Virtual High Schools on the Rise
There is now a growing movement to offer high school programs in 100% or nearly 100% online formats. While this may sound like a bad idea, for many students, the format is highly appealing to teens but also holds the potential to support parents’ lifestyles too. First, today, most teens are already tech savvy, spend many hours online, and consider virtual friendships just as important as face-to-face ones. Second, for families on the move–and in a global economy, a growing number of families do cross borders on a regular basis–the development of robust virtual programs means that their children can now attend the same high school wherever their work takes them in the world. But how does a virtual high school work?In the past, distance learning for high school students had many drawbacks. First and foremost, until recently, distance learning was isolating, lacked engagement and statistically, often resulted in low graduation rates. Simply put, it was a last resort measure (e.g., for students living in isolated communities where there are no high schools or students unable to attend high school on a regular basis due to other extraordinary circumstances). Today, new technologies are transforming online learning across levels, including at the K-12 level. Here, one program stands out: the Stanford University Online High School.
How the Program Works
The Stanford program doesn’t leave high school students alone to work through long and difficult modules. Instead, it uses advanced video conferencing technology to bring small groups (on average, just 12 students) together in online classrooms. Students raise their hands when they wish to talk to instructors and peers, just as they would in a traditional classroom, but they can also share notes, as they would on a blackboard or white board, and use a running text chat to ask questions of clarification. An innovative rotating camera ensure heightened interaction across the virtual classroom. When students are not “in class,” they are preparing (e.g., watching recorded lectures or completing coursework assignments). With 66% of the teachers holding PhDs, the students in the program are also able to benefit from the expertise and support of highly qualified faculty. Finally, the program enables students to study with peers from around the world. Standford Online High School currently has students from 46 U.S. States and 25 countries around the world.
Why the Program Works
Engagement: Unlike traditional distance learning programs, the Stanford Program is all about engagement. Students are encouraged to interact with each other, instructors and course materials on every level. Along the way, they are also acquiring advanced communication skills for a tech-driven world, which is the world in which they will eventually work.
Playback: Unlike a traditional classroom, students in the program can playback essential lectures and discussions because everything is happening online.
Placement based on Ability not Age or Grade Level: Because the classes are held outside the traditional school structure, students are placed in classes based on ability rather than age or grade level. If you’re child is excelling at mathematics, they may be able to do Algebra II by the time they are 12. In short, the program is tailored to students true needs.
The best of both worlds: Students meet on a regular basis both online and in person during “meet ups” in their local communities, and they have the opportunity to do all the things people do in high school (e.g., assemblies, clubs, student government and even field trips). What they don’t have to deal with is large class sizes, dirty bathrooms, hallway bullies and long morning and evening commutes.
Stanford Online High School: Best Practices in Online Learning
Although focused on high school age students, the Stanford program exemplifies best practices in virtual learning. First, it is focused on using new technologies to enhance engagement. In short, the program aims to be more engaging (not simply, just as engaging) as the traditional classroom. Second, the program focuses on offering a collaborative yet still individualized education (students are placed based on what they know rather than who they are or where they should be). Finally, the program doesn’t overlook the value of face-to-face engagement. If you’re going to Stanford Online High School you still get to go on exciting trips with your classmates to exotic locales, hang out from time to time, and of course, come together in person to celebrate your graduation!