“Online learning is a disruption that cannot be stopped,” Joseph J. O’Brien, (Director of the Chester County Intermediate Unit)
Cyber Schools, digital schools, online schools, virtual schools, internet schools, and e-learning, no matter what it is called online education is a new phenomenon in education that is not fully understood. A new trend that is hard to comprehend by just reading or hearing about it. The investigator of this study did not solely rely on the literature and decided to visit a cyber charter school district and visit the homes of cyber charter school students to gather observational data for this study.
The investigator was aware of a new learner type that is called “Screenagers” in the literature. For example, two teenagers are sitting on a curb texting each other. A screenager is a teenager who spends a lot of time on an electronic screen. Screenager activities are sending emails, text messages, and instant messages, downloading movies and music, Web surfing and gaming. Cyber charter school students are not only teenagers; this cyber charter school district had students from kindergarten to 12th grade (Rushkoff, 1997).
Today’s generation of pupils is frequently referred to as Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. Generation Y, as one high school student defines, has “technology in their blood”. These pupils do not know existence without computers and the Internet. US Department of Education to one study, 94% of these pupils use the Internet for school related study. Pupil access to the Internet at school has grown radically over the years (Rosendale, 2009). Could cyber schools be a solution to the country of India’s biggest educational problem. Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal has reported in 2010 that there is a shortage of 1.2 million teachers in India and K-12 education in India currently is not mandatory. Could online education, a global phenomenon, be solution to India’s problem? More specifically, could laid-off New Jersey teachers teach Indian children in the comfort of their houses?
When Katrina Hit Louisiana and destroyed the State’s whole Educational System literally and physically wiped out all the brick and mortar schools, could cyber schools have been a quicker solution than rebuilding the brick and mortar schools back?
50 percent of all high school courses will be given online by 2019. This does not mean that brick and mortar school buildings will disappear but some courses will be in class, some will be online (Christensen, Johnson & Horn, 2008). The US Department of National Education Technology Plan encourages states, districts, and schools to deliver all students with access to online learning opportunities and to establish criteria for getting credit via online learning that parallels the criteria for getting course credits in local schools; however, current traditional educational systems are not fully equipped to deal with the challenges of implementation. Elementary and secondary school administrators have concerns about virtual education that are similar to those associated with traditional education, which is summarized into three major categories: policy, quality, and funding. Within the category of quality, a major concern is training for teachers of virtual courses. Unlike traditional education, administrators seeking resources to aid in virtual program formulation will find a scarcity of research in the K-12 levels. We see changes taking place in the educational arena; a new enthusiasm in the infinite possibilities of the digital age for changing how we learn, how we teach, and how the countless fragments of our educational system fit together – an uproar for change that is bringing transformations and incomparable changes in our nation’s history (United States Department of Education) (Morse, 2010).
The educational world has been transformed through technology. From the early beginnings of the one-room schoolhouse to the modern day classroom, the physical environment for learning is an ever-evolving concept. Distance learning is hardly a new innovation in education. The earliest form of an extended classroom or distance education was paper-based correspondence. The research revealed that instruction associated with distance learning could accelerate learning as good or better than conventional classroom instruction, and the lack of direct contact was not disadvantageous to the learning process (Means et al., 2009). In recent years, computers have been added to the education mix as supplemental enrichment. The availability of the Internet, advanced software applications, and accessibility to widespread use of the personal computers have all contributed to adapting, expanding, and elevating the level of distance learning. Curriculum and instruction can now be delivered in a timelier and a personal way. Again, more recent research has supported the success of distance learning for the adult learner. The Carnegie Foundation reviewed multiple comparative studies and found no significant differences in student learning outcomes for mastery of coursework from online instruction to that of traditional educational settings. These studies primarily focused on adult level distance learning models (Terry, 2009; Grigorovici & Russill, 2002).
