In an earlier post I gave one example of a virtual education system that has learned from experience how to enable an enriching educational experience for students. I would like to emphasize that this is just one example of a number of developing virtual education systems around the globe. One thing that should be pointed out is that a number of established brick and mortar school systems are experimenting with virtual education but their focus is on keeping students in the physical school and allowing some courses to be taken online. This is the blended model and these systems have met with varying degrees of success. There is also quite a difference between privately owned education systems and those that are funded by taxpayers in a variety of countries.
Having said that there are challenges in developing an online school that need to be met. One important challenge is to make sure that those who are stakeholders in an online education venture, public or private, have a clear understanding of the vision, mission and guiding principles that such a system will have. This is an important challenge for those who will function as administrators of such a system. As I have stated before not every administrator who is successful in the brick and mortar system will necessarily be successful in the virtual education realm. It is of prime importance that administrators with very specific qualities be in place in order for the system to start off on the right foot. Such qualities as being a risk taker, eclectic, creative, critical thinking, technology savvy, collaboration leader, decisive...etc. are not necessarily primary qualities we usually associate with the typical administrator. However, in the fast moving environment of the Internet and technology, these are qualities that will bear fruit at crucial junctures.
With respect to building the system, a decision needs to be made as to what LMS the system will utilize. One that I have already mentioned is D2L which provides essentially a turn-key solution to this requirement. A less expensive route that could be used is Moodle. Moodle continues to develop and add tools to enhance the LMS. The primary requirements for the LMS choice that is made is that it should be:
- User friendly for staff, students and administration.
- Should present an immersive, interactive experience. With respect to students, the desktop that they would see should have more than one method of communication (ie:e-mail, chat) and access links to Facebook, Twitter IM...etc. The reason for this is that this is the world that students feel most comfortable operating in. This means a lower learning curve technologically speaking.
- Should have an established Help Desk that staff and students would have access to. The purpose is that we understand that technology is not perfect and neither are the technology skills that staff and students bring to the virtual environment. Teachers should NOT be responsible for solving technology issues!
- Should have an area that would serve as a repository for technology tutorials for both staff and students. As technology advances, there should be a area that students can go to upgrade their skills. For example, if a students wants to use Prezi as an alternative presentation tool to PowerPoint, there should be an area where the student can go to take a self-guiding tutorial. This builds a sense of confidence in the system and also allows for the development of a sense of community.
- There should be an area similar to the locker in the brick and mortar school where students can download and store everything from You Tube videos to slide presentations for future reference.
- Ability to be personalized by staff and students. In order for students and staff to take ownership in this enterprise, the system should be flexible enough for students and staff to personalize their work area. For example being able to add widgets such as To-Do-List, Contacts, Calendar, Time, RSS feeds that they want to track...etc changes the desktop from a sterile mass produced entity to something that is unique to the individual. It becomes something that they call their own.
- The system must have a high level of security to protect the privacy of those who are stakeholders in it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are moving from master password systems to more biometric security as it becomes more and more sophisticated.