Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Virtual Schools Click with San Diego Students

More and more students around the San Diego County are attending school in cyberspace. These virtual schools are in demand but they're also presenting a new set of challenges. In the last of the three

Virtual Schools Click with San Diego Students

(Photo: National University students work on class assignments at the school’s main tech center in Mira Mesa. Ana Tintocalis/KPBS )

More and more students around the San Diego County are attending school in cyberspace. These virtual schools are in demand but they're also presenting a new set of challenges. In the last of the three-part series Classroom 2.0 , KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis takes a closer look at these “schools without walls.”  


It’s seven in the morning and a group of high school students is scrabbling to get to class on time.

But imagine if all those students didn't physically have to go to class. Imagine if all they had to do is roll out of bed and log on to their computer.

For 17-year-old Micheal Sasnowski, that's a reality.

Sasnowski : I like it, it’s more fun because you can watch TV and do an assignment. Or eat breakfast and take my time and mosey over on to the computer and start my class.

Michael is one of 400 students enrolled at National University Virtual High School , a private school based in San Diego that's completely online. Most of its cyber students are in California, but some are in other states -- and some even in other countries.


Virtual School Facts & Figures
•Virtual schools served 700,000 students in the 2005-2006 school year -- mostly at the high school level.

•Current enrollment is double what it was in 2002, and that number is expected to increase rapidly.

•The majority of students learning on-line participate in “supplemental” virtual schooling programs sponsored by school districts, universities and state departments of education.

•Virtual programs fill curriculum gaps, providing Advanced Placement and other courses that are not available at local schools. These programs also help students make up credits for missed or failed classes.

•Full-time online education is offered to students through cyberschools – serving just a small portion of the students who learn online. In January 2007, research showed that in the U.S., 173 cyberschools served 92,325 students.

•The most popular model in online learning instruction is “blended learning,” which combines both online and face-to-face learning in the same course.

•Despite the growth and popularity of online schools, they remain highly controversial because of their non-traditional approach to learning, as well as their lack of general oversight and regulation.

(Information provided by: Education Sector Report/North American Council for Online Learning)

  • Micheal lives in Vista. He says so far he likes the online learning experience.

    Sasnowski : You're not always psyched for learning when you're going to school and you're not always ready, and you might be tired. But here you're like oh, I feel like kinda doing some school work right now, so I might as well do it.

    That flexibility is attracting more students than ever to enroll in virtual schools. In fact, research shows more than one million high school students are expected to enroll in at least one online course this school year.

    Nancy Rohland-Heinrich is the general manager of National University's Virtual High School.

    Rohland-Heinrich : Today's high school students are digital natives -- they've had internet access and using technology since literally they were toddlers, and so it comes very naturally for them. Unfortunately, most kids have only used tech and internet as a recreation tool so this provides them an opportunity to see that learning and education can be fun and interactive.

    Online learning is a multi-media experience, but there are practical reasons why students enroll. Many cyber schools offer advanced placement courses that some traditional schools either don't or can't offer. Cyber schools also allow students to study at their own pace, and they give kids an easy way to retake a course in which they may have done poorly at their traditional school.

    Kimberleigh Kopp is a teacher at National University's Virtual School. She says some kids and teachers just do better learning online.  

    Kopp : As an instructor in a traditional-style, bricks and mortar type classroom, you always have that kid who sits in the back of the classroom that doesn't say anything. And to me in an online environment it was really easy to engage that kid. And so I found a way to do that and it was powerful. I felt like I could give all my students one-on-one attention if they needed it, if they needed my individual attention, they had it.

    Many educators say they want to encourage online learning, but they worry virtual schools are springing up faster than the rules that govern them.

    For example the University of California just adopted a stricter policy that limits the types of Internet courses allowed on college transcripts because too many students were taking easy online classes or cutting corners in those classes.

    In Colorado, a state audit found some online charter schools didn't have licensed and qualified teachers or quality courses. In Kansas, some virtual schools claimed they had more students than they actually did to secure more state funding.

    San Diego School Board member Sheila Jackson says that's why she's skeptical when a group of educators want to establish a new virtual school in the area.

    Jackson : And I say a school without walls, so where do these students ever come together? How does this teacher interact with these students? Because there are no walls, we're not able to define who their students are. Are they citizens of U.S.? How can we confirm those students are real people?

    To address concerns like Jackson's, the online education industry is gearing up to police itself. The North American Council on Online Learning is set to release national standards for virtual schools. The standards are designed to ensure they have everything from certified teachers to rigorous courses. 

    Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.