School's about Being Social

One of the best conversations I had at NCCE was about the new virtual high schools that are starting up in in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. I have to say I was surprised to learn that Spokane School District had started a virtual school and it was gaining momentum in Washington.

Spokane School District started the virtual school in 2005 (SVL) as a way for “alternative” students to take course, gain credit and graduate. As of late it looks as though they are changing their focus from not just alternative students….but all students. Not just all the students in their district…but all as in all of Washington.

There are two ways a student can pay for the courses. They can either have their state allocated funds sent to SVL to pay for their course, or they can pay out of pocket. In a down economy there is more than one way to make up fund deficits…and ‘stealing’ FTE funds from other schools is a way to do it.

School is about being Social

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Michael Thompson talk last year in Shanghai and I’m looking forward to his talk this year to teachers and parents in Bangkok. Dr. Thompson tells parents and teachers what we should already know.

Why do students come to school?

  1. It’s where their friends are
  2. Because they have to

and it’s in that order as well. The majority of kids do not come to school to learn….they come because that is where their friends are, that is the ‘hang out’ that has been around for years.

But what happens when those two reason no longer exist? What happens when kids can be social online and do not have to go to a physical location, like school, to ‘hang out’. Then the option to take classes online presents itself whipping out reasons #2.

Why do students go online?

  1. It’s where their friends are
  2. Because they can learn there

Word on the street is that there are some districts big and small who are loosing a significant amount of students, and therefore funds, to this and other online schools.

When the fundamental reasons of why schools exist is all of a sudden replaced, that leaves schools in a difficult position. No longer do students have to come to school to ‘hang out’ and now they don’t have to go there to learn either…where does this leave schools? Where does this leave teachers who do not know, or refuse to learn to teach online?

I have a feeling virtual high schools are going to continue to see growth in America and beyond. If I can take credits ahead of time (paying for them out of pocket, and therefore graduating early), or use my FTE funds to pay for my online learning and not have to wake up until 9am what’s the down side?

Stop for a second and think like a 15 year old. The only downside I see…is you still have to get out of bed…but only far enough to reach the laptop.

16 Comments

  1. Kids go to school because we make them go to school. We equals parents, teachers, principals, courts, laws, that nasty status quo. Is that changing?

    • No, they still have to “go to school” but they do not go to a physical school. If you can “go to school” online as you can now in the school mentioned above, how many teenagers would take that option over actually physically going to school.

      I got thinking about this today and what it might mean for students that come from lower social-economic homes. They actually could hold down a 9-5 job and then go to virtual school. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be, just that is could be an option for those who need to work.

      • Hey Jeff…this sure would be an answer to the kids who get suspended for violence/fire setting issues in my school …keep them home, give them a virtual classroom…works for me!

        Was hoping to know about the grade…allimasse@hotmail.com …tried to find out if you needed anything else…lots on the plate…(As do you!), so when you get time…I had contacted Kim…but she was super busy as well. Thanks, -alli

  2. I’m thinking about the babysitting service schools are to parents, the entrenched educational system schools are to teachers, and the truancy laws with which principals deal.
    I don’t think we are any closer to wholesale success for virtual schools. I wish we were…

  3. I am an online public secondary school teacher and a parent of “online” students.

    Both of my teens did/do fulltime online school. To them, it meant more efficient learning. Teachers work with them at all different hours, one on one if necessary.

    There is no waiting on the side of the road in the cold for late school buses, no dangerous trips in snowstorms on buses, no wasted travel time and no ‘wandering the halls’ waiting for lunch hour to end. There is no waiting in class while teachers explain it again to other students.

    Online school means getting good part-time jobs because they can work when other students can’t. It means snowboarding on quiet slopes on weekdays instead of always on crowded weekends. Social life is online, or at work, at the arena, at the ski hill…

    There can be a nice balance – a semester at a bricks and mortar school to play school sports, take woodworking and music, play in the school band, etc. Then, a semester online for academic courses while working part time to make money for university.

