Virtual schools can provide education for students who cannot – or choose not to – attend a physical school. We can define online schooling as education that uses technology to deliver instruction and support regular, substantive interaction between teachers and students. Nancy Sheehan is an experienced teacher who has spent over 20 years teaching in traditional classrooms and blended learning environments that incorporate educational technology. Nancy believes that virtual schools are one way to offer high-quality education across geographic boundaries while also helping those who do not have access to quality public education choices.
- What is a virtual school?
- What is a virtual classroom?
- What is a virtual teacher?
What is a virtual school?
So what exactly is a virtual school? It is an online school, allowing students to complete their schooling from home via the internet. It is also a virtual space where educators and learners come together to learn and teach using various online tools.
Virtual schools are not the same as homeschooling. This type of schooling involves doing all or part of your schooling from home without any assistance from an instructor outside the family. Instead, virtual school students attend classes taught by instructors in another state or country. Generally, virtual schools follow a local or international curriculum (such as offered by Cambridge International Education) and offer a wide range of subjects. Virtual schools are relatively new, with the first ones popping up in 2000. According to a recent study by IMS Global Learning Consortium, they have increased over the last decade, and there are now more than 700 virtual school providers worldwide.
What are the reasons behind attending a virtual school?
There are several reasons why students might choose a virtual school. These include
- Some students live in remote locations, while others prefer interacting with teachers and students online.
- Many families who cannot find suitable public or private schools in their local area opt for a virtual school as it offers them the chance to get an education from anywhere with internet access. Virtual schooling has become more prevalent in recent years, and now there is one such provider available on every continent except Antarctica.
- The recent Covid-19 pandemic and the shutdown of schools in some countries means that more parents are sending their children to virtual schools.
- An online school provides an alternative way for students who do not have the opportunity to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom due to health, safety or other reasons. Virtual schools also offer tutoring and socialisation opportunities with peers that may be local, regional or internationally based.
Tips to be successful at virtual learning
Many students may feel daunted by the prospect of attending a virtual school, but here are some helpful tips to get the best out of virtual learning.
- Create a home study space with good lighting and without distractions.
- Work on assignments as soon after class as possible to avoid forgetting key concepts or terms.
- Keep up with classroom discussions by reading the course content before it is discussed in lectures so you can participate even if not present live at that time (or are absent).
- Use tools like Google Docs for collaboration, quizzes and other activities, which will allow classmates to review each others’ work or give feedback.
Differences between a virtual school and homeschooling
While students, in most cases, are based at home when attending a virtual school, there are critical differences between virtual schools and homeschooling. These are:
- Virtual schools provide a curriculum and teachers who grade assignments with feedback.
- Students can interact in online discussion forums or participate in Skype discussions while also interacting offline through face-to-face meetings with classmates or meeting via video conference for lectures.
- Virtual school students are not required to do all work from home but rather keep up on academics remotely and conduct group projects that involve working together at certain times when necessary. Parents usually supervise homeschoolers, whereas virtual schoolteachers will oversee student progress.
Advantages and disadvantages of a virtual school
There are some key benefits to virtual schools. These include:
- A more comprehensive range of course offerings.
- Working from home and not needing to commute for school, which may benefit both students and parents caring for children or those who live in an area with limited transportation options.
- The virtual school provides these benefits by making available diverse content and innovative methods explicitly tailored towards each student’s needs to reach their academic goals and be successful in life
There are also some disadvantages:
- No one is physically there to guide your learning process and offer individualised attention like you would get if it were a more traditional schooling arrangement (e.g. a private schools). This doesn’t mean virtual classes aren’t interactive – this means they’re different from face-to-face classes.
- Socialisation is another issue as students are often behind a computer screen or maybe on the phone.
What is a virtual classroom?
A teacher at a virtual school may use a virtual classroom to run their lesson. This is a virtual space where the teacher can share resources, show videos or presentations, and take questions from students. Students in a virtual classroom are usually using their computers to connect with other students and teachers worldwide through Skype or another video conferencing software.
