Is it time for the virtual classroom? College students can opt to take online classes. Competence in Internet use is becoming more and more important in the workplace. Classes in some school districts are being canceled because they cannot afford the diesel fuel for the buses.
In most cases, this concept can only supplement and not substitute for flesh and blood teachers in brick and mortar schools. But subject like math and most science courses consist solely of facts and figure that can be just as easily be transmitted over a phone line as they can be presented in person.
Critics might claim that this system would be unfair to the increasing small minority of high school students without Internet access. But life isn’t fair and the public school was created because lower income parents simply couldn’t afford to educate their kids and rich folks could. Any system you could ever conceive of will favor someone over somebody else. But this is intended as a cost and personnel saving measure. If less students need to be fed and ferried to school then that frees up funds and faculty to focus on the children who actually do need the help.
Some students, even if they do have Internet access, will still need help and supervision from a tutor or teacher. Different students learn different ways, so a flexible system is needed. If anything, the virtual classroom will be more flexible than any educational tool previously devised. South Side High School students will be able to attend Snider classes, and kids in Miami could be conceivably be allowed to “attend” classes held in Anchorage. This could even allow us to expand the foreign exchange program to levels previously undreamed of.
Online and correspondence courses have had poor reputations. Many students simply lacked the self discipline to read material assigned by an instructor that they would never meet. But with networks that support more bandwidth and higher connection speeds, a teacher’s face and voice can be transmitted in real time to a home computer. Unlike traditional correspondence courses and television courses held on college access, students would be able to ask questions and give comments in real time as well. Disruptive students can be blocked from doing so, which would take less time and cause less of a ruckus than calling the dean of boys down to physically remove the disturbance. If a time delay is used like on live radio call-in shows, the rest of the class need not know what the clown had to say.
Let’s get a pilot program started. Start with one class, broadcast it on the Internet and let anyone enrolled in any accredited school attend for class credit. This way we can weed out any unforeseen problems that I failed to predict here. If it works, and we follow through on it, it will save money in the long run and get better results.