Blended and virtual programs are on the rise in districts nationwide. According to a recent report conducted by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, the total number of students enrolled in virtual schools hit nearly 243,000 in 2012-2013, up 21.7 percent from the 2011-2012 academic year. While many teachers experience a smooth transition into teaching in virtual and blended learning programs, there are reasons why some teachers may be hesitent. In either case, let's take a look at a couple of reasons why districts implement these programs.
Dr. Tina Belardi, Chief Academic Officer of the Allentown School District in Pennsylvania describes a key reason her district chose to open a Virtual Academcy in "ASD Launches Virtual Academy," as reported by the Lehigh Valley News at WFMZ-TV. Dr. Belardi discusses how her district, which is facing a budget shortfall, loses money for each local student who leaves the district and enrolls in charter or cyber schools. Students leave their school district for a number of reasons. Many leave to seek the flexibility and the personalization that online learning offers — blended and virtual programs offer districts an effective solution to meet student needs.
While keeping students in the district is important financially, Dr. Belardi's points out the benefits extend to teachers and students. Whether students want to enroll full time, take online electives, or make up credits, the district's new Virtual Academy offers the students in the district expanded learning opportunities while ensuring each student experiences just the right level of challenge and support needed to succeed. Furthermore, students enrolled in the Virtual Academy may choose to participate in district sponsored activities, such as athletics.
At San Diego iHigh, San Diego Unified School District's Virtual Academy, students and teachers talk about how virtual learning positively impacts them. Teachers find that as they take on the role of a learning facilitator they have more opportunities to work with small groups or spend more time one-to-one with students. This greater level of interaction promotes an increase in conversations between teachers and students about their learning, enabling teachers to provide students with more personalized instruction.
For students who cannot come to school during the traditional school day, or do not succeed in the traditional classroom, online learning means increased flexibility when it comes to academic choices. Because learning is highly personalized, students have greater control over their own learning. For many students, the opportunity to enroll in virtual school means being given an opportunity to stay in school and graduate.
Does your district or school offer virtual learning opportunities for students? We'd love to learn about your experiences teaching and experiences of your students.