Imagine a school without walls and completely online.  Students could log onto any web ready computer, and sign up to join classes.  They could interact via a moderated back channel chat and vote questions to the teacher up or down during live sessions and participate in forum discussions during asynchronous sessions.  Assignments would be handed in electronically, mostly through online individual student blogs.  Assessment of understanding would be tricky in such a system, I’m not totally clear how student work at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy would be assessed.  Perhaps peer assessment mixed with sample moderated by the teacher?

A number of these schools exist already all over the world but they all include one important barrier, registration.  Students have to enroll in the schools, and funding for the school is based on enrollment.  If anyone knows of a K to 12 school which is free for anyone to join and doesn’t require registration, please let me know.  I would like to see a school where anyone at all, anywhere, can join the school without an application requirement.  There might have to be some identity verification, if only to allow the school to comply with federal laws in most countries regarding sex offenders, but that would be it and such information would not be public knowledge.

The reason why I want such a school to be free of registration is because I suspect that there would be three distinct types of people interested in such a program.  The first would be high school students looking for an alternative to typical public school.  They might want to register in the program to receive official credit for their diploma.  Another group of students would be supplementing their education in a face to face to school with essentially free support in an online school.  The last group of people, who would probably want the most anonymity, would be the people coming back for a second chance to complete high school, the adult students.

The problems with creating such a school are not trivial.

1.  There is significant cost associated with such a school.  Each teacher involved needs to be paid for their time, and given that the teachers will both have to be experts in trouble shooting connectivity issues and their content area, they will likely cost more than the average teacher.  There’s no reason to run the school if the teaching isn’t excellent and the easiest way to do this is to hire the right people and keep them with the right salary.

2.  Finding the teachers themselves will be difficult.  How many teachers do you know who would substitute time in the classroom (or free time outside of it), have the technical expertise to assist students who are struggling to connect, know their content area well, AND are good teachers.  These are a lot of requirements that need to be met.

3.  Assessing student understanding in a meaningful way would have to be well thought out.  One of the most time-consuming tasks teachers have is assessing student understanding.  Obviously, in an online format, it would be easy to handle any of the lower level skills.  In fact you’d probably see these kids tested more often on the easy to test stuff, but figuring out ways to assess the more difficult to assess would require some work.

4.  Actually being connected live in such a way that everyone feels like they have an equal opportunity to participate would be extremely difficult. I recently participated in an Elluminate session using webcams for viewing the presenters, and the audio and video were awful, I quit after a couple of minutes.  Now, I’ve used Elluminate before successfully, so it was just the set up of these particular sessions.

5.  Becoming part of the school and connecting has requires vastly different access points.  We’d have students attending part-time from a public library to little 5 year old students who are just learning how to use a computer.  We’d have to differentiate the access to the system so that it was easy enough that anyone could participate.

Fortunately, I believe these problems have solutions and that if a team of dedicated teachers and administrators worked together, we could solve these problems.  Education is a right for everyone and it is our society’s responsibility to provide it.  Unfortunately, as we know, not everyone has the access to the high quality education we all desire for our children, so I think we should step forward and provide it.