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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hybrid Virtual Schools: The Future is Today

At the beginning of the month, I spotted this article on Ian Jukes' The Committed Sardine Blog, "The Future of Schools: The Shape of Things To Come." In the article, Jukes discusses a commentary by Chester Finn Jr., which I thought was actually quite funny, because it was only last month that I completed by first course in Social Science Education, where Chester Finn and "the contrarians" (as they call themselves - see his forward to Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? at the beginning of the "Fighting Back" section) were featured quite prominantly (and mostly in a negative light).

Anyway, the commentary is focused upon "five trends/factors/events that will (or should) have significant impact on the substance and delivery of educational content over the next five years" and the first one that Finn identifies is "technology and the gradual separation of teaching and learning from buildings called schools." He specifically cites "The proliferation of virtual schools and virtual charter schools [as] just part of the story."

The other part of the story, as he see it is:

"Coming soon are hybrid institutions, where the kid may or may not be in a school but much of his instruction and instructional materials come from far away. His main teacher may be on the other side of the country or the globe. The adult in the classroom with him may resemble a teacher aide, tutor, or college intern, there more to keep order, answer questions, and help him learn rather than someone to present a lesson setting forth what's to be learned. The lesson presenter will be elsewhere. There will be books, of course, and plenty of other instructional materials in paper form, but many of them will be downloaded from the computer rather than published and trucked in; and they'll be integrated with the lessons and courses on the big screen, the smart board, and the student's own desktop computer."
What strikes me about this description is that it isn't that far off of the experiences that I have personally had with the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation and the Illinois Virtual High School.

With both of these organizations, we have teachers that are in one location (and in the case of my involvement with the IVHS, as that teacher I wasn't even located in Illinois and for teh first couple of years of my involvement I wasn't even located in the United States), with students located in a number of other locations. While I'm not sure about the IVHS, the CDLI has mediating teachers (see my co-authored article The Role of Mediating Teachers in Newfoundland’s New Model of Distance Education) that are in the school and are responsible for monitoring the progress of these online students. In the case of both organizations, students go to school and as a part of their regular school day they will go to a computer lab, the learning resource center/library, or a distance education room for one or two (or more) classes that they may be taking online.

The vision that Finn outlines isn't that far away... One of the differences between Finn's vision and what we currently have is that in most instances, the teacher providing the instruction is somewhere in the same state. Another is that the student is still in a school setting (for the most part, because there are many virtual schools that do cater to homeschooled children who wouldn't be in a formal school setting). A third is that the adult in these models tends to be there for technical issues and/or the in loco parentis aspect of schooling.

Other than these three main differences, the vision that Finn outlines is what we currently have in many virtual school environments. Before closing, I should point out the Finn and the organization that he works for is largely mandated with promoting the type of educational experiences that students would have received in the earlier part of the twentieth century, at least in terms of the curriculum, the structure of schooling, who's truth is represented and told. Basically, if you fall into a category of being white, Christian, and middle or upper middle class, they this form of schooling is designed for you. If you don't meet all of those requirements, then your schooling experience will be quite limiting because you don't fall into the great narrative of the United States being founded as a Christian nation that has developed because of he action of great (white) men. But that's a post for another time, probably on my other blog (i.e., Breaking into the Academy), as this has little to do with virtual schooling (but I did think it worth mentioned the political slant of Finn and the contrarians).

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