    …and with no buses, no paper, no parking, no school building, online secondary school is a far more ecologically friendly alternative to our current system of moving teens from far and wide to a central location each school day.

    • I think this is a good thing to remember..that this does not have to be an all or nothing. That there can be a balance between online courses and traditional courses. Science for example I think lends itself nicely to traditional settings. Hands on experiments are something I want student to do….and virtual running in PE is just not there yet. :)

      But other things such as history, digital art, etc could be courses that could be moved online.

      I still think that schools should be looking at a blended concept. What if you didn’t have to meet all the time. What if you met with a purpose….for a reason and then the rest of the time interacted online. That I think is the most powerful model….in my head anyway.

      • I’m delighted with the discussion that is going on in here. It has been very interesting to read about peoples’ visions for online learning and their concepts of what virtual schools are like.

        It’s interesting that the two subject examples you used to keep in schools (science and phys ed) are two of the first we started to teach online, and one that you chose to be online (art) is one we have not done yet!

        Science is challenging but with live classes and video instruction, I think we do it quite well. Our Physical Education focuses on maintaining good health, setting goals and personal fitness, and we teach only one course in this subject area.

        We haven’t tried art but media studies is hugely popular.

        Online high school is an excellent solution in Ontario where there is a very large rural population and where early 1 hour bus rides are the norm for many students. Even if we could cut buses just a couple of days each week, we would save so much in greenhouse gas emissions and transportation costs.

  4. My daughter is in an online school. It is an adjustment as I teach full time in a traditional school. My daughter entered into a contract with us that outlined expectations, etc. So far so good. She enjoys taking the time she needs and wastes less time than if she were in class. She can structure her days and work on the courses when she wants 9I get a print out of logins and times. Additionally, she shows me her calendar with where she should be and where she is – she is ahead.) She will hopefully take advantage of potter’s classes with a local artist that she would not be able to do otherwise in full time school.

    I would love to teach in an online school as well.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience!

  5. I’m not buying it yet. Why would we be in such a hurry to have kids graduate? Life has become such a busy existence. Kids should be allowed to be kids. The availability of online courses is beneficial for those who can’t or don’t want to handle traditional schooling. I can’t imagine that many students in my community would go that route with the exception of taking additional courses not offered in school. I can say my own children would not have opted for an online education (they couldn’t fathom anyone wanting to be home-schooled…and neither could I!).

    • “The availability of online courses is beneficial for those who can’t or don’t want to handle traditional schooling.”

      Can’t handle traditional school or were never made to fit the system? Schools are great for one type of learner…but do not really meet the needs of ALL learners. Either you learn to “Play School” or you don’t.

      If a 15 year old could connect with their friends when they wanted and go to school when they wanted why would they opt to physically go to school?

      I’d be interested to hear their answer to this. We…adults….keep saying we don’t want them to loose face to face time, that we want them to learn to interact with real people. What are their thoughts? Do they feel like they get this enough outside of school that they wouldn’t have to go to a physical school to get those social interactions? Do after school supports and friendship circles outside of school make up for the face to face time that we…adults…say they are missing? I don’t know…I just haven’t heard a kid say that they feel it’s a negative thing.

  6. Jeff, this seems to be a recurring theme of late. Online schools. I have just commented over on Dean Groom’s
    blog in a similar vein. eLearning is an excellent vehicle for distributing knowledge and skills for those willing to learn. It allows opportunities for further education, particularly for those unable to travel or situated in remote areas. eLearning can also support existing face to face instruction. Some students ‘can learn there’ (online) but not all.

    A learning environment that is entirely online suits some, not all. Experience with eLearning programmes involving organisations such as the University of Wollongong, Nokia, Singapore Airlines, JPMorgan Bank and others illustrated for me the pros and cons of 100% online delivery of courses. I feel that face to face instruction is an important facet of the socialisation process of our youth. Schools provide opportunities to acquire skills in interacting and coping with your peers.

    A virtual school that augments face to face instruction, supports students in remote areas and facilitates subjects with very low enrollments is a good idea yet I feel that students should still be engaged in a significant face to face component as well. I agree with Fryed regarding balance.

