setting up a virtual school
Setting Up a Virtual School

The steps required in setting up a virtual school, is a popular enquiry we often receive.

The pandemic is not the only thing that has influenced a move towards virtual schooling. Our youth are digital natives seeking alternative education pathways that better match their needs. Parents are also seeking different education plans and pathways for their children that match a different lifestyle, interests and this century. By definition we consider a virtual school to be a full-time program in which students are enrolled virtually and online to receive all or most of their content, instruction, and support through an online platform or instruction. We consider this to be very different to what some may describe as “online” or “blended” learning. Online or blended learning can in fact happen in both a “bricks and mortar” as well as a “virtual” campus. There has been a significant growth in online and blended learning for K–12 schools through both virtual and on school campuses. We know this topic is of huge interest to education investors. (Info about setting up a bricks and mortar school)

As with any shift or change in the way we traditionally deliver education, all stakeholders within your community —teachers, administrators, and families—must begin first with a thoughtful analysis then a comprehensive planning process that best determines how to meet the needs of students. It will require your very best plan for professional development, technological, leadership, and operational capabilities.

A comprehensive plan for setting up a virtual school needs to be detailed, strategic and different to that of a bricks and mortar model.

Train and Support Teachers…. Differently!

Administrators, teachers, mentors, and support staff will need a different type of orientation and training for virtual schooling. It is definitely not the same! Strategies for enrolling students, using data to monitor progress and achievement, helping students to set personal goals and become more independent as well as unique strategies for student engagement must be developed and systematised. The instructional model is different, learning management systems and platforms are unique and the pedagogy of virtual learning is a different paradigm. All of these factors are also harder to maintain and systems of quality assurance require more energy and commitment. Investment in teacher training is important.

Setting Up a Virtual School

The shift to working in a virtual environment requires teachers to think a little differently about how to build the culture they want with their students, in order to maximise achievement.

Monitoring Data and Using Systems

We monitor data in all educational contexts but doing so remotely requires a different plan. Attendance, academic progress and engagement must be tracked with a different degree of reliance on student information and management systems as well as learning management systems (LMS). We need to provide real- time access to many reporting mechanisms that will help us evaluate the success of students, teachers and the program. By creating high levels of access to credible data it empowers us and we can monitor individual students in a system that would otherwise have high risks of anonymity.

Technology Considerations for Setting Up a Virtual School

Obviously you will need to engage with a range of different technology systems, all designed to meet specific functions. These spaces are crowded and competitive so tread carefully and “buyer beware.” You will need good systems for communicating and messaging effectively, facilitating discussion, assessing learning, delivering lessons, and many other functions that although similar are very different for a virtual environment. Teachers need to have the tools and systems that can create virtual learning experiences that keep students engaged, interested and active.

Here are just a few of the key functions and systems you will need for a virtual school:

A Messaging Platform

It is important that you adopt a well-designed, highly effective messaging tool that will deliver on its promise to connect home and school. It will be used by teachers and administration for invaluable communication with students and parents. We also highly recommend that you consider multilingual or translation capabilities, especially when you are in an international environment. Tip: Check first to see if it can accept the characters and script required for languages such as Mandarin or Arabic.

Video Lesson Creation

It is important to have a well-designed screen and video recording system that facilitates teachers and students creating engaging content in an efficient manner. Platforms such as Tik Tok are now a viral medium for many young people. They will be comfortable and so should your teachers in creating meaningful and entertaining video content to be used in different modes of lesson delivery.

Student Portfolios

Frequently report cards are now replaced, in part, with electronic student portfolios. These systems are a powerful multimedia learning and communication product that demonstrates student progress over time in ways that a paper reports card with traditional grades cannot.

Learning and Classroom Management

This is where you are about to become inundated with a plethora of expensive products and systems with many promises and claims. Research carefully because this is an important foundation for your virtual school. You will need a platform that allows for teacher-monitored classroom communication. It should have basic tools that help teachers to be deeply connected with students in the learning process. You will need a learning management system (LMS) that offers a platform for rich and innovative learning as well as the capacity for collaborative learning experiences. Interaction and communication is even more important between students in a virtual school. Your teachers will need to develop creative , interactive tasks and assessments.

Lesson Planning, organisation and scheduling

Virtual schools need flexible and collaborative lesson planning. You will need to coordinate and create calendars and smaller virtual classroom or class sites that connect students with a time and a virtual space. Lesson planning that connects teacher instructions, resources and students virtually, must be seamless. You will create virtual spaces where students can collaborate, discuss and communicate around central topics. These will be spaces for expression and creativity, debate and a central communication forum connected to key content topics.

Assessment

Innovative assessment needs to support both formative and summative assessment while allowing for student collaboration and group activities. Assessment comes in many forms for the simplest quizzes and tests to shared documents and collaborative projects stored and accessed in one location. Blogs, small websites and other technology applications will not only make assessment meaningful but engaging and relevant.

