Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Globalisation, Responsibility and Virtual Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Globalisation, Responsibility and Virtual Schools

Article excerpt

The intersection of globalisation and information technology influences ethical positions and notions of responsibility within businesses and in distance education for school students. As the spatial and temporal distance between student and teacher increases, and is mediated by computers, there have been changes to the ways in which individuals and groups are able to share responsibility for students' learning. Virtual schools can be seen as the most recent implementation of distance education modes which have used predecessor technologies to educate students for many years. This new learning environment prompts a reconsideration of accepted practices, including questions of how responsibility should be apportioned.

Key Words

educational responsibility

school responsibility

computer mediated communication


distance education

educational technology


We live in a globalised world where individuals draw cultural meanings and ethical values from electronic media and the Internet, as well as from traditional institutions. This is a world where geographic boundaries are proving malleable as information technology (IT) and markets interact across the world. It is an educational context in which Moore (1996) has noted that the power to communicate instantaneously across national borders is accompanied by uncritical assumptions about how we teach, and where, as Chareonwongsak (2002) observes, 'people have little time to understand and develop ethical stances' (p. 198).

The bankruptcy in the United States of Enron, and the charging of executives of WorldCom with fraud were events that indirectly arose from the interaction of globalisation and IT. The companies relied extensively on global computer-based systems for their operations, and the nature of the environment in which they operated may well have contributed to irresponsible or morally questionable practices. The medium through which profits are made fosters interconnectedness, a remapping of cultural understandings and a recalibration of accepted standards of behaviour.

There are similarities between the ethical concerns of the business world and some aspects of school education that go beyond coincidence. IT is a key component in both cases. Increasingly, schools are using IT regularly with their students, the Internet is used in classrooms to deliver subject content, and there are even virtual schools where students obtain an education from home via the World Wide Web.

There are now over 100 virtual schools in the United States alone (Clark, 2001), and additional examples can be identified in Canada and Australia. Definitions of virtual schools refer to breaking barriers of time and place (Mittelman, 2001), and the use of online computers to provide some or all of a student's education (Russell, 2004). The spatial and temporal distancing employed in virtual schools enables students to use their computers when and where it is convenient for them, rather than being subject to meeting at an agreed time in a school building. With this and some other variants of online schooling, the teacher is no longer physically present in the classroom with the students. When IT is used in these educational contexts, it promotes the replacement or modification of experiential learning based on direct teacher contact with a mediated equivalent. In doing so, it changes understandings of education, including notions of accountability and responsibility. The dilemmas emerging from the growth of virtual schools include the allocation of praise or blame for success or failure, and the challenge of reinterpreting accepted wisdom about the way in which that responsibility operates.

In this article, I discuss the nature of responsibility in virtual schooling environments. I trace the notion of responsibility in predecessor forms of distance education, including correspondence schools and schools of the air. …

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