Virtual schools have lots of advantages -- ease of access, students learning at their own pace, flexibility with timing, extending education to hard-to-reach rural communities. But as someone who thrives on collaboration and working off the energy of others, I often wonder if it's too much a solitary experience for learners. How will important social skills be learned when a student is confined to a computer at home?
Michelle Davis's article in Edweek's discusses how online education companies are making socialization a priority. With Skype and other online tools, students can follow a teacher on a virtual board, ask questions, and answer multiple-choice questions in a "room" full of other students. Just like in traditional schools, students can also attend regularly scheduled social events and work on collaborative activities.
Many cyber schools regularly use social-networking tools in their online classes and are also moving to incorporate some face-to-face interaction into their classes. Those interactions often have an educational bent, such as field trips, but some are purely social—like proms and back-to-school picnics.
“Students realize they’re not isolated at their house,” said Shelley C. Dickey, a family-support coordinator for Agora Cyber Charter School, a 6,000-student K-12 school based in Wayne, Pa. “There’s a huge community out there.”
What's more, a (surprising) report shows that online learners might even have social advantages compared to their on-campus peers.
Cyber students were rated significantly higher by both parents and students themselves in various areas of social skills, though teacher ratings for those students did not differ significantly from those for students in traditional public schools. Problem behaviors among online students, as rated by the parents, teachers, and students themselves, were either significantly lower or not significantly different when compared with national norms.
But online schools are not for everyone, and for those who choose it, parents and students need to proactively look for social opportunities when they're offered, the article said.