Content Delivery

Interactive slideshow tools meet the needs of individuals students accessing core content as well as large class groups. Prerecorded videos, magazines, articles, e-textbooks and other modes allow teachers to adopt a “flipped classroom” approach to learning. Students can access content independently leaving normal class time for direct application, analysis and discussion.

Wellness and Wellbeing

We will naturally focus on student achievement as a “school” but there are other important ways to judge the overall health of a program. Student well being and wellness is harder to monitor virtually. Are some students engaged more than others? Are behaviours consistent or are we aware when changes signal challenges that might need intervention or different attention. Motivation, engagement, stress, commitment and balance are areas we need to monitor. Students have proven to need extra attention in regard to wellness and wellbeing. Mindfulness is a huge priority for all schools, but especially virtual schools.

Admin need to check in with teachers.Teachers need to check in with students. All stakeholders need to connect with each other.

Virtual School - Digital Native
Virtual School – Digital Native

Are staff well, but also, are they professionally balanced and satisfied? Are there some areas they want to develop and improve? Are they feeling supported, valued and being fuelled by professional discussions. Virtually schooling can be isolating. Healthy virtual schooling programs monitor all areas of wellness, wellbeing, progress and they make changes and adjust to meet the needs of teachers, students and families.

We are Teaching Digital Natives

Today’s young people are very different to their parents and grand parents generations. They lead very connected and networked lives. Children engage with media very early in life and it begins when they can look at a screen. Nearly 98 percent of children age 8 and under live in a home with a mobile device and a television, and 42 percent of kids now have their own tablet devices (Rideout, 2017). Children aged 5 to 8 spend an average of nearly three hours per day using screen media, with one hour of that time on mobile devices (Rideout, 2017). Though television still dominates screen time for younger children, younger people use mobile devices to play games, engage with apps, read books, and watch videos, TV shows, and movies (Rideout, 2017).

Children aged 8 to 12 spend an average of six hours per day using entertainment media, and this increases to nine hours a day for 13- to 18-year-olds (Rideout, 2015). By the time they’re teenagers , 95 percent of children will have their own mobile devices and will, on average, spend almost nine hours a day texting, playing games, posting to social media, watching videos, and more (Rideout & Robb, 2018). As tweens and teens move into the middle and high school years, they have ongoing, 24/7 access to friends and peers via apps and mobile devices, with 45 percent of teens saying they are online “almost constantly” (Anderson & Jiang, 2018).

As young people and adults navigate the digital world, they increasingly face dilemmas and sticky situations that lack clear-cut right or wrong answers, such as “How much communication with friends is too much?,” “What is the boundary between being authentic and oversharing?,” and “If someone posts an offensive comment on social media, should I leverage the technology at my fingertips to call them out publicly, even if it might damage my reputation?” Digital life is here to stay, and supporting young people requires more than simply managing screen time and setting strong passwords. We believe that preparing young people to leverage the positive potentials, navigate the challenges, and manage thorny dilemmas is our best way forward as educators. Doing so requires reexamining what and how we teach.

Defining Success in a Virtual School

  • Do students show up on time for all live and virtual sessions?
  • Are students interacting with the material teachers provide in a meaningful way?
  • Does student work reflect the core objectives and goals in all year level units, programs and courses?
  • Are students communicating with teachers and other students regularly, in meaningful ways that support academic goals?
  • Are students anonymous or clearly connected, tracked, supported and on their correct path to success?
  • Students get great results and achieve high academic standards.

Accreditation and Licensing

There is no simple answer that matches every location when as it relates to virtual schooling, accreditation and licensing. Although in theory, location is not relevant as your school is virtual, in truth you need a base location to register as a school and a business. It might be fair to say that many, or most, traditional K-12 examination or curriculum groups are still grappling with this logistics of this matter.

  1. Local License: In most cases schools will require local licensing through an education ministry and the endorsement and support from several government departments. This can be tricky and requires thorough planning and attention to detail. Some countries require a “bricks and mortar” school to be registered even if the school is delivering programs virtually, in order to meet their guidelines.
  2. International Curriculum: Use of an international curriculum requires programs to meet standards that will be checked and monitored by a governing body. Mosts of these traditional K-12 providers are still catching up with, creating models and grappling with ways to meet their own accountabilities in a virtual model. (We can guide you through strategies to achieve this)
  3. School Accreditation: A school might choose to pursue external accreditation as a way to validate quality. There are many to choose from and most include an external inspection against set standards.

If you want to learn more about the steps required to set up a school check out some of our other articles:

Steps to Setting Up a New School

10 Steps and Articles on How to Set Up a New School

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CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

Greg Parry

Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

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www.gsineducation.com

Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.

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