Virtual High School dot com

by Yule Heibel on July 18, 2005

Via Darren Cannell, a link to an excellent article by Christina Wood,, in the April 2005 issue of Edutopia Magazine. The article gives a great overview of online education’s place in high schools today. At present, about 25% of US high schools offer some form of virtual instruction, but the key word may well be instruction. The Concord Consortium and the Hudson Public School system (both in Massachusetts) pioneered the Virtual High School back in the second half of the 1990s. The key to their success might well be that they place great emphasis on the role of the teacher in the virtual environment. In exchange for providing a teacher for an online course, a school can enroll up to 25 students in that course. VHS essentially cherry-picks from the best teachers in the system, nation-wide. As well, training, provided by VHS both to teach the virtual classes as well as to develop courses for VHS, is mandatory. “To date, VHS includes nearly 300 public and private high schools in 27 states, as well as 24 international schools, and offers more than 200 Internet-based courses.” [From Wood’s article.] The system can work exceptionally well, with teachers making the student feel as though s/he has a private tutor on hand. It can also be an eye-opener for the teachers:

Students also demand more of their teachers. “One of our professors made an interesting comment,” says Allen D. Glenn, professor and dean emeritus in the University of Washington’s College of Education, an expert in teaching teachers to use technology. “He said,’I never realized how many of my students’ questions I never answered until I taught online.'” [More…]

But note, the emphasis is on having a teacher teaching the online course. Students can also have experiences that are far less positive, either because they’re doing the courses on their own (à la “correspondence school” model) or have untrained markers or teachers who put in a truly minimal effort to provide feedback… At this point, e-learning falls apart.

Adequate training and screening for virtual teachers becomes a crucial part of the package. The best virtual schools pay enormous attention to teacher training, but others use their programs as a way around traditional teacher requirements.

A good teacher makes a good class. Even with excellent training, some teachers simply don’t work well online.


Another critical issue is course quality. As in traditional classrooms, the caliber of virtual classes can vary considerably. More established schools have developed rigorous content and curriculum standards and require a high level of interactivity in the courses. But the same can’t be said for all online courses offered to highschoolers today. [More…]

Read the whole article, it’s very interesting. Explore the Virtual High School site further, and read about their 2001 Stockholm Challenge Award for Global Excellence in Information Technology.

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