Still Thinking on the Virtual Education vs F2F

Photo Credit: me

Since I posted earlier on the subject, I have been struggling with what a completely virtual education would be like (hence the second cloudy picture in two posts on this topic). Obviously, I have the opportunity to be a virtual teacher for Florida Virtual Schools just like any other educator. I tried to put myself in that position. Then, I wondered about my son being put in the virtual only environment as an elementary student. It is so far out there that it is difficult to imagine. Mind you, I did my Masters in that environment, but I am an adult. We are talking K-12 in Florida now. How does one pull that off? What does it look like? Is there an ultimate vision for this setting that has yet to be reached?

Dean has a post with his take on this topic (sort of). He discusses the pros and cons of both face to face (f2f) meetings and those online. He makes great points about both. What I wonder, though, is if a distinction can be made for required classes where base-level knowledge is the goal (like most standards-based courses in public schools) compared to elected advanced core courses. Now, I realize the depth of knowledge and comprehension can be much greater when good conversation surrounds the topic, but let’s face it. Few of our kids love studying core subjects and just want to accelerate their progress to get to where THEY want to be (college, trade school, career, etc). If they can finish a core area subject at an accelerated rate at an adequate (whatever that is) level of comprehension, who are we to slow him or her down?

Dean also says (emphasis mine), “But the richness of conversations and willingness to be open and
transparent is difficult to foster in 3 hours a week where much of that
learning is teacher directed.” That is a good point. In a post-secondary setting, he makes great sense with that since the students are basically strangers gathering a few times a week to move forward in their personal, individual college plans.

In a public school, though, the kids all know each other. Then again, that could be the downfall. They know who will accept their input and who will not. We all know that occurs and limits many students’ participation. For example, I remember very clearly sitting in an English course in junior college. The topic had to do with conflicts and how they change literature. The specific time period we were talking about needed more context than the textbook provided to be clearly understood. So I did what any learner should do. I shared a number of things including how the Hessians played a role against the American revolutionaries. One student sarcastically replied with something offhand like, “That is ridiculous that you would even know that.” Being polite, I said, “Well, sorry about that.” The teacher quickly interrupted saying when we get to the point where we have to apologize for having knowledge, she would quit teaching.  While I did not go recluse in the class, I did not share so easily from that point forward. So does the protected cloaking of an online course allow a personality to shine through in all of its intelligence? Mind you, we are talking about students who voluntarily move into online courses.

Gary Stager adds in his valuable two cents as well:

  • First of all, the fact that kids have decided to avoid schooling and accept an alternative, any alternative should neither surprise nor encourage us. Dropping out may be the most rational response to the current system that will not be improved one bit by kids opting out for correspondence school.
  • What is lost when you never meet a teacher face-to-face? Is education merely the objective exchange of questions and answers? Of teaching and being taught?
  • While I remain a great supporter of the affordances offered learners by well-designed online learning environments (I have fifteen years worth of experience teaching online), the Florida Virtual School was not created out of pure intentions. One needs only to look at the new state law requiring online alternatives to school for every elementary school student and it’s easy to conclude that the Florida Virtual School is first and foremost a stealth plan for privatizing public education and cutting costs. Jeb Bush achieved what his ideological brethren only dreamed of by offering a scheme to parents that sounds futuristic. It is impossible to see this news in an apolitical context.

While Gary has a snarky way of saying things, you gotta love the depth of his thinking about this (and pretty much everything). I happen to agree that it is a perfect way for states to begin to privatize education. It will never do away with public education because many parents count on the school day to watch the kids while they are at work, but it will draw many away. Does that mean classism becomes a part of the problem now? Only the students whose parents can afford to stay home and focus on the kids’ education enter the online arena? Would the test scores be reflective of that make-up? Would the state quit funding (like they do anyway) new buildings for public schools because they can build virtual ones for a fraction of a percent? So does that mean kids still going to public school would be in sub-standard buildings?

Seriously, can you see what I am talking about when I say these things have been swirling in my mind way too much lately. I had to get some of them out so maybe something would gel for me. This is pretty much a brain dump post, but maybe you will find something and latch onto it. Jump into the comments and straighten me out. Please.