Will the future of work be virtual was the title fo a link posted by a colleague of mine yesterday. While the article poses the question in the context of work, based on a construct of outsourced workers in a globalised context, I was intrigued by the title, thinking of the challenges faced in education, and how the response is increasingly leading us to think virtually (not that I believe the face-to-face and local context will disappear completely – we must stop thinking in binary terms in a digital world!). Rather, I think we will inevitably need to be thinking virtual with regards the future of education in order to sustain and achieve what we currently do or attempt to do in our local school contexts.
I had the privilege recently of hosting a colleague from the US, Michael Barbour, whose blog Virtual School Meanderings provides a continuous update on the development of virtual schooling in the US in particular, but internationally as well. Seems that in all jurisdictions school systems are embracing notions of virtual education to meet needs that aren't currently being addressed. This includes providing access to curriculum not provided for in the local school, making available remedial options for students who require them, forming innovative partnerships with business or tertiary providers, meeting the objectives set in IEPs, providing home schooling alternatives, and catering for the needs of returning students for instance.
In New Zealand the development of the Virtual Learning Network is set to escalate further, with the rollout of ultra-fast broadband providing opportunities for urban and rural schools to consider ways of sharing curriculum, resources, teaching skills and expertise etc.
Significantly, the issue of providing virtual access to learning has come into sharp focus for schools in Christchurch where I live (and have children at school) as students have lost many weeks of attendance at a physical school first through the earthquakes, and more recently because of snow forcing school closures. I was heartened earlier this week when I received a note from my son's high school to advise that the school would be closed because of snow – and included a reminder that he could continue with his learnig by accessing his course materials online via the school's website. this is all a part of the big picture of what I regard as virtual schooling – not a matter of "either-or", but a part of a fully integrated whole, that can provide options and alternatives to meet demand and circumstance.
My colleagues and I at CORE have been involved with the development of virtual schooling for some time now, and have included it in our ten trends as a significant area of development. The video above is the most recent of our Ten Trends series for 2011, and in it I explain what I see as the three key areas of opportunity for schools to explore in the virtual space (the three Ps):
- Programmes – the virtual learning that links with student learning in a formal sense – includes the provision of courses, modules, units of work etc, generally linked with assessment and with formal qualifications frameworks.
- Projects – includes the more spontaneous, special focus events and opportunities that may see students link with students in other parts of the world to explore a specific issue, or particpation in a virtual field trip etc. These may be a part of formal learning in the classroom, but will usually supplement or be embraced within the formal programme of learning provided there.
- Professional Learning – where teachers are able to look beyond what is provided within their own school, or local context, and can look to participating in professional learning opportunties that address the needs and concerns they have. Includes opportunities that are beginning to be explored for virtual whole school PL – with external facilitators using online environments to mentor and facilitate groups of staff.
These Ps are also included in the LCO handbook that is available online, providing advice and guidance to schools and clusters of schools that are beginning to plan for participation in the virtual learning world.