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Virtual Schools

A Critical Analysis

What is a Virtual School?

As technology advances, new and improved inventions are developed to better serve the needs of society. On of the new emerging forms of technology are virtual schools. These schools use e-mail, online chats, internet resources and archived resources to teach courses. There are no classrooms, lectures, surprise quizzes, buses or even buildings. Virtual schools are a revolutionary new way to educate students and have been steadily increasing in popularity.

There are different ways virtual schools can operate, but the basics are all the same. Some virtual schools combine technology with more traditional methods, using text-book based curriculum or by conducting interactive online sessions that create a “virtual classroom” in which the teacher asks questions of the students and vice versa. E-mail and discussion boards are used for the submission of homework and assignments. Some virtual schools even include video conferencing, although those seem to be rare.

Why are Virtual Schools Popular?

Virtual schools have proven very popular with a variety of different students for a variety of reasons. For some students, a traditional five-day-a-week school is impractical, due to busy schedules. Not wanting to neglect their education, Hollywood actors, Olympic hopefuls and world travelers turn to online learning because it suits their busy life-style. There are also some who turn to online learning because they’ve been bullied by classmates, they are recovering from drugs or alcohol, they are chronically ill or they are going through any combination of personal problems. Students such as these do not flourish in a traditional classroom, where 25+ individuals are expected to conform to a strict curriculum.

Technology has made communication easier, as old correspondence courses relied more on the individual teaching themselves. Obviously there is a great deal of self-motivation involved in online learning, but if you are having problems with homework or assignments, the teacher is just an e-mail away.


Before delving into the specific ethical and moral implications of virtual schooling, it is important that we understand the different between the two words. While similar, they do have slightly different meanings.

Ethical (eth•i•cal) adj.

1. Of, relating to, or dealing with ethics.
2. Being in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession. See Synonyms at moral.
3. Of or relating to a drug dispensed solely on the prescription of a physician.

Moral (mor•al) adj.

1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.
2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson.
3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.
4. Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong: a moral obligation.
5. Having psychological rather than physical or tangible effects: a moral victory; moral support.
6. Based on strong likelihood or firm conviction, rather than on the actual evidence: a moral certainty.


1. The lesson or principle contained in or taught by a fable, a story, or an event.
2. A concisely expressed precept or general truth; a maxim.
3. morals Rules or habits of conduct, especially of sexual conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong: a person of loose morals; a decline in the public morals.

As you can see both do deal with the concepts of what is right and what is wrong. Obviously unlike when dealing with a math problem, the problems ethics and morals deal with are highly subjective in nature, meaning they are based on opinions. Since it deals with ethics and morals, the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of education and schools are subjective in nature.

Implications of Virtual Schools

Online education in homes and schools is still developing, and only has only begun to garner a substantial amount of support in recent years. Many feel that the increased use of online learning will affect students’ understandings and beliefs of the world. Since students’ perceptions have the possibility of being altered by technology use, inconsistency can arise between interpretations of what is important for students to know. It is important that educators recognize such concerns when planning future online schooling methods. One can be assured that such technology will continue to flourish due to the extent of globalization in the world. Globalization means all the people of the world are being brought closer together, usually through technology because it allows us to communicate more often and effectively.

In traditional schools, teachers, encouraged by the knowledge that many students find it motivating or sometimes due to pressure from parents and the school systems, use computer technology to teach students. However, computers are awkwardly situated within the education system because they reflect concepts of ‘flexibility and instantaneous access to information,’ as opposed to a world of timetable and bells.

Purely from a technical point of view it is possible to a teach skills and provide knowledge through online learning. By far the largest argument against online schooling is the fact that schools continue to be important places of socialization. This means that aside from learning academic knowledge, students gain valuable life experience when it comes to learning about such things as diversity. They also learn about co-operation through working in face-to-face situations with other students. Other concepts such as honesty, sharing, compassion and tolerance are reinforced through activities in the classroom and assemblies. Many feel that these traditional values are lost through online learning and that the Internet promotes inappropriate values instead. Critics of virtual learning worry about the lack of face-to-face interaction and how it could affect a child’s development. The largest fear is that early and prolonged usage of virtual schooling will seriously affect the social development of children.

There are also problems involving individual virtual schools who are for-profit institutions, meaning that there is the possibility that the money paid to these schools is not used for the appropriate things. Controversies have also arisen involving the curriculum of some online schools, as some of it has received bad reviews. One online school, the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA) uses K12 curriculum, even though a recent study conducted by the Education Policies Studies Laboratory found the curriculum to frequently be age-inappropriate. The curriculum was also found to be more focuses on memorization than developing concepts.

In the pre-Internet era, Marshal McLuhan argued that the media affects our perception without our knowledge of it. However, even then, the idea that technology can change the way people think or relate to each other was not new. As early as 1889, an anonymous writer contributed an article that criticized the way in which the electric telegraph reduced reflection and encouraged hasty conclusions.

The Big Controversy of Virtual Schooling

Aside from the controversy of the different curriculum and making a profit, virtual schools are controversial because they do not involve face-to-face interaction between teachers and students. This is where you need to ask yourself some questions about whether or not virtual schooling is “right.” Ask questions such as:

- Is it safe?

- How does it affect those involved?

- Is it ethical?

- Is it moral?

- Do students learn less, as much or more from virtual schools than traditional schools?

- Why is right/wrong? How?

One must also remember that when abused, even good things can become bad. For example, everyone would agree that chocolate is a good thing. However, too much chocolate is a bad thing because it can make you sick.

In my opinion, there is nothing morally or ethically wrong with the idea of virtual schooling. However, it should be done in moderation and only in the upper grades, unless there are special circumstances, so as not to hinder a child’s development at the younger, more impressionable ages. There are also needs to be laws to govern virtual schools to eliminate the possibility of for-profit institutions receiving public money and having faulty curriculum. I personally feel that there is more to school than receiving an academic education, as you gain valuable life experience through the interaction with people. I therefore feel that virtual schooling should be used a supplementary tool in enriching a student's education instead of the main tool.

E-mail comments, concerns, questions or suggestions to meganj@ldcsb.epals.com