Virtual classes not fit for all
Published: Sunday, January 23, 2011
Updated: Sunday, January 23, 2011 16:01
Virtual or online courses can be a great route for students who need to pick up an extra class but don't have time in their schedule to meet in a classroom every week.
Many college students choose to take an online class at some point during their higher education, but students at 54 high schools in Miami-Dade County are being put in a virtual classroom whether they like it or not.
In an effort to surpass the Florida Class Size Reduction Amendment, some schools in the Miami area have created virtual classrooms for students.
The amendment limits the class size to 25 students in core subjects such as English or math, but the ruling does not apply to virtual labs.
The students spend their class period in a room filled entirely with computers where they sit and do their work. There is no teacher present, only a "facilitator" to keep the students on task and address any technical problems.
The content is provided by Florida Virtual School, which is generally used by high schools students who wish to pick up an extra course or need to do credit recovery.
The students log on to a website for their lessons that are graphic and text based.
Online learning can be extremely effective for some, but many of the Miami high schoolers had no chance to voice their opinion or preference.
Several students interviewed in a recent article in The New York Times stated that they were not informed that they would be taking a class in a virtual lab and that if they were given a choice they would have declined.
Taking an online class requires a lot of determination and eagerness and for those who don't exhibit such characteristics, online learning can be detrimental.
For other students, learning is simply too difficult without face-to-face instruction, particularly in tricky subjects.
The courses in these online labs have teachers that can be contacted through phone call, text message or e-mail, but some of the best learning comes from sitting down one-on-one and working through a difficult problem or equation.
By the time a student reaches college, they've determined how they learn best and what subjects they excel in.
High school students, on the other hand, are for the most part still developing themselves intellectually and need to focus more time and effort into deciding what works best for them.
Not to mention high school students don't have much choice as to what classes they can take.
We can only imagine that forcing a student to take a class in a virtual lab when they already have difficulties in the subject could only exacerbate their reluctance in said subject.
We're not the only ones skeptical about this idea, several teachers and students spoke out against the school's new virtual venture, but one interesting opinion came from Michael Moore, a professor of education at Penn State University and an editor at The American Journal of Education.
Moore mentioned in The New York Times article a new way of combining virtual and face-to-face learning in what is called the "blended learning concept."
"There is no doubt that blended learning can be as effective and often more effective than a classroom," Moore said.
For this concept to work the students must be mature and willing, and the instructors involved must obtain proper training on how to effectively teach in a virtual environment.
Moore noted that the students in Miami-Dade are not receiving blended learning.
To us, this whole situation is just messy. Students and parents were not properly informed and many students are resentful of the whole situation, but officials say they will not budge on their decision because it's their only way to get past class size restrictions.
Computers and technology can be a great classroom tool for some students and subjects, but requiring that all students take a class that may not suit their learning style or preference seems a bit ridiculous.
The idea has potential, but it definitely needs some major revisions. Supplemental technology is fine. Technology as a complete replacement for proven learning methods is not fine.