    Local is broken. It needs fixing. Global connections are fine yet let’s not lose sight of local, community, real neighbours. The infinite possibilities that are now available can be used to try and regenerate local connections and people stuff. Local is becoming the poor brother of global.

    I feel that the responses above to the question “Why do students come to school?” are superficial. From my perspective the responses lack substance. Certainly schools require change yet I also feel that a society without your local school would suffer. In many communities it is the local school that acts as a rallying point, community builder and a source of solace in times of tragedy and disaster.

    Cheers, John

    • Thanks for your thoughts John.

      I agree schools have a place in our communities….but what is that place? I have theories on what I think the future holds..where educations are basically all consultants that rent rooms within school building. Something like rate my teacher is actually used in a positive way and kids choose their teachers, online or in person, to learn from. That’s a far out there theory, but schools will still be around…I’m just not sure in what form.

  7. I have really enjoyed the comments on this blog posting so far.

    One comment that I feel I have to make is the use of the term “online school”. That can be so many different things!

    Where I teach, we have live synchronous classes, and I have a “live” online office where I can talk to my students. S

    Sometimes parents and other educators picture online school to be “correspondence” which it does not have to be.

    I call parents when work is not submitted. I work one-on-one in real time with students who have difficulties. We use VoiceThread extensively to have conversations about content.

    We have progressed a long, long way from the old correspondence, text-based style of instructions.

  8. Compared with a past in which home schooling was only as good and varied as those who inhabited the home, elearning is obviously a huge step forward. On the other hand, with the present emphasis upon differentiated instruction, teaching the “whole child” and developing open-mindedness in our youth, I can’t imagine that elearning will (or should)ever replace the traditional school for the vast majority of students.
    Differentiated instruction will necessarily be more differentiated in real time. Two of the key elements in a differentiated approach is meeting diverse learning needs and being responsive to the student. A student who learns best with oral explanation is not going to have his or her needs met online. A student who needs to manipulate figures and physically interact in space is not going to learn very well online. Similarly, only in a real time situation are you likely to be able to respond immediately to a teaching moment, shifting a lesson to capture the enthusiasm of a student, or taking account of where the student is at, right here, right now. There are limits to the communication that can go on through an online environment. Taking account of emotions and everything else that makes up the “whole child” will always be more possible in real time, in a real community.
    Not being a fan of home schooling, I could never endorse elearning as a “whole” education. High school students need to be exposed to a diverse community in which they can try out their personalities, meet people who are different than themselves, and do so in an environment that is directed toward some greater purpose. Sure, online students may hit the gym or play hockey on a community team, but I would be afraid that the very people who are attracted to online education would be those who are most likely not to want to venture out the door.
    Elearning has much to offer those whose educational opportunities are much less than optimal, but I don’t think it will ever meet the needs of the whole child.

  9. One thing about online classes for teens and under is that parents would need to be more involved in their child’s learning. Without going to a physical location most of my students would never get any “physical” help. The majority of my parents are absent from their child’s lives and the only positive adult interaction they get is when they come to school. An online school can never replace that interaction that so many of today’s kids need.

    Is anyone talking about how this will effect the student’s emotional lives? Keeping them trapped in an environment that only school can get them out of?

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  1. Chris Dillon - A twitter ++ (pos) following @jutecht http://tinyurl.com/dl3yqs 'School about Being Social' contrasts so well with another http://tr.im/gGyS
  2. Donna Fry - RT @jutecht: School's about Being Social http://tinyurl.com/dl3yqs
  3. Donna Fry - @jutecht I just passed your blog link on to all of the online teachers in our Ontario public virtual…
  4. heycorey - Good post on virtual schools, including here in WA. RT @jutecht: School's about Being Social http://tinyurl.com/dl3yqs
  5. jbennett - School's about Being Social http://tinyurl.com/dl3yqs from: @jutecht
  6. Blogging About K-12 Online Learning « Virtual High School Meanderings - [...] School’s about Being Social from The Thinking Stick [...]

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