The new frontier of online learning will look a little differently this fall.
No longer will teachers juggle a smattering of in-person pupils while trying to Zoom in students learning from home computers. Now the line will be more divided between the two.
Most students will be heading back to the classroom. A small fraction will remain with a remote learning model.
Here is what is being offered in South Florida in terms of online instruction:
Miami-Dade Virtual School
In Miami-Dade, remote learning won’t be a repeat of the pandemic online model, where students logged in for live classes all day, said Dr. Sylvia Diaz, chief of academics for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“We are losing that kind of model,” she said. “It’s not going to be a model where every period, every hour, they are going to be required to have a live meeting with a teacher.”
Miami-Dade has offered online instruction since 2009, when it opened Miami-Dade Online Academy, largely to serve home-schooled students like those who competed in athletics and arts events and required travel and time away from class.
This fall, it will open Miami-Dade Virtual School, a franchise of Florida Virtual School, which was established in 1997. Miami-Dade Virtual will use Florida Virtual School’s content with Miami-Dade’s teachers, Diaz said. Students will be able to access online class instruction and assignments 24/7.
“Florida Virtual’s model and its virtual instruction programs are largely asynchronous, so for the most part (students) set their own pace,” she said.
Elementary students do that with the help of their parents, figuring out how to move through the content and at what speed. Though much of the content is made up of videos and lessons that can be watched anytime, there are opportunities for live instruction and discussion-based assessments with teachers as well, Diaz said.
With the new model, Diaz said she is unable to predict what percentage would be prerecorded lessons and what percentage would be live interaction.
“It’s going to vary by age, grade and subject area, with a little bit more adult contact, teacher contact and teacher interaction than they might have in a typical virtual model,” she said.
Though students can work independently anytime day or night, they also will be able to connect with a teacher via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, email or phone at times during regular school hours.
Parents also will play an important role.
“You want parents to be monitoring kids. You’ve got the teacher at one end who’s monitoring, who’s looking to see that kids are working through the content, completing assignments and showing up when there’s a live meeting,” Diaz said. “The parents also need to be monitoring, with the level of monitoring varying depending on age.”
One of the challenges of online learning for teachers is the difficulty in gauging student understanding because the child is not right in front of them. They can’t read expressions or tell how long it takes a student to complete a math problem, Diaz said.
“Having parents that are involved, monitoring their kids, helping their kids advocate for themselves or advocating for their children is really important,” she said.
The kind of student who performs best with online learning is a mixed bag. Some are kids who are uncomfortable in a social setting. Some are kids who do not thrive in a traditional school setting but want to work independently.
“There is a lot of variation,” Diaz said.
At the start of the 2020-21 school year, Miami-Dade’s online school suffered a number of technical setbacks related to its online platform, cyberattacks and technical glitches that knocked both teachers and students off the site, and lost lesson plans and completed work. Diaz says she doesn’t anticipate the same problems this year.
“That problem was when the whole district was attempting to use the K12 platform. ... This is Miami-Dade Virtual, and the new program is going to be on a different platform ... and we just don’t have that many students right at this point who are going to be participating.”
Miami-Dade Online Academy has between 350 and 400 kids enrolled and its enrollment has closed. Miami-Dade Virtual School has about 200 enrolled, with about 10 to 15 new enrollees every week, Diaz said. Enrollment for Miami-Dade Virtual ends 10 days after the semester starts.
“This is another virtual option,” Diaz said. “It’s one that will be taught by district teachers and give parents another choice.”
For information, visit mdvs.dadeschools.net.
Broward Virtual School
Broward Virtual School has existed since 2001, when it became the state’s first school district to partner with Florida Virtual School.
The county uses Florida Virtual’s content with its own staff of 80 local teachers.
Broward Virtual is based inside Coconut Creek High School. Christopher McGuire has been principal for nearly 16 years.
While the pandemic ushered in an era of online learning that consisted of in-class teachers video-conferencing in at-home students, Broward Virtual is altogether different, said Daniel Gohl, chief academic officer, Broward County Public Schools.
“It requires a separate application process and it becomes the school of record for students who attend it,” he said.
Broward Virtual students do not log into real-time classes and sit at a computer all day during typical school hours. Because Florida Virtual’s content is asynchronous, students are free to complete assignments whenever and wherever they choose, though there are check-ins and deadlines that must be met on a timely basis, McGuire said.
“Students have access to their courses 24 hours, 7 days a week, with points along the way where they connect with their teachers for discussion-based assessments or live lessons,” he said.
“Our students are given weekly goals to have specific assignments turned in by the end of the week. If they need assistance from their teachers, they can schedule appointments, call, email or Zoom to connect with them directly.”
Content is delivered through videos, text and assignments that prompt the students to produce written content such as a Word document, PowerPoint or presentation. Teachers are able to schedule live sessions to demonstrate concepts that are better taught visually, such as geometric proofs, McGuire said. Students also can work ahead of pace.
“Parents are part of the process every step of the way. They aren’t expected to do any kind of teaching ... but if their (elementary and middle school-age) children are going to be home, we have the obligation to make sure that, number one, they’re going to be supervised,” McGuire said.
“We have a rule at the middle school level: If parents are just going to leave their children at home because they have to go to work, this isn’t the right place because there’s just too many distractions for kids.”
Broward County had some brief technical glitches for online learning at the start of both semesters during the 2020-21 school year, when nearly 200,000 students tried to log on simultaneously, but administrators don’t anticipate the same problems this fall.
“We do not anticipate any technology difficulties at all,” Gohl said.
Broward Virtual’s enrollment for its full-time program was about 900 at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. McGuire said he had received about 700 new applications through mid-July for the upcoming school year. He attributes the increased interest to pandemic concerns.
“I anticipate some growth because the e-learning options in the schools will no longer be available in our traditional school,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re all going to register, because the dynamics of the pandemic are changing every day.”
Enrollment for grades K-5 ended July 18. Enrollment for grades 6-12 ends Aug. 31. For information, visit bved.net.
Florida Virtual School
Floria Virtual also offers its own full-time program, with its own teaching staff, who connect with students and parents via phone, email, text and video. For information, visit flvs.net.
The difference in the state’s program and going through the local county’s virtual school is local support, McGuire said.
At Broward Virtual, for example, students can engage with other students face-to-face at monthly academic seminars at its school building located inside Coconut Creek High School, he said. In-person meetings can be held with parents, students can meet with teachers at periodic points, and in-person extracurricular clubs like Key Club and National Honor Society are available.
“It’s a virtual concept enhanced with local support, local collaboration, with lots of face-to-face activities built in along the way,” McGuire said.
Virtual schools’ contact information
For information on full-time online learning for the 2021-22 school year:
Broward Virtual School: bved.net or 754-321-6050
Florida Virtual School: flvs.net or 800-374-1430