Virtual learning environment
A virtual learning environment is a specific software that allows students to interact with the course material. This could be an online lab to simulate experiments or an online library for research. A virtual learning environment would have key features, such as assessment and tracking components, that the teacher would use to grade students.
Hybrid learning is an approach where a teacher uses a physical classroom along with a virtual classroom simultaneously. This educational model has some students in person while others attend class virtually from home. Educators instruct students both in a remote location and in-person simultaneously using tools like video conferencing equipment and platforms.
Blended learning differs from hybrid learning because students are primarily taught in the physical classroom but have additional virtual-only resources to access. This means that students can interact with teachers and classmates in person while also having access to virtual resources. In a study of 200 Canadian schools that adopted blended learning over three years, researchers found an increase in engagement and improved academic performance. The number of discipline problems decreased by 23-26 per cent once these methods were introduced into the classroom. There are many considerations for how this is implemented, such as infrastructure costs and equity issues; however, it is an effective way to improve student achievement without requiring significant changes within any given school district.
How do you set up a virtual classroom?
So how then can a teacher set up a virtual classroom? There are several tools they can use, such as online document viewers, webinars and Skype to connect students with their teachers. One option is to have the teacher sit at their computer and then broadcast video of themselves talking while students see this on their screen in another location. Another way would be for all participants (both teachers and learners) to log in online with complete access to shared files among everyone involved. This allows them to work together collaboratively without having physical contact or being in the same room; it’s like telecommuting from home but better because they’re working under supervision from an expert instructor.
Advantages and disadvantages of the virtual classroom
Earlier in this post, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of virtual schools. Now let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of the actual virtual classroom. These include :
Immersive learning: The virtual classroom is a fully or partially immersive experience. Learners can explore the environment, see and hear from fellow learners in different locations, interact with objects on their screen to make choices for themselves or others – all while remaining at home.
Student engagement: Instead of being confined to one seat, students can move around freely inside the virtual learning environment, interacting with various resources. This enhances student interest through novelty, which leads them to pay more attention because they’re doing something new.
Opportunity cost reduction: virtual classrooms allow instructors flexibility by adjusting teaching methods as needed without losing time due to making adjustments based on attendance rates.
Disadvantages of a virtual classroom include:
- A lack of in-person social interactions
- The inability of the teacher to see students’ facial expressions
- There are reports that virtual classrooms may be unsuitable for children who have sensory disabilities or other conditions which require face-to-face instruction.
- A lack physical support from peers in an environment where everyone is working on their own, online.
What is a virtual teacher?
With the rise of virtual schools comes the need for a virtual teacher. As our world becomes more connected through technological advances like smartphones and tablets, it’s only natural that education will change over time too. This includes the changing role of the teacher. A virtual teacher is a person who teaches in a classroom without being physically present.
What is virtual teaching?
There are three different types of teaching models for online courses that have been used to teach: asynchronous, synchronous, and blended learning.
- Synchronous instruction can be live lessons with the students all watching at the same time and responding as they go.
- Asynchronous classes involve coursework delivered on various schedules which require occasional participation from both student and instructor.
- Blended learning combines elements of face-to-face teaching with an e-learning component on the internet.
As opposed to traditional classroom teaching, virtual teaching requires strong self-presentation, the ability to manage a virtual classroom environment, and good communication skills. However, it also provides teachers with new methods of instruction that they can’t do in traditional classrooms such as more individualised attention for students who learn best through different modalities.
Advantages and Disadvantages of virtual learning
Lastly, let’s look at some advantages of virtual learning. These include flexibility for school hours, teaching subjects that are difficult or impossible in a traditional classroom setting (e.g., vocational courses that require special machinery), and interactive lessons with more than one student participating at once. Some disadvantages include the lack of socialisation and the difficulty in managing a virtual classroom environment.
In conclusion, the rise of virtual school has many advantages and comes with its share of disadvantages. Educators need to be mindful of these to maximise the benefits and minimise the drawbacks while embracing the innovation that technology brings to pedagogy.