Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 13/13.4.1

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by Jack Sanders




a. Pro's

b. Con's




Foundations to Virtual Learning

Although virtual schools seem like a new concept in education today, the "independent study" course is one precursor to virtual learning that has existed for many years. Independent study courses operate under the concept of a teacher supervising the student outside of the traditional classroom. Intermittent meetings would be arranged for the student and teacher to discuss the learning progress. Granted this concept does not include a computer, however, it does set a foundation for a crucial factor related to independent learning where the student rarely interfaces with a teacher; the objective being self-motivation. Studies are being conducted that highlight the advantages and disadvantages of virtual schools. Studies have also been conducted that focus on the upside and downside of independent study as well. The results from both types of self-motivated learning yield very similar results. For example, several Computer Science faculty members at the University of Calgary in Canada conducted a two-year study that involved 600 students learning format. Some were in traditional lecture courses for a particular class and others were independently studying the same course. The study was performed because they did not have the capacity to meet all of the students' needs for traditional lectures. The student performance results are as follows for 1997-98 semesters: In the 1997 semester, the percentage of students with a grade of "A" or "B" was similar across sections but a significantly greater percentage of lecture section students obtained a grade of "C" (43% vs. 21%); whereas a significantly greater percentage of independent study students obtained a grade of "D" or "F" (41% vs. 18%). In their written comments, the 1997 independent study students expressed concerns that inadequate information regarding exam content, lab expectations and marking criteria had negatively affected their performance. For the 1998 semester, a more senior Teaching Assistant was hired and optional project-based assignments were introduced (8 of 50 students chose to do a project). As a result, a significantly larger percent of the independent study students received a grade of "A" or "B" in the 1998 vs. 1997 term (57% vs. 38%). During the 1998 semester, the independent study students also outperformed the lecture students - receiving more "A" or "B" grades (57% vs. 42%), fewer "C" grades (29% vs. 39%) and fewer "D" or "F" grades (14% vs. 18%) (Fremont, Giesbrecht, Loose).


Virtual School, the name sounds like a science fiction term from the year 2030; however these schools have been in existence for 12 years. To understand the future one must look to the origins of virtual schools. The modern mail-based "correspondence school" is said to have been invented at the University of Chicago in 1891. The delivery mechanism subsequently evolved from mail-based correspondence courses and radio programs to television and satellite broadcasts to today's Internet-based virtual schools, which were launched in the 1990s” (HART). In 1995, nine district teachers are credited with creating the “CyberSchool Project” in Eugene, Oregon.

. Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology. Schools remain unchanged for the most part, despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers and networks. - Rod Paige U.S. Secretary of Education

The project offered supplemental high-school courses. The project became a overnight success, “"The teacher was spending half her day helping other kids," said her mother, Ann Lindbloom…Lindbloom thought the virtual school not only would allow her daughter Jerynn to accelerate her studies, but also let her other daughter, 8-year- old Regan, who was in Title I reading and math classes, work at her own pace, too.” (BILES).

By 1997 Virtual schools began to spread,

            1997        5
            2000	15
            2003	19
            2006	28

“Virtual schools are growing so quickly that a good count of them remains elusive. But the excitement is palpable, even if hyped. Mortimer Zuckerman, owner of U.S. News & World Report, has opined that, with distance learning and its accompanying "digital revolution ... [w]e are on the threshold of the most radical change in American education in over a century.... Here with the Web is the way for America to use the marvels it created to end the regression in our competitive and academic performance.", (HART).


So far virtual schools and online classrooms have mixed reviews from the public. First let’s look at the prosunderline text of the virtual school;

2005 - 2006 School semester in the state of Colorado 116,820 students were expelled or suspended from school, reasoning being everything from drug related, vandalism, alcohol, fighting and petty thief to repeat offenders. Board of education members are seeking information into virtual school programs that may offer to theses students the chance to continue their education but in a different environment.

In the state of Texas, “legislature passed Senate Bill No. 975, authorizing the Texas Education Agency to invite interested schools to submit an application to join the Virtual School Pilot Program aimed at benefiting at-risk students” (RUSHTON 2002). Southwest Preparatory of Texas joined the program last spring, “A strength of the Southwest Preparatory application was our school’s strong history of working with at-risk students. It is a favorite quote of Southwest Preparatory director of operations, Wes Roberts, that we “not make the kid fit the system, but the system fit the kid” (RUSHTON 2002). Orange County California, young man’s attendance began to drop and he missed his middle school graduation due to he was a young actor starring in a movie being filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia. He faced the dilemma of giving up his acting career for his education until his mother discovered the Orange Lutheran High School Online (OLO) This young man now can continue his acting and still “read background material, engage in discussions with other students, take test, ask questions of his teacher and hands in assignments” (RUSHTON 2002), OLO is not for the just for the wealthy children, for instance a young man living Tennessee is a only child whom must stay at home and help his mother run the family farm, while his father , Army Lieutenant stationed in Iraq, is away. He takes courses through OLO, currently he has grades of straight A’s. He has even sent his fellow classmates photos of life on the farm including claves being born. “The OLO student body consists of a mix of kids who have turned to eLearning for a variety of reasons. Some – called “blended students”—go to Lutheran High School, or one of many schools across the country, and use OLO to supplement their regular coursework” (RUSHTON 2002).

