Virtual Schools

A virtual school (AKA cyberschool) is an institution that essentially teaches courses through online methods. Plenty of schools offer online courses and degrees, but far fewer are totally virtual.

I see the term used more for schools at the secondary level. Many states have their own virtual school. I didn't really have any contact with a virtual school until I was contacted by an instructional technologist at one who wanted help doing training as they moved from Blackboard to Moodle. I asked Chris Shamburg for some background because I knew he did some teaching for NJeSchool. Chris told me, "It's an initiative for New Jersey kids who want more than their schools offer or who have special circumstances that keep them home bound. It offers a mix of traditional courses (e.g. Algebra, American History) and more niche offerings (e.g. HS English courses based on student podcasting, fanfiction, and writing college admission essays)."

NJeSchool is a virtual school in New Jersey as part of the Hudson County Schools of Technology, a county-wide school district serving the high school and adult populations. There is also the NJ Virtual School. Its classes are web-based and students can satisfy their high school requirements at anytime and from anywhere. They began offering courses in 2005. Course offerings at both schools are consistent with New Jersey State graduation requirements and aligned with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. All courses are taught by New Jersey State Certified instructors fully trained in online instruction. The NJVHS is modeled after the nationally recognized Florida Virtual School.

Virtual schools around the country and world offer different instructional and enrollment models. Instructional design ranges from fully independent self-paced courses, to more traditional semester teacher-facilitated courses. Class sizes range widely with small seminars of 15 and large lecture-hall styled courses of 200 students both being available.

As with online courses in higher ed, students interact with teachers and other students using course management systems like Blackboard or Moodle and sometimes with older tools (email, phone) that have largely fallen away in colleges.

Another example is the new Connecticut Virtual Learning Center which had its first term in January 2008 with 300+ of the state's public high school students taking online courses as supplemental options to their traditional classroom curricula. You can see their course listings at

42 states reported in 2007 some sort of virtual learning for their students, and there are at least 147 virtual charter schools operating in the U.S. They serve students who fallen behind, need more time to work, have dropped out of traditional classes for emotional, physical, or academic reasons, students who want enrichment and can't fit it into their schedules. Students are using IM, Skype, Twitter, Moodle and all the tools we use at the college level. These schools also encounter the same problems like training online instructors and dealing with the feeling of isolation that new online students often feel.



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