So our family continues the virtual school experiment this year. Our younger son still goes to the local elementary school the old-fashioned way, but our 6th grader is once again enrolled in virtual school. While last year it was basically homeschooling with a support system, this year it’s different. It’s actual school on his computer. (Internet. Whatever.)
Maybe it’s the old in me, but I find this fascinating.
I had no idea how virtual school would work when we signed up, and since a lot of people ask what the heck virtual school is…it’s like this. My son has 4 subject areas…math, science, social studies and language arts. For each of these, he has a teacher. A real live teacher who isn’t his mom! He has a weekly schedule for these classes that looks a lot like a college schedule — each class meets for 2 one-hour sessions per week, either Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday. The rest of his school days are spent doing the actual work they discuss or learn about during class.
The part that sparks my interest is the times he’s actually “in class.” He sits at his desk in our home office and is connected to about 18 other students who are also sitting at their desks at home throughout the state of Wisconsin. The teacher is in yet another city (I think one of them even lives in Minnesota.) So all these people come together at the appointed time. They use a program to make the virtual classroom truly interactive. The computer screen shows a list of all who are in the room; a handful of “actions” such as raising a hand, giving a smiley, thumbs up, thumbs down, a green checkmark and a red X; a chat box with a menu of who your typed message goes to, a button for the microphone, and a large white board.
The class is all audio. The teacher lectures as if she’s standing in front of the class. She uses the white board in real time. The kids can raise their hand and ask questions in real time. The teacher can ask for a sign from the students, like “give me a green check if you read the assignment.” The kids can send an answer to the teacher by typing it into the chat box or by saying it into their microphone, depending on what the teacher asks for. They can even break up into small groups…the teacher simply puts them into private “rooms” where they can talk and only hear what’s being said in their room.
Each week, there are also study hall sessions where kids can go to get help on any part of their work they’re struggling with. Last week, my son and I couldn’t figure out how to solve a specific math problem, so he went to study hall, the moderator put him in a “room” with his math teacher, and they had a one-on-one session that resulted in my son understanding how to do the problem.
The teachers do a good job of starting out the classes with fun things and getting the kids engaged. For assignments, the kids do some of them interactively online through the curriculum provider (including tests). Others they do on paper at home and scan in to send to their teacher. Some of the daily assignments, the parent still has to correct and go over with them.
End result is that my child has a very different educational set-up that caters to his individual needs and yet, this year, he has 4 teachers who are actively involved in his education and cheering him on through private messages online every week. Better yet, he has the chance to interact with other kids, which was our greatest concern in taking him out of the local brick-and-mortar school. In just over a year, he’s gone from being the kid who never finished his work and didn’t know what the heck was going on in his subjects, to being the kid who volunteers to lead small group activities, keeping up on his assignments by organizing himself with a planner, and for the first time in his school career, feeling successful.
Call me a geek but I find this not only amazing and heartwarming but also fascinating. I can only begin to imagine all the possibilities for education and wonder where we’ll be with it in 10 years. Live lecture from space, maybe? Author visit from JK Rowling? Is it too late to go back to grade school?