Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blended Virtual Education: Permanent Entity or Transition Point

One of the ongoing debates in virtual education is whether or not blended virtual education is here to stay or whether it is just a transition point to where we are really going, that being students totally integrated into online education. Depending who you speak to, there are a number of objections to the idea of students being totally integrated into online education. Like most hot topics, you need to carefully examine the motives behind the positions that people subscribe to in the education establishment. Here are some potential objections to the total online education integration and a translation what they are really saying:
  1. Students need the social contact with other students that they can only get in a brick and mortar school. This objection has been around for awhile and is often raised in many developed countries. This objection flies in the face of the reality that exists in 21st century teen relationships. If you were to add up the number of hours that students spend playing online games, using Facebook, using IM, Twitter, and other social media, you would come to the conclusion that students have re-defined the type of contact they seek with their peers. So, why do people keep bringing up this objection? Part may be due to a lingering nostalgia parents and the general public still have for their own school days. Part of the reason is political. The truth is that as enrollment figures for students in brick and mortar schools continue to decrease in many countries, money allotted to these institutions is starting to dry up, resulting in the closure of low enrolment schools in order to preserve a dwindling tax base. This has a domino effect within the education systems. What is interesting is that as enrolment figures have been falling in the brick and mortar schools, the enrolment figures for online schools have been more than doubling each year. What does that tell us?
  2. Students do not have the self-discipline or maturity to handle online learning. This depends upon what age groups we are talking about. It is true that in the primary and junior grades that students are not mature enough but their level of technological competence is advancing at these levels every year. The skills that they need to be independent learners must be modelled and taught to the same degree in the online school as it would be in the brick and mortar school. An interesting development in some online schools is that they are now offering online education to students as low as grade 4. It is still in the refining stage but it is progressing.
  3. Students get involved in online education because they can receive higher evaluations of their work that they would never get in the brick and mortar schools. In other words it is easier to get an A in an online system than in the regular schools. Ignoring for the moment how insulting this statement is to the professionalism of online teachers, it should be pointed out that ministries of education that oversee education both in the online environment and the brick and mortar schools are more demanding and stringent in regards to standards for online schools than brick and mortar schools. Teachers in online schools need to have command of not only the environment that they work in but also the checking of the integrity of the assignments that are submitted to them. Given the nature of the Internet, this is an absolute necessity! The motive behind this objection is political because it affects very powerful teacher organizations and education administrators who have a vested interest in protecting their turf.
So what about it? Is blending learning a lasting viable alternative to the total integrated online education experience and total brick and mortar school experience or is blended learning a transition point that will disappear as technology advances in the virtual education environment.

Next----Some examples and videos of virtual education schools that are successfully engaging the imaginations of students, teachers and parents. If you have some suggestions, you know where I live;)

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