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Pros and Cons of Online High School Classes

Online courses in high school are causing much debate. Although many people are bucking the trend, those who have willingly taken online courses have found there are many benefits. However, with the integration of any new technology brings new concerns that need addressing. Although online courses may not be for everyone, they offer numerous perks that are typically limited with conventional schools.

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Pros and Cons of Online High School Classes While online classes are a part of many colleges, there is intense debate over whether they should be incorporated into high school education. The advocates of online education key in on the convenience, flexibility, self direction, cost savings, safety, creativity, pacing aspect and access to resources. Those opposed to online classes feel that online education is driven solely by budget cuts and the result is a cheaper education that has less guidance, lacks the social aspect, has accreditation issues and as a result, less beneficial to the students.

Others think that blended learning which combines virtual education and face-to-face instruction is the most effective route, but possibly not the most cost effective. A recent report by the United States Department of Education states that online learning “is one of the fastest growing trends in educational uses of technology” (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2010). The growth has been around 65% for the number of K-12 public schools that have enrolled in distance education and more than 1 million K-12 students have been estimated to take online courses in the 2007-08 school year (Means, et al. 2010).

This growth has fueled much debate on whether or not students gain as much from virtual learning as they do with face-to-face instruction with a teacher. According to the study by the U. S. Department of Education, they felt that the use of online courses in a K-12 setting needs to be examined further in order to better determine the effectiveness of online learning for a range of subjects as well as for a variety of students (Means, et al. , 2010). Just this past year in Florida, virtual classrooms were created in response to Florida’s Class Size Reduction Amendment.

Students in Miami walked into their precalculus class and found they were taking a class utilizing computers without a teacher (Herrera, 2011). The class had a facilitator to address technical problems and to track progress, but couldn’t offer guidance with the math itself. The school found a loophole around the class size amendment by offering the electronic learning lab (e-lab) which doesn’t limit the number of students allowed in the classroom. Many parents were upset because they received no notification of the new type of course their children were taking for a core subject and weren’t given any other options.

However, school administrators responded by saying they had to find a way to abide by the class size limits. Ms. Robins, the assistant principal of curriculum at Miami Beach High, said that the e-labs were required because “there’s no way to beat the class-size mandate without it” (Herrera, 2011). Under the class reduction amendment, prekindergarten (pre-k) through the third grade cannot have more than 18 students; in fourth through eighth grade, classes are limited to 22 students per teacher; in high school, for the core courses like math and English, the size is limited to 25 students (“Class Size,” 2002).

Some of the e-labs surpass the allowed numbers for core subjects with the simple loophole and have between 30 and 40 students in the class. Opponents favoring online courses think the typical brick and mortar schools can be limiting and bogged down with distractions. A typical class will teach the same material, at the same speed to a variety of different minds. With virtual learning, the pace can be customized to each individual student. If students struggle with a particular portion, they can immediately investigate the aspects that are confusing them and then resume the learning without interrupting another student.

Gifted students are no longer limited to the mediocre level of learning and slow learners are not ignored. Often times, typical classes are inundated with disciplinary issues or other disturbances that distract from actual instruction. Fewer teachers are needed for online classes to accomplish the same small class size effect. With virtual classes, the ease for which material can be plagiarized has brought a new concern. One particular example showcases a student who failed English in a conventional classroom and turned to an online class in hopes to earn the credit and still graduate.

When asked to define the meaning of a term, the student typed the question into a search engine and found an answer on Wikipedia (Gabriel, 2011). At that point, he simply copied and pasted the material and e-mailed the response to his teacher. The online teacher never caught that the student’s answer was copied from the internet. The teacher responded and said that although most students were diligent about completing the work, that plagiarism in the online classes was a problem for many students (Gabriel, 2011).

While plagiarism can still be an issue with conventional classrooms, teachers are able to personally get a feel for the material the student is grasping as well provide in class assignments and tests that gauge a student’s comprehension and learning. In a typical, non-virtual classroom – if a teacher is more than just a lecturer then the argument that computers can’t replace teachers is strengthened. An effective teacher can be a mentor, inspire the least motivated student to learn and spark creativity that a computer may not be able to do.

Think back to biology class and dissecting frogs or other organisms. Nothing can compare to the teacher who can inspire students to seek a higher education to impact society in the fields of medicine through a hands on course. Although there are software programs that offer virtual medicine and allow people to perform surgeries through the computer, most technology such as these are very costly and defeat the purpose of offering classes at a lower cost. A key benefit of virtual learning is the potential to reduce the gaps in achievement that are created within the rural, urban and suburban students.

Often, the best teachers tend to gravitate to the schools with the bigger budgets and greater opportunities. Since many urban and rural schools have difficulty offering the same academic options or as high of quality instruction as suburban schools, virtual classes could potentially reduce the gap that is created just through geography. Online learning can allow access to excellent teachers and academic offerings instead of tying it simply to where a student resides which often puts certain students at a disadvantage. The overriding factor that stands out in online education is the cost savings.

According to the Florida Tax Watch Center for Educational Performance and Accountability (2007), Florida’s Virtual School (FLVS) is the largest state run program that offers a full online schedule of courses. A recent study found that this school spent less approximately $1,500 less per student than a conventional public school (Florida Tax Watch, 2007). The operating costs are considerably less since virtual schools do not have buildings and the associated maintenance costs. They also do not have to provide transportation, an athletic program or operate a cafeteria.

Although the lack of some of these offerings dissuades some students, money is saved and can be funneled towards hiring the best teachers and compensating them for their ability and performance. It is evident that online schools are increasing in popularity and have shown that they can produce measureable results. Florida’s Virtual School had a little over 11,000 students in 2002 and topped 122,000 in 2010 (Florida Virtual School, 2011). When comparing the scores of FLVS students on Advanced Placement (AP) exams for 2004-2006, they scored considerably higher when compared to students in conventional schools.

The average AP score for traditional schools in 2004-05 was 2. 54 and FLVS students had an average of 2. 89 with the Florida state average coming in at 2. 61 (Florida Tax Watch, 2007). In 2005-06, FLVS students continued to improve and outscore their counterparts by scoring an average of 3. 05 on the AP exams with public school students scoring and average of 2. 49 while the state had an average of 2. 56. Also the results from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) were compared and FLVS students tested much better in all grades and categories (16%-36% higher) than students from traditional public schools (Florida Tax Watch 2007).

Although sometimes nothing can compare to a conscientious teacher who mentors and inspires many young students to learn and grow in a face to face scenario, it is hard to overlook the positive factors that make online courses attractive in a different manner. When funding becomes an issue and starts to affect the quality of education students are receiving, other methods need to be considered and evaluated. If online courses provides a measurable and positive results and an increase in available resources to the masses, they should be integrated into our education system.

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