September 11, 2020

My niece has taught at one of the local learning centers for the last several years.  She graduated with a degree in Chemistry, so fits well with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) emphasis of these centers.  Another emphasis is coding, or what old timers like me refer to as programing language.  She told me she was fascinated by the new virtual learning process incorporated by our area schools.  I had substitute taught last year, and my role was to watch students interact with online lessons and try to keep them on track.  I assumed virtual school would provide something similar, but that is not the case.

Our district uses two different tracks for students who have opted to learn virtually.  The district website says K-9 students use PEAK.  This is a full-time virtual experience for students through the Peak Innovation Center. A virtual student takes all classes through Peak online and at home and only comes to campus for approved activities. Virtual students are supervised by a Peak coordinator.  The K-6 learners are virtual online only but may access home campus for some services.  The 7-9 learners can participate in AAA activities but require enrollment and on-campus attendance for that class.  All students are provided a Chromebook and need to have efficient home internet.  The district is working with families who choose a virtual option, so students are not excluded solely on access to technology.

The two High Schools have taken another approach, offering either virtual or a blended approach using the Schoology format.  A virtual student takes all classes online and at home and only comes to campus for approved activities. These students are supervised by the district’s schoolteachers.  The virtual learners can participate in AAA activities which require enrollment and attendance for the activity on-campus.   Students who are not in 100% online classes can participate in blended learning. These students have access to the coursework for their classes in a traditional on-site classroom, or through lessons uploaded by their instructors in Schoology.  Assessments, such as end-of-unit exams, are taken in class and are supervised by the district teacher.  All students are again issued a Chromebook and need adequate technology.

THOUGHTS:  The online option for school has been around for almost 30 years.  The daughter of a friend finished High School in the Bay Area virtually in the mid-1990’s.  One part of what I did during the late 1990’s was to set up virtual classrooms at my graduate school and I taught a virtual class.  Technology has come a long way since those early attempts.  Faster speeds and more efficient search engines can create a virtual experience that rivals an on-site experience.  Zoom and similar formats provide a group experience and not just one-on-one.  Now we need to make reliable, fast internet available for all.  Without this, the underserved will continue to be left behind.  Technology does not work if you have no access.  Follow the science.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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