honor classes, states must make some sort of requirement or incentive for schools to have AP or honors classes, like they have for special ed.

5:50 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Alistaire,

I am not familiar with the incentives that you refer to in the last sentence. If you were a consultant to the state DOE, what sort of incenties would you recommend for schools to have online AP or honors classes?

MKB

P.S. Take a look at the entry that asks about comparing classroom-based and online class workloads.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous derek Wenmoth said...

this is a fascinating debate - what a pity we have to see everything in such "binary" terms - either face to face OR online. I happen to believe that the virtual school scenario may well provide a significant level of "push" for change to the current systemic woes in our education system.
However- no level of comparison will be useful if the fundamental pedagogies in each setting remain unaltered. The debate isn't one of online or face to face, the debate needs to be around issues of learner-centred pedagogies )of instructiona nd assessment), of quality, access and relevlance etc. In these areas it is in the online environment that we happen to be seeing some initiatives that are really challenging the status quo.

5:25 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Derek,

I agree... One of the students here are Georgia with me has argued that classroom or face to face instruction hasn't worked to a great extent in recent decades and by using it as the standard for what we should be doing are we not setting ourselves up for failure again?

MKB

5:55 PM  

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