Virginia House Education Committee discusses high school virtual education requirements

Summit held at the University Monday, Tuesday to assess effectiveness of online courses

The Virginia House Education Committee held a summit at the Curry School of Education Monday and Tuesday to discuss topics which will arise at the 2016 General Assembly session. The primary focus of the summit was virtual education.

In 2012, a bill was signed into Virginia law which requires students to have at least one online course or educational experience before graduating high school. Last year the General Assembly passed a bill which set up a virtual education program.

The program put together an online school that students can access across the state. It gives students with health issues the resource to keep up with schooling and gives students the opportunity to access classes that their own school does not offer.

At the summit Tuesday, the House Education Committee reexamined the bill, named HB 324, because it was passed with a reenactment clause, meaning it will be brought up again in the next session.

Chairman of the House Education Committee, Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Weyers Cave) said the virtual learning requirement provides students the opportunity to acquire the skills they will need to succeed in an increasingly technology driven world.

“It provides an opportunity for students to learn how to utilize technology in an educational format that they may not be used to in a lecture or in the classroom,” Landes said. “It’s also important for a career moving forward that students have that access and understanding of how [technology] works.”

Virtual classrooms can help to narrow the gap of educational resources between students living in different areas of the state, Del. Richard Bell, R-Staunton, said.

“It’s a way to reach the child in rural southwestern Virginia and offer that child the same opportunities that a child in Fairfax, for instance, has,” Bell said.

Virtual education has grown over the past three years, Michael Craddock, lead teacher responsible for virtual learning in Albemarle County, said.

The county initially started three classes online, which were Health One, Health Two and Economics and Personal Finance in 2013 for high school students. 71 students enrolled in those classes. They added Physical Education One and Two to the online curriculum this year and there are now 568 students in online classes in Albemarle County.

Success in an online course comes down to time management because the pace the student can take is more flexible than the traditional classroom, Craddock said.

“What it really boils down to is how well that child manages their time,” Craddock said. “What we find is that children who are effective in managing their time find success in virtual learning.”

In Albemarle, students most often meet the virtual education requirement in the physical class of Health One through an online training around concussion management, Craddock said. Many students take required courses — like health — online to free up space in their schedule for electives and other courses they would rather take in the physical school.

Moving forward, Albemarle County is looking to strengthen the communication between students and their virtual teachers while still keeping the flexible format of online classes intact, Craddock said.

“We are looking to leverage some more real time technologies, while still being flexible with the timing and the pacing of the course,” Craddock said. “The children still have the choice in that, but will have access to the teacher and can communicate in that live format.”

Access and affordability will be important measures for the success of virtual education, Bell said.

“Access is a big part of the success of virtual education and so is affordability, and in some cases resources will have to be provided for students who could not otherwise afford to take virtual classes,” Bell said.

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