Online schools are an option for students that want or need to move away from traditional site-based schools. Students that attend online academies do so for a number of unique reasons. Sometimes students are behind academically and need to work at their own pace online while other students are ahead and seek the challenge of completing courses at a faster pace. Students who may have experienced bullying at brick and mortar schools may choose online learning, while others may be gifted athletes or artists that need the flexibility to learn at home. Still, a stigma is sometimes attached to online schools and the students who attend them.
We reached out to some online schools in Indiana to bust some common myths and misunderstandings about virtual schools.
Myth #1: Students never see their teachers.
While it’s true that students at online schools do not see their teachers as often as students at brick and mortar schools do, virtual schools use innovative technology to link students and educators. “We have a lot of virtual options,” says Rhonda Eshleman, Executive Director at Indiana Online Academy, an online high school course provider for the state of Indiana. “Teachers Skype with students, and there are different methods for students to see their teacher with a video option. They may not be in physical contact but they will be in virtual contact.”
Myth #2: Teachers at online schools are not as highly qualified as they are at traditional schools.
Parents may worry that teachers at online academies do not have the same qualifications as in traditional schools, but that’s just not the case says Jim Johnson, the Director of Student Services at Indiana University High School. “In our program, the teachers are state certified,” he says. Eshleman’s school is not a full-time virtual school; they are a course provider for the state, and all of their teachers are also teachers in the classroom that facilitate online courses outside of their regular brick and mortar teaching hours. “We have such a high demand for teaching positions that we can choose the best teachers,” she says.
Myth #3: Students never engage with other students.
Though some of the work is done independently, that depends on the course and the type of assignments given. “Some of our courses are interactive,” says Johnson. “Students comment on other students’ work or there will be online discussions under teacher supervision.” In many ways, this is not unlike the working world that kids will one day enter. “Our students collaborate virtually like employees do in the workplace,” Eshleman adds. At other online schools, such as Indiana Connections Academy, students can participate in field trips and social events to connect with each other in person.
Myth #4: Online school isn’t as rigorous as traditional schooling.
Online schools offer a variety of courses that can be as challenging as those provided by brick and mortar schools, including Advanced Placement classes. “Our courses are created by Indiana teachers and follow Indiana standards,” says Eshleman. “It’s the same type of content as the classroom, just delivered differently.”
Myth #5: Online students spend all day in front of a computer.
Though it’s true that students at virtual schools do spend time in front of the computer, they’re also reading books and doing projects away from the screen, like the “kitchen labs” that students at Indiana Online Academy participate in. “With online learning, there will be more content on a computer,” says Eshleman, “but it isn’t 100%.”
Myth #6: Online school is meant for students that have fallen behind academically.
This is one reason that students may choose online classes, but the reality is that there are many reasons that students enroll in virtual school. For example, some students choose to take online courses to get ahead or to take classes or electives that their schools don’t offer. “Some students are equestrians or on the ski team or on an athletic or artistic track where a regular brick and mortar school doesn’t work for them,” says Johnson. Eshleman adds, “We have students that are traveling – their parents are on sabbatical – they take courses with us to stay on track with their high schools.”
Myth #7: Online schools are expensive.
In Indiana, there are a number of free online public schools as well as private online schools. See the sidebar for a list of options.
Myth #8: Colleges don’t like degrees from online schools.
Though parents may worry that a degree from an online school won’t carry the weight of a traditional brick and mortar diploma, Johnson says, “Most of our students go on to college. There are a huge number of colleges that our students have been accepted to.”
Could an online academy be right for your student? Think about the pros and cons of virtual learning for your child, research available options and talk with families who are currently enrolled in an online school. If a traditional educational setting isn’t working for your student, an online option could be the environment where your child thrives.
Tuition-Free Online Public Schools in Indiana