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The Advantages and Disadvantages of virtual school

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of virtual school

    The Advantages and Disadvantages

    of Virtual Schools(1)

    ICT in Education journal Semester 1 2004

    Glenn Russell

    Faculty of Education

    Monash University

    glenn.russell@education.monash.edu.au Abstract

    A number of virtual schools have emerged in Australia and

    North America in recent years. These schools use online

    computers to replace or supplement(补充) some or all of a

    student's face-to-face education. This paper discusses the

    issues of flexibility, socialization, teacher certification and

    training, student supervision, school accountability, course

    availability, and student selection. It explores these issues

    to consider the advantages and disadvantages of different

    types of virtual schools.

    Introduction: The Growth of Virtual Schools

    A number of virtual schools have commenced(开始) in recent years. Unlike conventional(传统的) schools where students attend regular classes with their teachers in a

    specially designed building, virtual schools use online

    computers for some or all of students' education.

    These involve computer-mediated(以电脑为媒介) processes where some or all of the conventional classroom

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interaction is replaced by an online equivalent(相同的事物).

    This allows students to work from home, a conventional

    school, or another location. The virtual school option can be

    attractive for students who cannot easily attend

    conventional schools, or who find that they do not meet

    their needs.

    The majority of virtual schools are in the U.S.A and

    Canada, but there are also virtual schools in Australia. In

    Canada, the two-year cumulative growth rate in Alberta

    alone was 125% (SAEE, 2002), and Cavanaugh (2004)

    suggests that the number of virtual schools in North

    America is around 100. In Australia, there are virtual

    schools in Queensland (Virtual Schooling Service 2003),

    and in Tasmania (e-magine 2004).

Virtual Schooling Issues

    For many educators, parents and students, the growth

    of virtual schools leads to the consideration of a number of

    issues. In simple terms, many will want to know if their

    advantages outweigh(超过) their disadvantages, and

    whether they are likely to make a valuable contribution to

    students' education. To consider this, the remainder of this

    paper explores some of the key issues associated with

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virtual schools. These include flexibility, socialization,

    teacher certification and training, student supervision,

    school accountability, course availability, and student

    selection.

    Flexibility

    With virtual schools, students, teachers and learning

    materials are separated from each other by time and/or

    space. This computer-mediated process enables a senior

    high school student, for example, to be employed during

    the day and study missed high school subjects in the

    evening. Similarly, a student could attend a conventional

    school during the day, and enroll for(报名学习) one subject

    in a virtual school. This could be studied at a time

    convenient for the student. This flexibility makes virtual

    schools attractive to many.

    Some of the virtual schools in the U.S.A. use the slogan,

    "Any Time, Any Place, Any Pace". Students who are

    geographically distant from conventional schools can be

    educated at home without having to travel long distances to

    go to school, and those who are prevented from going to

    school because of an illness, disability, or even school

    suspension(休学) can continue with their studies. Flexibility

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also helps the provision of a richer curriculum(课程),

    because online schools can help to overcome staff

    shortages(师资短缺). A secondary school student who

    wanted to study a language might find that there were not

    enough students at the school to justify the employment of

    a teacher for that subject, but it might be possible for the

    students to enroll in a virtual school subject to complete it.

Socialization

    When parents send their children to school, they expect

    that students will learn the curriculum offered by the school.

    However, in addition to school subjects they also expect

    that they will learn the norms(准则) and values of society.

    The face-to-face interactions that children have with each

    other (and with teachers, parents and other members of

    society) are likely to be a critical component in this process.

    It is likely that the changing roles of factors including family,

    the mass media and the Internet has meant that school has

    become one of the main ways in which students learn about

    those humanistic values(人文价值) that underpin(巩固)

    notions(观念) of community and relationships.

    If students were to transfer from a traditional school to

    a virtual school, the ways in which socialization might take

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place are uncertain. Online relationships are certainly

    possible; however, it is very difficult to know whether the

    student who attends a virtual school will be comfortable

    with others, and a valuable member of the community. With

    conventional schools, principles such as honesty, respect

    for self and others, responsibility and citizenship are often

    reinforced(加强) by face-to-face relationships between

    students and teachers, and between students, in

    combination with institutionalized procedures(制度化程序)

    such as assemblies(集会,会议) and awards.

    With virtual schools, the mediating technology reduces

    the teacher's ability to support this traditional schooling role.