The latest trend in the e-learning environment is now taking place at the K-12 level. By 2001, over 25% of states in the United States had operational or planned state-sanctioned K-12 virtual schools in place. This figure represents only a fraction of all K-12 virtual offerings. State-sanctioned virtual schools are operated and financially supported by state-level governments. State virtual schools currently represent the leading option in distance education. College and university based virtual schools offer independent learning high school courses and video-based continuing education programs to K-12 online courses. Consortium cyber schools are national, multi-state, state-level, or regional in nature; these virtual offerings act as agents for outside provider chances or share courses among partners. Local education agency based virtual schools are created by local public schools and school districts. These schools serve to support and supplement alternative educational needs to the local population of students. Many schools utilize a hybrid model of both distance and face-to-face instruction. Virtual charter schools operate under state charters and are exempted from some state rules and regulations depending on charter specifics and charter school law. Private virtual schools make up a smaller portion of overall national offerings and primarily serve a large population of home-school students. Lastly, many for-profit companies have contributed an important job to the establishment of cyber school offerings, including creating courses, delivery platforms, curriculum, web development, and software applications (Terry, 2009).
Virtual education provides differentiated learning environments, exposure to advanced level technologies, flexible scheduling, and one-to-one teacher-student interaction. Additionally, virtual schools are being explored as a possible solution to the ever-growing achievement gap in American education. The new frontier in e-learning models now includes middle and even elementary level learners. These learning models incorporate the addition of a learning coach, usually a parent, to provide additional supervision and support for younger students.” Virtual education shares the common goal of increasing student achievement through best practice. Although the why is mutual, the how varies across models. (Terry, 2009; Kafai & Sutton, 1999)
According to a study (Cattagni and Farris, 2001), almost 100% of U.S. public schools have Internet connections and the student to computer (internet connected) percentage has increased to a portion of 3.8 to 1. Screenagers spend more time using the Internet than watching television and this new generation of pupils wants a new style of education. An education delivered in a channel to which they are habituated: the Internet (Rosendale, 2009).
The proliferation of the Internet has challenged the boundaries of education’s conventional methods of teaching and learning. Online education represents a vital response to the shortcomings of K-12 education and the need for reform. As a result, online learning continues to grow rapidly across the United States as an increasing number of students, educators, and policymakers realize the vast benefits of learning unconstrained by time and place. Many online programs were created in response to the need to transcend limitations of time and place and increase availability of courses to students in rural and urban schools. Virtual schools are increasing options for students, allowing for focus on student needs and supporting school reform and redesign efforts.
In K-12 education, online learning is an emerging but rapidly growing phenomenon. Emergence of online learning represents a convergence of several factors: the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the utilization of computers in instruction, the use of media to unite teacher and student at a distance, and the integration of technology into all aspects of education (El-Tigi, Lewis & Mac Entee, 1997). However, questions still remain about the educational needs best addressed through online learning as well as its impact on school improvement and learner outcomes.
Online education represents a crucially important response to the shortcomings of K-12 education and the need to reform. With the United States economy transitioning away from manufacturing and toward a greater percentage of knowledge-based jobs, 90% of the fastest growing jobs in the economy require a college degree and only 70% of all public high school students graduate, and only 32% of all students leave high school qualified to attend four-year colleges (Watson, 2007). In addition to helping address these shortcomings, online education can also facilitate mastery of essential 21st century skills by stressing self-directed learning, time management, and personal responsibility, along with technology literacy in a context of problem-solving and global awareness.
In 2004, many political and educational leaders realize that global trends are changing the nature of education. With the call for school reform being heard, several groups in America have recently identified school reform as a major and current priority. The US Department of Education has identified high school reform models that support student achievement, and has acknowledged small school size, scheduling choice, charter schools, career academies, early college initiatives, and student engagement as research-based models that contribute to improved student achievement.
The National Governor’s Association (NGA) formed a task force to study redesigning high schools in order to make them more relevant and rigorous to the lives of America’s students. The task force initiative responded to employers’ needs for more highly skilled and better-educated workers, suggesting that reforms include choices in high school programs and opportunities to earn college credit or professional credentials. The National Association of Secondary School Principals called for redesigning high schools that are more rigorous and personalized for American students. Each of the reform models offered and recommended by these groups is an example of a proven strength of online learning that is central to success in the new global economy. By providing scheduling flexibility, personalization, freedom from a large physical school, engaging tools of distance learning, opportunities to accelerate learning, and access to rigorous academic programs, virtual schools are not just important examples of school reform models, but online education may also represent the best hope for bringing high school reform quickly to large numbers of students (Barkley, 2010).
(To be Continued)