Virtual Academy Overview
About Online Schools
For students enrolled in online schools, learning happens at home, on the road, or wherever an Internet connection can be found, although many of the lessons use offline materials and tools as well. Attendance, teacher interaction, and daily lessons are all conducted online.
In grades K-8, a certified or licensed teacher is assigned to each student. Teachers communicate through e-mail, telephone, or in online meetings, and in some cases, face to face. In high school, students are assigned a team of teachers, each one trained and experienced in one of the core subject areas. The family also receives boxes of materials, including a wide array of textbooks, CDs, videos, and hands-on materials. These materials complement online learning and the overall schooling experience, while catering to a variety of learning styles to maximize learning objectives. (Some things that would take up pages in a textbook can be taught better using an interactive animation, and vice versa.)
In grades K-8, the parent (or other responsible adult) works closely with the teacher to help facilitate progress through the daily lessons and modify the pace and schedule, according to the child’s needs. Each week, the parent receives a suggested lesson plan, which updates automatically as the child progresses. In high school, the student is expected to be accountable for his or her own time and schedule management and works in a more collaborative and syncopated manner with an online class of other students. The parent or learning coach still serves an important role of support.
While these schools enable truly individualized learning at a flexible pace and schedule (particularly K-8)—and accommodate a variety of learning styles—they also come with the structure and administrative support associated with traditional schools. These programs are full time, meaning that they replace a traditional classroom environment with a location that the family chooses.
The Parent's Role
The parent or other responsible adult role varies from K-8 to high school. In K-8, you as the parent (or other responsible adult), working in conjunction with the teacher, serve as a "learning coach" to your student, helping facilitate progress through the daily lessons and working to modify the pace and schedule according to your child's needs. The teacher communicates with you via e-mail, telephone, online Web meetings, or even face to face, in many cases. A suggested lesson plan is provided to you each week, which updates automatically as your child progresses. You can vary the lesson plan to accommodate your child's pace or abilities: for instance, some kids do better when they can concentrate their Math studies for longer hours per day but fewer days per week. Other parents use their children's favorite subject as a reward to give the child a break periodically from tougher subjects.
In high school, students are expected to be more accountable for their daily progress and time management. They have one subject-specific teacher for each subject. These teachers are responsible for reviewing all student work and providing instructional feedback. Teachers work together on a teaching team and employ a cooperative team-teaching approach. The student is expected to move at a more consistent pace with her or his "class," in each subject, though there is room for flexibility. The parent still plays an important supportive role to help the student stay on task and help ensure the student is following through on his or her assignments—but the student is expected to start managing his or her own time and scheduling more directly.
Working with Teachers
Although parents serve as the primary learning coach for their students and help manage their student's schedule, ensuring that work is completed at a reasonable pace, they are never alone in the education process.
An experienced K-8 teacher is assigned to each child and communicates with parents and students on a regular basis through e-mail, telephone, and online meetings. Teachers remain constantly involved: they monitor progress, ensure mastery, and develop specific intervention plans when a child is struggling, and manage all facets of the instructional experience.
High school courses are taught by teachers specifically experienced in their respective subjects. They grade students’ assignments and assessments, respond to student questions via e-mail or phone, conduct online tutorial sessions to reinforce difficult topics, and conduct online “office hours” to allow students to “drop in” with questions. With teachers nearby, parents don’t need to worry about having expertise in high school subjects.
Online Lessons.Each online lesson provides the roadmap for the entire lesson, including: direction to specific online and offline materials, online lesson content, and a summary of the major objectives for the lesson. Lessons utilize a combination of innovative technologies: flash animations and online interactivity, coordinated textbooks and hands-on materials, and individualized feedback to create an engaging, responsive, and highly effective curriculum. Each lesson also contains an online assessment to ensure that students have mastered the material and are ready to proceed to the next lesson, allowing them to work at their own pace. Pronunciation guides for key words and references to suggested additional resources, specific to each lesson and each student’s assessment, are also included.
Offline Learning Kits. Online school courses utilize a series of offline learning kits in conjunction with the online lessons to help maximize the effectiveness of the learning system. In addition to receiving access to online lessons through the Internet, each student receives a shipment of offline materials, including textbooks, art supplies, laboratory supplies (e.g. microscopes and scales), and other reference materials, which are incorporated throughout the online school’s curriculum.
Teachers’ Guides. Online school courses are typically paired with a teacher’s guide. Each guide outlines the course objectives, refers back to all of the course content that is contained in the online and offline course materials, includes answers and explanations to the exercises that the students complete, and contains suggestions for explaining difficult concepts to students.