    With asynchronous technologies(异步技术) such as email, teachers have a restricted(有限的) ability to monitor students' affective responses(情感反应) because cues such as body language and facial expressions are absent. Some

    virtual schools have responded to this challenge by offering

    extra-curricular activities or "call-backs"(回访). This means that virtual schools that rely on students working from

    home can still have some forms of socialization organized

    by the school. This situation is likely to be less pronounced

    where virtual schools are offered from within conventional

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schools, as with the Virtual Schooling Service (2003) in

    Queensland. In this situation, the usual support structures

    provided by face-to-face teachers and peers, and by school

    organizational procedures, will continue to be available. The

    virtual school component of the student's day is likely to be

    synchronous, providing the teacher with immediate

    feedback(反馈) on a student's understanding. In addition,

    there are likely to be Study Coaches or other designated

    support teachers who can discuss the implications of online

    lessons with students.

Teacher Certification and Training

    Parents who enroll their children in a virtual school need

    to know that their teachers are fully qualified in their subject

    areas. Hypothetically, it is possible to imagine a scenario

    (情形)where a student's only contact with a teacher is

    through email. It would be possible for a virtual school to

    employ unqualified tutors and represent them as teachers.

    To avoid this possibility, virtual schools usually have

    procedures in place to allow an audit(审查) of staffing and

    programs.

    However, an equally important issue is that of the skills

    that virtual school teachers will need. It is likely that

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teaching in a virtual school will require both the acquisition

    (获得) of new skills and a reduced emphasis on some traditional skills. The teaching practices and class

    management skills used in face-to-face classrooms will

    differ from their online equivalents. Because virtual schools

    constitute only a very small proportion of schooling

    available in Australia, there has been little modification by

    teachers' colleges and other providers of teacher education

    to existing courses. Training, instead, is likely to follow the

    American model, where professional development is

    available to teachers. One example is given by Erlbaum,

    McIntyre, and Smith, (2002). These writers outline a 26

    week online course where secondary teachers are trained in

    online teaching practices and prepared to design and deliver

    an online course.

Student Supervision

    The question of student supervision is important when

    considering virtual schools because the traditional custodial

    (监护的) function of schools is reshaped(改变) by online

    environments.

    The problem is not significant for virtual schools

    operating within traditional schools, but is a concern where

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the schooling relies on parental supervision at home. Not all

    parents are able to work from home or provide the

    necessary supervision, and in this sense virtual schools may

    be inequitable(不合理) because not all will be able to have

    access to them.

    Where the students are in the post-compulsory(后义务

    教育) years of schooling, the problem of parental

    supervision is of reduced importance. The role of teachers

    as supervisors also undergoes change in virtual schools, as

    they are unable to exercise the degree of control that is

    possible in conventional classrooms. If a student doesn't

    want to respond to the teacher, he or she can simply turn

    the computer off.

School Accountability and Evaluations

    There is not yet an extensive tradition of evaluating

    virtual schools, and this means that there is only limited

    data available to compare them with traditional schools or

    indeed to make any reliable decisions about their

    performance. A common approach on the websites of

    virtual schools in North America is for the use of anecdotal

    evidence and student testimonials to support the claims

    made and to attract students. Some virtual schools or

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related educational systems (California Virtual School

    Report 2001; Florida High School Evaluation 2002; Kozma

    et. al 2000) have nevertheless published evaluations, and

    this allows a more objective analysis of their successes and

    problems.

    The limited availability of evaluations means that it is difficult for parents to make informed decisions about the

    operation of virtual schools.

    Course Availability

    Course availability refers to the range of subjects that are offered, and their level. A limiting factor that restricts

    the wider adoption of virtual schools is the tendency to offer

    those subjects that do not require face-to-face or hands-on

    experiences. Subjects such as sport, dancing, drama or the

    laboratory components of science classes are difficult to

    offer in virtual schooling mode. This, in turn suggests that a

    virtual schooling course may either distort the curriculum,

    or force parents to provide alternatives themselves.

    Virtual schools initially offered alternatives to senior high school students in the U.S.A, where the opportunity to

    study one or two subjects online at home could mean the

    difference to gaining College entry or not. The concentration

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of courses targeted at this level has however changed with

    the inclusion of courses at elementary school level, and for

    all of K-12. Data from Australia, Canada and the U.S.A

    suggests that virtual schools are seen as more suitable for

    high school students than for primary school students

    Student Selection

    Conventional schools do not suit all students. Similarly,

    it will come as no surprise to teachers that virtual schools do

    not suit all students either. Factors such as self-motivation,

    persistence, intelligence and supportive parents are

    important factors related to student success. This in turn

    has led some virtual schools to incorporate student

    selection and counseling processes in their recruitment of

    students. Some virtual schools offer online questionnaires

    for students, asking them about their independent learning

    abilities, motivation, and time management skills. While

    students have the freedom to choose when they will

    complete their online school work, they will still need the

    self-discipline to meet deadlines. Parental support is likely

    to be particularly important. If parents accept responsibility

    for supervising their child in an out-of-school model of

    virtual school they will need to provide adequate assistance.

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