Consunderline text of Virtual Schools;

West Salem Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland said, “For a student to be successful in the virtual school system, they have to be highly motivated, self-starting, intelligent people” According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Appleton eSchool serves a population that could include, but is not limited to, students who are expelled, homebound students, incarcerated students, transient students and students with extraordinary needs, to name a few. “The virtual schools that are in Wisconsin do a good job of marketing their product,” Onalaska Director of Instructional Services Fran Finco said, “There are pros and cons to any system, the cons to virtual schools is we teach kids life skills as part of a curriculum, I’m not sure you can get that sitting in front of a computer.” “Core curriculum is based on Wisconsin’s approved high school curriculum. The core courses of English, math, science, social studies and physical education meet the requirements of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction” (COULEE 2006). USA Today surveyed parents in Jan 2004 on their opinion of virtual schools, majority of the parents liked the flexibility of virtual school, however “The Wisconsin Education Association Council thinks parents are taking the place of teachers in virtual schools — a violation of state law that requires all public school teachers to have a valid teaching license” (COULEE 2006).

. “We cannot assume that our schools will naturally drift toward using technology effectively. We must commit to staying the course and making the changes necessary to reach our goals of educating every child. Together, we can use technology to ensure that no child is left behind.” -President George W. Bush

“Time magazine predicted the end to teaching as an occupation to be replaced by online education”. One Teacher in Wisconsin disagreed with the article stating “Online education is a completely different paradigm than traditional, face-to-face education. It isn't for everyone. A different kind of "teacher" is required to make online education work. Online education is also different because it demands a high level of interaction to be effective. Students don't just read their textbooks or read materials placed online. They manipulate that material, reject some of it, replace some of it, constantly adding to the richness of the materials. Creating an interactive atmosphere is a complex skill. That interaction, though, is the most exciting element for students, as they work through an online class.

CONCLUSIONunderline text

Virtual Schools are not seeking to eliminate the need for human Teachers. They are a new means that Parents, Teachers and the Boards of Education including the President to reach out to more children. The internet is here to stay, as peers to future generations of children and students we should harness the valuable resource and use it to our advantage and educate not just our back yard or our neighborhood but the entire world.

REACTIONunderline text

I believe that Virtual programs are on the right path to expand the “No child left behind” program. Many rural schools are now able to offer children the same education as urban city schools. A school program in Mississippi that could not offered PC’s for the classroom and turned to other resources and now the students are building their own PC’s for the school to use. The online programs and opportunity to study classes recently not available have become motivational incentives for students to use. State Senates also see the positives of funding virtual school programs however, they have faced strict opposition from fellow senate members and School Board members. The biggest is the funding for online programs. The opposition feels that funds will be diverted from public and private schools and redirected to the online program. If the two sides sit down and let cooler heads prevail than funds could be acquired through such ideas as the students in Mississippi, or possible collection drives asking owners to donate old PC’s and laptops to schools, to be reformatted and reused by future students. Another key complaint of virtual school is the losing out on “face time” and the interacting with fellow students, experiencing proms and football games. These people are seeing virtual schools with blinders on. The programs are intended to off another source to receive an education, the opportunity to pickup a class that their respective school does not offer. Virtual school is not trying to eliminate real schools. If the doubters of the world would stop for a moment and see the whole picture, they too would see the positive sides to virtual classroom and online learning.

Multiple Choiceunderline text

1. In what year did the “The modern mail-based "correspondence school began in what year”? A) 1780 B) 1880 C) 1881 D) 1891

2. 1995, nine district teachers are credited with creating the _______________? A) Project Virtual Apple B) CyberSchool Project' C) Virtual Teacher Program D) Cyber Teacher Project

3. So far virtual schools and online classrooms have ______ reviews from the public. A) positive B) negative C) mixed D) rave

4. “Time magazine predicted the end to teaching as an occupation to be replaced by online education”. A) Time B) Newsweek C) Education Weekly D) New York Times

5. By 2003 how many States had virtual schools in place? A) 5 B) 15 C) 19 D) 28

Work Citedunderline text

BILES, JAN (MAR 4, 2007). VIRTUAL SCHOOLS. Topeka Capital-Journal, The, Retrieved Feb 25, 2008, from

(Dec2006).NEW STUDENTS ARE LOGGING IN TO VIRTUAL SCHOOLS. T H E Journal. 33 Issue 17, p 8-8.


KIMMET, JENI Virtual school to educate sick children via the internet. (30 MAR 2006). Coulee News,

RUSHTON, HURLEY (NOV2002).Fine-Tuning an Online High School to Benefit At-Risk Students. T H E Journal. Vol 30 Issue 4, p. 33.

Fremont, Giesbrecht, Loose. Comparing Student Performance in Independent Study versus Traditional Lecture Sections. Retrieved Apr 19, 2008, from [1]