Around 7000 students in 54 Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida are studying in virtual classrooms called 'e-learning labs' where core subjects are taught entirely on computers in the physical presence of only one 'facilitator', reports The New York Times.
The online courses are provided by Florida Virtual School, which was so far known as an education provider for home-schooled students, or for those among school-going students who wanted to take extra courses. In August 2010, however, the courses were brought to these schools as part of the 'e-learning labs' program, launched to implement Florida's Class Size Reduction Amendment, passed in 2002. According to this law, schools cannot have more than 25 students learning core subjects in a classroom, but there were no such limits where online study was concerned.
Online courses from the Virtual School have traditionally provided lessons comprised only of text with some graphics, and the option of e-mailing or chatting with online instructors whenever students required help. However, in case of this particular program, the district schools have provided for lab facilitators, whom they train. Facilitators ensure that students progress through the courses and help them with technical issues.
Of course, both parents and academics also have some skepticism about the effectiveness of such education. Critics point to the inevitable standardization and assumptions of self motivation among students that such programs make. However, what has caused a higher degree of consternation among students and parents is the fact that the system pretty much seems to have been imposed on them. According to the report, many students just walked into the classroom to find themselves in this new structure and were never given the option to choose an alternative type of instruction.
But criticisms and doubts notwithstanding, the invasion of technology into every aspect of our lives has now expanded to school education in other parts of the world as well. Late last year, reports from the city of Daegu in South Korea revealed that students in several elementary schools there were learning English from 'robot teachers', using telepresence technology.
In fact, the Korean government plans to introduce robotic teaching assistants in 8000 pre-schools and kindergartens by 2013. Further away, in the Indian city of Mumbai, civic authorities are planning to teach students in all local municipal schools through satellite, reports one of the leading Indian television channels. The pilot run will reportedly begin in 2011 itself, with virtual tutorials and lectures for students who will be writing their school clearing exams this year.