This post part of a series of posts on personalized learning. SIIA is holding a symposium on personalized learning August 4-6 a the Harvard Club, in Boston, Massachusetts. Register now for the SIIA Educate to Innovate Symposium.

Students:

Andrew, at Aspire Academy, Idaho
Chester, Visions Academy, Houston
Edgar, Visions Academy, Houston
Toni, Chicago Virtual Charter School
Alyssa, Connections Academy
Sydney, VOISE Academy, Chicago
Rick, Connections Academy, Pennsylvania (learns from home)

Student Statements

This is just a run through of my notes. I will add context where needed, but most of these statements speak for themselves.

Does online learning help you with your strengths and weaknesses? Rick says, “I needed help with writing, and it works very well.”

What makes people choose one school over another? Or, choose to go to virtual school? Sydney, “As a general statement, when anyone esee the world laptop, they say ‘I want to go to that school.’ Besides that, I like it because it’s a new school. We were going into a new setting, nobody knew each other.”

How do laptops help you learn? Sydney: “It’s obvious that laptops and textbooks are two different things. Time is evoloving and so is technology. You can look up so much more. You can see more than what you are already given.”

Aaron, “We are able to check our grades 24/7. I can see what I scored immediately.”

Sydney, “When you have access to computers you can … check to see if you need help on assignments.” She talks about doing things of her own initiative. The benefit of having flexible time and not being bound to spend a certain number of hours per day helps her focus on her work and concentrate the bulk of her time on subjects she needs to improve.

Alyssa had a frustrating seventh grade, so virtual school answered some of those questions she had about how she could do better, and do better without surprises. “I felt like in a month or two the teachers knew me better than they had in a year with other teachers in the other school. There are no surprises [with grades].”

Andrew came from a public charter school, but was frustrated there with having to be bound by other people’s schedules. “Anytime you wanted to get in touch with a teacher..it was on their time.”

Toni points out that “We don’t have to wait for everybody to get along, to catch up or to get an understanding. We can do it on our own time.”

Someone asked what is the best kind of screen that helps the student do the work he or she is doing? What was interesting about the answers to this question was that all of the students had the same response. They are device neutral. It didn’t matter to them whether the screen was huge, small, on a mobile or on a netbook. They just wanted the work. If they couldn’t get access to the work, they also had, in all cases but one, I think, access to regular textbooks and a phone call with a teacher.

Then a teacher in the audience asked, How do students discuss the learning?

Alyssa pointed out that in the Connections Academy model, the screen contained chat box for students to communicate with each other and ask questions, or that the teacher plays a slide show. She assured people that having all of those students playing around on the Internet didn’t mean there was no structure to the lesson. “In the lesson, the teacher controls all of the settings.”

Most answers showed that the environment online is considerably the same as a bricks and mortar online environment, where collaboration, and teacher-led courses are the standard. What was student-led about the experience? Mostly it was the time they took, and the focus they gave to a part of their day. There were some complaints that the requirement for at least one or two live classes that are strictly managed by time was annoying. One student, Edgar, said that if you are not having a good day, it would be beneficial to request an alternative to that live class that day, and to make it up at another time with another class.

Students liked that you had a standard deadline, but often no requirement to do the work at a certain time each day. Your assessment and goals were at the end of the week. Andrew: “It’s all scheduled to be due at certain times. At the end of the week…you’ve all covered the same material.”

Rich: “Teachers call the house and ask questions about work that you just did, to make sure you are on track. If you need it, you can set up a tutoring session with the teacher.”

Edgar: “They are going to have to want to work. If you don’t want something, and if you don’t put all your mind into it, you are not going to make it.”

Andrew confesses that in a traditional school you “Can kind of push it off on someone else if you are working in a group.” He thinks online teaches you responsibility, and the self-reflection it offers you is not a distraction. It’s more of a motivation to get things done, so that you can interact with others when you come to your ideas.

What do you want to change? asked another audience member.

Edgar: “The live lessons; sometimes on one of the days of the week you are going to have a bad day and not want to work. Some people are going to tune out and they won’t listen. I would rather have the teachers face-to-face, and then work with the teacher, and have them help you with anything you need.”

Sydney: “One negative point when working with a laptop, when the computer messes up, you have to wait to get it fixed. Not used to working with textbooks.” And one student a few seats down from Sydney, named Toni, pointed out that the service provider for her virtual classes only gives one computer for each two children in a family. It means that she has to wait to have her sister get done with work sometimes to follow-through on her work. That can be a frustration for someone who is motivated to get their work done quickly.

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