Whether you like it or not, the classroom dynamic is changing. High-speed internet connections have made the stuff of our dreams a reality. Virtual classrooms are popular and offer a services to students who otherwise cannot or do not wish to attend school in the traditional sense of the work
As online classrooms, or virtual classrooms, gain popularity, we have to ask ourselves questions like, “Is this the future of education across the board?”, “How can we best incorporate online learning with traditional school-based learning?”.
There’s online classes, then there are classes online.
Walnut Valley Unified is trying virtual teaching this semester in an interesting experiment that could foreshadow the future of education.
Math instructor Gary Dresser is teaching an Algebra II honors course at South Pointe Middle School. The extra class starts at the crack of dawn, running from 7:10 to 7:55 a.m. at the Walnut school.
When school officials offered the class to other Walnut students, a student from Suzanne Middle School asked to join the class. To keep him from being late every day at Suzanne, the district decided Eric Wang should become a virtual student. They set up a computer link for the eighth-grader with Dresser’s class.
“Streaming allows students who do not want to miss any instructional time at their home school to learn a curriculum that has not been offered at the middle school level until now,” said Suzanne Principal Les Ojeda in an e-mail.
So the first thing Dresser does every morning is fire up his laptop and connect with Google+ Hangouts. This allows the teacher to share real-time voice and video with his virtual student.
“When they told me about the virtual instruction, I thought it would be very interesting,” the enthusiastic teacher said during a virtual interview on his iPhone.
Dresser teaches the advanced class to students who have already completed Algebra I and geometry. The head of the math department at South Pointe, Dresser had taught the algebra course at Walnut High. Algebra II is usually taught in high school, but these kids didn’t want to wait.
So the 10 students get up bright and early. They’re joined online by their Suzanne classmate.
“I use a high resolution camera, document camera and virtual classroom software to talk to Eric,” Dresser explained in the FaceTime chat.
This advanced technology allows the Suzanne student to see, hear and participate in everything that happens in the South Pointe classroom. Eric’s image is projected on the screen in front of the classroom. The eighth-grader didn’t want to comment on the pilot program, but some of his classmates did.
“I think it’s very different from a regular classroom,” said 12-year-old Roy Chen in the virtual interview.
These students have grown up with technology, and a virtual presence doesn’t faze them. They’re used to interacting with friends and family online.
Still it took work to make the virtual class happen. Dresser thanked District Director Kenny Goodson and the technology department for putting the system together.
“This is a real-time online class,” South Pointe Principal Susan Arzola said. “This pilot class can grow into a much larger program in Walnut Valley. It’s an opportunity to expand our course offerings.”
A few years ago, parents could bring their middle school students to the high schools for classes during zero period, but that stopped. Their children may also take a sixth period class at the high schools, but that means they miss the end of the middle school day.
Virtual classes give families another option.