Virtual high schools deliver instruction through a computer and Internet connection. The curriculum is stringent and tied to state standards. An offline component may require projects and papers, book reports and speeches. These are not the “easy out” they are often seen as; in fact, many students find the course work more difficult than traditional classes.
Virtual schools vary greatly but benefit a wide range of students and offer great flexibility. Some require students to attend a monitored site while others allow students to work from home. Some offer instruction in a student’s native language.
Some virtual high schools are actually ‘a school within a school,’ allowing students to be somewhat isolated from the rest of the student body and away from the activity and conflicts that may cause distractions and problems. Other virtual schools are totally off-site. Students access these programs from home through their own or a school-provided computer and Internet connection. Some are hybrids, offering both on-site and remote options. Because all work is done through an Internet connection, students can move between the two, according to their needs.
All offer many advantages for students who do not or cannot function in a traditional school setting. Some students take advantage of off-site virtual schools when they are unable to attend school because of illness. The programs are available any time day or night, allowing students to work in shorter sessions when they are physically able.
When students face long-term suspension or expulsion, they can still keep up with their academic requirements for graduation, even though they are not allowed on campus. This is a real benefit for troubled students, allowing them to achieve that all-important high school diploma.
On site virtual schools work well for many other students, too, allowing them to make up credits and stay on track for graduation. Since the number of lessons assigned is determined by a pretest, often students find they only need to complete a few lessons to earn the credit for a previously failed class. It doesn’t require them to repeat an entire course if a prescriptive test shows they are close to proficient in that subject.
Other students enroll in virtual school to take classes their school doesn’t offer, such as a particular foreign language. Some students choose to take classes ahead of time, thus completing requirements and graduating a semester early.
There are other benefits, too. A virtual on-site school allows students a chance to get away from distractions and conflicts. For some, this is a much-needed respite during the school day.
Virtual school students learn to assume more responsibility for their own progress. Taking decent notes is vital and being organized is essential. Since students are moving at their own rate, it is mostly up to them to set goals and monitor their progress.
As these programs become more wide spread and accepted, many teachers are finding new ways to use them. If a student has a specific skill deficit or needs remediation in only certain areas, they are enrolled in just those classes. This may take only a few hours but fills the gap that may be holding a student back.
Home school parents sometimes turn to virtual schools, especially when their children reach advanced coursework. Part of the appeal is that students and parents can pick and choose.
There are a few drawbacks to virtual schools though these are really just the flip side of the benefits. Whether on-site or remote, students in virtual school are isolated from the activity that keeps most high schools buzzing. Staring at a computer screen can become quite boring. It also cuts them off from friends and classroom group activities
Since the computer can be a relentless instructor, frustration can build for some students. Teachers staff on-site virtual schools, but they may not have the expertise for advanced secondary classes outside their subject area. These teachers tutor, mentor and coach. They interact with students, offering encouragement, praise and suggestions for approaching a task. They may be very valuable in providing one-on-one help in their subject.
Virtual high schools work so well for so many students. As these programs become better known and accepted, new uses will be found.