The rise and rise of virtual schooling

The Volcanics eLearning Community provides students with "eTeachers" to enhance their long-distance learning.

The lessons combine video conferences, email, Google sites, Skype and text to give students a range of resources to enhance their communication and learning outcomes.

One school that has been making the most use out of this program is Tokoroa's Forest View High School.

The 2015 Volcanics community has 430 students studying one or more subjects, Sue Winters, the school’s “ePrincipal” told, adding that the community currently covers 17 schools.

Winters said that schools generally joined to utilise a wider range of programs and to improve their flexibility.

"Where there are teacher shortages in subjects we'll often have a lot of students, for example level 3 physics and level three calculus."

A ‘virtual school’ in Australia offering similar solutions to distance learning is Aurora College, based in NSW.

Sharing students with 49 schools across the state, Aurora links rural and remote students with the subjects they desire and allows them to collaborate over thousands of kilometres through the click of a button.

Aurora’s principal, Chris Robertson, told The Educator that his school is providing great teaching and inspired learning in a whole new context by allowing students to “connect locally and learn globally”.

“It’s a first for NSW, and we also make the claim that this is the first of its kind in Australia. There is a small program for gifted and talented students in Western Australia, but nothing of this scale,” Robertson said.

The Aurora principal said that collaboration - not just communication - between students is a fundamental element of virtual learning. 

“The one thing that we are very mindful of is that our school can’t be just a conduit for the passive delivery of content.

“The success of virtual learning schools across the world really hinges on taking kids from being online communicators to online collaborators.”