Virtual schools

There has been some talk about increasing online options for students. It needs to stay like that until clear and successful models have been established for online learning. There are then the issues around online learning in virtual schools like isolation, social engineering, social justice, care giving, duty of care, cyber and real life safety. It is going to come and it is going to happen but we are the ones who need to drive this because we want technology to work for us not for us to be entrapped and enslaved to technology. Of course it’s cheaper to run online schools. It saves about half the costs. That would make it an attractive option for some but we need to think about the other costs. It would suit some students well, you just know it. It would suit some teachers better. There is no longer a one size fits all so there is no reason to ignore the benefits of webinars, online conferencing and communication tools which we now have. It needs to be thoroughly thought out and planned and then carefully trialled.

Good online tools for learning provide quality content, report on progress, create local and global activities, allow work to be customised and set and then report on participation. They allow student and staff input , participation and feed back. They have a proven track record. Students can ignore all of that, though, and so someone needs to be monitoring participation and progress. SBS looked at Aurora Online school and its progress earlier this year. That is a school which runs synchronous online lessons. Victoria is running online schools in languages with some success. The Victorian virtual schools network is also running other online subjects via video conferencing tools. This keeps the people aspect of learning going. Babble has a parent point of view on virtual schools which is worth the read. Geoff Masters has written an excellent piece about the challenges for Australian schools and that looks at flexible learning arrangements. There has also been some useful research into the differences between online and traditional learning  by Joseph Cavanaugh and Stephen J Jacquemin. Kevin Gumienny  has looked  at what you really need to run successful online courses and has isolated the issues well. Not that you could ever quantify or objectify the lifelong impact of a teacher who has written on your life.

Online learning has to be targeted, effective and able to achieve its goal. It has to involve the learner and for that to happen it has to meet the needs of the learner . Participation both cerebrally and emotionally is important. A learner needs to have input and help. Online learning tools need to consult the learner about how to progress and improve the delivery. That two way conversation again – create content, share, gain feedback, improve.

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