UPDATE on our online classes this year, for those of you who are considering this option for next school year.
Overall, we've had a good experience this year, and we'll probably repeat next year with a few more classes. Now that we know what works and what doesn't, hopefully our decisions will be made more intelligently and be the best use of our time and dollars.
As I've mentioned before, we worked with two different virtual schools this year, and they were about as different as they could possibly be. Each had strengths and weaknesses and we're glad for both experiences. In general, here are the pros and cons.
- If you need help with teaching, this is a way to get it without a trip in the van.
- The dress code is pretty lenient :-)
- Scheduling is easy with the larger schools. For all but the most obscure classes there are usually multiple "sections" each week, so you can pick the one that fits best with your other commitments. (But you have to stick with the same one each week.)
- Your kids will learn the meaning of deadlines, firmer ones than you may have in your homeschool.
- The standards are pretty exacting, but they're well delineated and give the kids a taste of what college requirements will be like.
- The instructors are very responsive by email.
- The students get to have some interaction by chat feature, but it's monitored so it doesn't get out of hand. There are also student forums for discussion of specific topics.
- It's a great option for middle and high school subjects in large families where the little ones are still requiring a lot of hands-on time from the parents.
- Your student will become aware quickly that you aren't the most "unreasonable" teacher on the planet :-)
- There's a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the course.
- Grades from outside entities, even a few, look good on a transcript.
- The variety of courses, especially from The Potter's School, is INCREDIBLE.
- The deadlines can be brutal. There is usually a 10% markdown for a late assignment, and this means even one minute past the deadline. Another 10% for the next day. While it's helpful to teaching kids about high standards, it can be hard on family life when there are crises or conflicts. PLAN AHEAD.
- The conferencing software is still VERY "buggy" and persnickety in which hardware it refuses to work with. At times I've pulled my hair out.
- I don't think there's enough audio work to make a foreign language class optimal. Doesn't mean it hasn't had some value, but this is one better taken in person, IMO. Latin would be the exception.
- If you miss a section, you can't sit in on another one the same week.
- It's expensive. Not much more than one of the co-ops we'd been involved in, but still a huge chunk of money for each class.
- There's a huge learning curve the first semester in how each instructor wants things submitted, formatted, etc. and requires a huge amount of parental input until the student is up to speed.
- Don't try an online class for a child younger than 12 (this was really a stretch, albeit a good one, for our 7th grader). And don't even consider it if your child isn't already a moderately proficient typist. Concentrate in 6th grade on keyboarding skills if it hasn't come naturally already.
- Make sure, well before the first class day, that everything, including audio, is working as it should be.
- Review what you know about your year. If you know you'll be on an extended vacation during the academic year or that your child will be spending several weeks with Grandma, don't try it this year. Missing two or three classes is deadly when they only meet once a week.
- Keep a copy of the syllabus for yourself and refer to it often. I made myself "tickler" reminders by email when major assignments and papers were going to be due. I forwarded these to the kids' email accounts so they'd be aware that *I* was aware it was coming up. (If you need help with something like this, contact me :-) )
- Get on good terms with the instructor early in the year (or before the year begins.) It pays off.
- I wouldn't try online classes, especially for more than one child, in a home with only one computer if there are other family members who need the computer for other uses.