Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Technology - A Virtual First for Distance Learning: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Technology - A Virtual First for Distance Learning: News

Article excerpt

College aims to give home-based students a complete experience.

The rise of the internet and video calls has made distance learning easier than ever before. Now a group of tutors is developing plans for what has been billed as the world's first complete virtual college.

The proposed Virtual Sixth Form College would - pending approval from England's Department for Education - aim to replicate a traditional 16-18 college experience for hundreds of students across the country. The difference is that their classes would be watched on video, with both student and teacher working from the comfort of their own homes.

The concept of the virtual school is not a new one: the K12 for-profit organisation operates virtual charter schools covering most of the US. But the backers of the UK venture say they will provide a full educational experience, including pastoral support, which has not been offered elsewhere.

"The one thing that has been missing is that most forms of virtual education seem to have a lack of support for students," said Robert Ellis, one of the six distance-learning tutors behind the plans.

"There is no reason why pastoral support should be missed," he added. "We should provide as much support as a traditional college. I envisage it would be for the full spectrum of students, from those who would not be able to access a college in their area to those who, for medical reasons, would find it difficult to travel."

While the college would have a small physical site in the Midlands of England, which would host some administrative staff and occasional residential courses for students, all teaching and pastoral contact would be conducted using videoconferencing technology.

"In the US there are also both private and publicly funded online high schools (for students aged 14-18)," Mr Ellis said, "but these put a lot of reliance on resource-based independent work and do not seem to make much use of videoconferencing to produce a close and effective relationship between teacher and student. …

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