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.

Being back in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) during winter for the first time in seven years has been refreshing. Although the 50 degree temps are half of what my body is use to. 🙂 The clean fresh air of Seattle and Portland (yes…that is clean compared to Shanghai and Bangkok) is good on the lungs.

NCCEI gave a three hour workshop yesterday to educators from around the PNW the first presentation that I’ve actually given in the States…which is odd to think about. One thing that I found was that I do not give International Schools or International Educators enough credit when it comes to understanding the Internet and the social web that it has become.

In my session yesterday at NCCE I asked how many of the 12 people in the room had a Facebook page.

Answer: 2 (17%)

My experience internationally would have been 80% have a Facebook account.

When asking about Skype….only two people had used it. Internationally again would have been closer to 80%.

What’s the difference? International Educators are forced to learn the tools to stay in contact with people they care about back home. They are forced to use the tools, learn the skills, and be connected….and that’s your everyday international educator. What really worries me is that the 12 people that were in my workshop yesterday represent educators in the region who want to learn technology or are the gurus in their schools….and for that I applaud them.

Now this isn’t to say that having a Facebook account or using Skype has anything to do with understanding the use of technology in education. But I think it is an indication of your understanding of what is happening on the web today.

Here are some more stats from yesterday:

  • 1 out of 12 had using YouTube with students
  • 1 out of 12 had using a Wiki with students (the same 1 person)
  • 1 out of 12 had a class blog that they used to communicate with parents
  • 1 out of 12 had heard of and/or used iTunes U
  • 2 out of 12 did not own a cell phone

Again..what I think worries me is that this conference is made up of 1400 educators who are at least interested enough in technology to be here. What worries me is that from what I’ve seen so far, most are looking for the silver bullet. The application that can do it all, or the program you can buy, install and cover your standards. There are a few sessions on social-networking that I plan to go to today so we’ll see how well those are attended.

I guess I really shouldn’t be that surprised. At the pass NECC conferences a group of Edubloggers have tried to guess what percentage of educators at that conference truly understand the changes that are occurring. Our estimates: 250 out of 10,000…..or about 2.5%. OUCH! Not sure why I expected this conference to be any different….just hoping I guess.

What has really depressed me so far is a lack of “geekiness” I feel at this conference. I hope that changes today….but don’t worry I’m prepared to take matters into my own hands! Be looking for Twitter updates as I find a way to bring some geekiness to this conference!