Virtual Schooling in the K-12 sector
Lots of people are talking about the accelerating penetration of virtual platforms in the higher education sector. It’s of course unknown whether the massive open online course (MOOC) will be the vector that transforms traditional higher ed the way that so many other industries are being transformed by interconnectivity. But it seems clear that there will be some vector. (I got my first ad for a law school MOOC this week.)
Virtuality poses two basic challenges to higher education. The first is about pedagogy: What might be gained, and what lost, from shifting from a bricks-and-mortar learning environment to a virtual one? The second is about money and institutions: What happens to the business model of colleges and universities as virtual platforms become cheaper, easier to access, and increasingly popular?
Less discussed but potentially just as important is the penetration of virtuality into K-12 ed. Cyber-charter schools are becoming ubiquitous, enrolling tens of thousands of children. Several states have created virtual school districts. In Florida, I’m told, you cannot graduate from high school without taking at least one virtual course.
These developments raise many of the same kinds of questions as now face higher ed, although the details vary with context. The potential pedagogical costs and benefits of virtuality seem, if anything, especially substantial for younger students. And K-12 education is a business, no less so because 90% of services are provided by local government monopolists using public money. New technology will affect both public schools and their private competitors.
I would suggest, however, a third set of challenges that virtuality poses for K-12 schools. Much of our very extensive legal regulation of primary and secondary education, both constitutional and statutory, assumes a bricks-and-mortar educational model. The asynchronic. place-unbound, scaleable, and unbundled character of virtual education is going to require a significant rethink of the law of — to take just a few examples — educational equity, teacher and student speech, and school accountability.
I expect I’ll have more to say about this during my month’s visit here.