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Friday, June 03, 2005

The Next Big Thing in Public Education?

Darren Cannell over at Teaching and Developing Online had a post about virtual schools being the next big thing in public education (see - http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/weblogs/vschools/archives/2005_05.html#012100). In that post, he referenced a blog entry entitled "Virtual schools: the next big thing in public education?" (see - http://www.bloggingbaby.com/entry/1234000600043508/) that caught my attention.

The reason that this entry caught my attention was I believe the author failed to recognize the different types of virtual schools that are actually out there. For the most part, the author focuses the content and, especially the examples, upon virtual charter schools (also known as cyber charter schools). The fact of the matter is that within the virtual school community (and education at large), these are generating some controversy at the moment.

The problem is that with the exception of a few select states, cyber charter schools operate under the same legislation as brick and mortar charter schools. This means that they would receive the same per student funding as a brick and mortar school. The problem arises in that cyber schools and brick and mortar schools don't have the same cost structure. Apparently California, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania have funding provisions that are specific to cyber charter schools. Linda Cavalluzzo has a good chapter in the new book out by Berge and Clarke (see Virtual Schools: Planning for Success) that deals with the funding arrangements that can be utilized by various schools.

However, that doesn't really tackle the fundament question that is being asked in this entry: Are virtual schools the next big thing in public education? The author sort of sits on the fence when addressing this question, only stating:

"Whether virtual schools are the panacea for an ailing public educaiton system is debatable. But it’s clear that they’re not going to disappear anytime soon."
So, let's have this debate! As you may recall, I tried to take up this call in an earlier entry (see Online Learning: A Panacea for Rural Schools?), with some feedback. But let's broaden the focus. I was fixed on simply rural education, but let's open those parameters up to include all of public education. Are virtual schools the panacea for an ailing public educaiton system?

Tags: , , charter school, ,


Anonymous Derek said...

you've rasied some excellent points in this post - too often I believe the potential of a concept such as virtual schools is limited by the experience or context we "wrap" it in. I personally do believe that virtual schools are the (as yet unproven) panacea for an ailing school system. Until now the adventurous have been forced to think of starting up alternative schools as their "way out" of the traditional system - but now, thanks to the marvels of technology, we have the means to realise an alternative that allows us to preserve the positive aspects of a localised "bricks and mortar" school, while at the same time ensuring students can receive quality instruction and guidance in the subject areas of their choice.
What we need to make that more achieveable is some creative thinking around the funding models we use for student enrolment and the ways we regard the role of the teacher - eg we need to move away from the "one-size-fits-all" notion of a teacher with a class, and move towards embracing ideas of an online teacher as distinct from a classroom teacher as distinct again from a 'mediating' teacher (ie one who is physically present with a class or group receiving instruction online). The possibilities are endless - we need to stretch our imaginations!

12:43 AM  
Blogger MKB said...


You stated that you "do believe that virtual schools are the (as yet unproven) panacea for an ailing school system." I guess herein lies the challenge, how do we prove it?

Any thoughts...


7:27 AM  
Anonymous Derek said...

trying to prove this must surely start with identifying the particular features of our "ailing system". These might include:
- disaffected students
- lack of curriculum choice
- lack of expertise in subject areas
- lack of critical mass in schools within subject or interest areas
- poor achievement results
- constrains on the use of time and place for instruction
- low levels of student autonomy and skills for learning
- etc.
We've been looking at the impact and outcomes of the cluster schools model we have in NZ where video conferencing technology is being used to link teachers and students in separate locations. From our preliminary research, and the anecdotal evidence that we have, the evidence that virtual schooling is providing a panacea for an ailing system is shown through:
- a greater deal of flexibility in terms of timetabling and curriculum offerings
- opportunity to bring students together with subject matter experts
- increased flexibity in terms of time/place of instruction
- higher levels of student motivation, autonomy and independence in learning
- higher satisfaction rates among teachers who are dealing with learners who want to learn
- reduced tensions in families where students would otherwise be committed to attending boarding school
- higher levels of success and achievement as a result of greater levels of student participation and engagement

These are just a few of the indicators that spring to my mind - not very scientific or evidence-based at this stage, but worth exploring further.

12:57 AM  
Blogger MKB said...


I was wondering if you were familiar with Learn Canada (http://www.learncanada.ca/ )? I can't tell you a great deal about them, other than through this project I witnessed a students in a music class in the second largest high school in Newfoundland receive instruction on conducting from a professor in Alberta through the use of high speed video conferencing technology. The project is completed now, so you may find the structure and, more importantly, the final report of some use to you.


7:32 AM  
Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Michael
I had heard of learncanada, but haven't looked at anything from them in recent times. I appreciate the reference to the report which I'll be interested in reading.
The scenario you witnessed reminds me of an event I witnessed in 1993 in South Australia where students in a variety of rural secondary schools linked regularly for their music lessons, learning to play instruments and eventually linking to play together as an online "orchestra". That is one of the things that got me started in this are of virtual schooling - and fueled my belief that this approach has the potential to spearhead change in our education system. Since then I've been involved in similar projects here in NZ, and experienced for myself how working in the online environment in this way challenges fundamental aspects of teachers'pedagogical approaches as well as the traditional ideas of school organisation etc.

4:03 PM  

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