Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Effective Virtual Learning: Not Just Plugging Them In

A group of Virginia legislators are doing their homework on virtual learning.  Today, Reggie Fox (@fox1210), the Online Learning Coordinator for the York County School Division in Virginia, and I (ewilliams65) spoke with the Education Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee.  Our message was that effective virtual learning is not just a matter of plugging students in to a computer.  Effective virtual learning is not a cheap, mass production affair.
Reggie Fox addressed the legislators regarding our experience and plans.  In my introductory remarks, I made three key points:
·    Effective teachers of virtual courses, like other teachers, develop strong relationships with students.  They interact extensively with students through e-mails, videoconferencing, phone calls, and interactive group discussions on the computer.  They ask questions, answer questions, moderate discussions, encourage students, and provide feedback to students regarding their work. 

·    The extensive interaction is crucial for success.  The students who have taken our virtual courses have a strong record of success on state exams, but success also entails learning to collaborate, solve problems, and create work products—not just memorize information.

·    This extensive interaction is more expensive than some other approaches to virtual learning, which are not much more than students completing a bunch of worksheets on the computer.  The mass production model does not lead to deep learning.

Yesterday, the Virginia Department of Education announced that our school district is one of two districts statewide (along with eleven other organizations) that have been approved to provide virtual courses to students throughout Virginia.  During the presentation to legislators today, we we explained that this school year the York County School Division will only serve students from outside our district through agreements with other school districts.  A school district may choose to enroll its students in one or more of thirty-nine courses that we offer as a Multidivision Online Provider.  The participating school district would retain the per-pupil state funding, while paying our school district a per-student fee.
Reggie Fox posed several questions today for consideration.  Will we continue to use Carnegie units?  Should students be assessed based on mastery?
The members of the Education Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee deserve praise for doing their homework on virtual learning.  During the legislative session of 2012, hopefully budget and policy decisions will be made with a recognition that virtual learning is not just a matter of plugging students in for mass production, low cost, education.  We will achieve so much more if we avoid this perspective.

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