Most people think of online learning as a quiet, solitary experience. But over the past few months, after interviewing students, parents, and educators, a different sort of picture has emerged. We’ve learned about who teaches and learns online, and why, what works and what doesn’t, and perhaps most importantly, whether online learning affords the same quality of education as that of traditional schools.
I spoke with Apex Learning CEO Cheryl Vedoe, one of the leading online curriculum providers to traditional and virtual schools; Maureen Cottrell, a science teacher at iHigh Virtual Academy in San Diego, California; Rian Meadows, an economics instructor at Florida Virtual School; Patti Joubert, the mother of two full-time Florida Virtual School students; and Carylanne and Christiane Joubert, her two daughters.
“It takes down a lot of barriers that kids have to asking questions in class.”
As with most issues in education, nothing is black and white. There are many different kinds of learners and teachers, and while virtual education may be a revelation for some, it would never work for others.
It’s true that Skyping and instant-messaging can’t replace the face-to-face experience — and for those who need the social interaction — both teachers and students — virtual schools would be difficult. “The high school experience in which you’re socializing with your peers or doing sports after school is important. There are a lot of teachers who would hate to use Skype all the time; they’d prefer being in the classroom. They would hate my job, ” said Cottrell, a science teacher at iHigh Virtual Academy. “I think you have to be a certain personality type and have a certain mindset to be a virtual teacher and still ensure student success.”
That said, here are five surprising perspectives you might not have associated with online learning.
1. Students get more one-on-one interaction with teachers, not less.
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- “Students still talk with their teachers; you might even say they talk more. When I was in school, you didn’t have many one-on-one conversations with your teachers. Your teachers spoke to you, they didn’t speak with you. Here, they do oral exams, they talk with the kids, they really get to know each student.” — Patti Joubert, parent of Florida Virtual School students
- “If you have an issue, if you’re not quite getting something, you can email or text your teacher. I get a call from one of my teachers at least once a week asking if I’m doing okay, if I need help. I think you get a better way to talk to teachers [in virtual school]. You get that one-on-one.” — Christianne Joubert, 13, Florida Virtual School student
- “The one-on-one interaction with students is key. My students will say, ‘You’re there to help me when I need it!’ It takes down a lot of barriers that kids have to asking questions in class.” — Rian Meadows, economics instructor, Florida Virtual School.