As of 2015, about 10,000 (and counting) students are enrolled in an online public school in Texas. As a passionate advocate for the numerous benefits that an online education provides, it’s very exciting to see so many young people taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities—like customized learning, flexible scheduling that allows for the pursuit of other interests, and the satisfaction of independently-driven study—that come with attending school in a virtual environment.
Undoubtedly, as interest in virtual schooling continues to grow, distance learning educators like myself will increasingly be confronted by parents asking two simple, but highly important questions: “How do I know if online school is right for my child? And if it is, how do I know which school to choose?” In this article, I offer a quick checklist that should prove helpful in facilitating a family discussion about whether or not to make the switch to virtual school, and what school to choose:
Do you have the right infrastructure?
As the parent of a potential online student, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is: “Do we have an adequate technology infrastructure in place in our home, and do we have the resources to maintain it?”
This means reliable wireless Internet connectivity and well-functioning desktop computers and mobile devices, along with the means to troubleshoot, repair and replace your technology infrastructure should something go wrong. It also means that you have technology that matches your online school’s requirements. At iUniversity Prep, for example, we require that students have:
It’s no secret that parental involvement in a child’s education usually translates into higher degrees of success in traditional school environments. In online school, this is true as well —but in an online environment, parental involvement is not just recommended, it’s required. The level of that involvement can vary, depending on your school’s policies and your child’s age, technology skills, and level of self-motivation.
At our virtual school, we require that each student have a designated “learning coach” to monitor, support, and encourage the student as he/she works towards their education goals. This person is usually a parent or guardian. However, in some cases it is an adult designated by the family who will be with the student throughout the day. You can find out more about the role of learning coach here.
Is my child excited by technology?
In order to have a positive online school experience, a student must be curious, or at least unafraid, of new ways to use technology. If your child is closed off to the notion that technology can be used for something besides games or texting, he/she will be more likely to start off struggling than a student who is technology-friendly. Parent comfort with technology is also important, as you will be supporting the student at home with basic computer questions and needs.
Is my child a self-manager?
Successful online students tend to be internally-motivated self-starters who are comfortable working on their own as well as in collaborative groups. They can also read independently, understand how to switch between tasks without losing focus, know how to stay on top of deadlines, and are capable of asking for help when they need it.
Does my child’s motivation match with the online school’s mission?
Think about what’s driving you/your child’s interest in switching to online school. Is it because your child is having trouble in her current school environment? Is it because your child isn’t stimulated enough by his current school option? Does your child need more of a self-paced schedule? Does your child have medical issues? Are you looking for a certain type of curriculum?
Not all virtual schools are alike in their purpose. So it’s very important that you compare your motivations for switching to online school to the mission of any school you’re considering. At iUniversityPrep, we’re an excellent fit for highly motivated college-bound who are comfortable working independently and who want a challenging curriculum delivered in a flexible, customized learning environment.
What are my child’s socialization needs?
Social interactions with other students can still happen in a distance learning environment, but it’s a decidedly different experience than the one you have in a bricks-and-mortar setting. Particularly if your child doesn’t already have built-in social opportunities through extra-curricular activities, you’ll want to evaluate an online school’s opportunities for both online and offline interaction and consider whether or not they’ll be sufficient to meet your child’s social needs.
The bottom line: Online school is a wonderfully enriching, opportunity-giving experience for many students. But it’s not the right choice for everyone, and it’s important to match the needs of the online student to the online school environment best designed to meet those needs.
If you’d like to know more, I invite you to call our school and visit with me or one of my staff members personally. We’ll be delighted to answer questions and give you a candid assessment of your child’s potential for online school success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Kaye Rogers received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a minor in Statistics from the University of North Texas. She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Tarleton State University. A life-long Texan, she has taught math and science in public schools and also in Spain. She has worked in public education for over 18 years where she is committed to innovation and choice for families. She has opened three choice schools and is currently the Director of Virtual Learning at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD where she oversees their state-wide virtual school and blended schools program.
iUniversity Prep provides college-prep, rigorous academics led by engaging and exemplary teachers who build relationships with and support each student. Learn more about iUniversity Prep and see if online learning is right for your child by visiting www.iuniversityprep.org or calling 817-305-4895.
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