The most ironic conference in the U.S. is arguably the Virtual School Symposium.
Its organizers and attendees promote online education and want more American students to be learning their school subjects over computers. Nonetheless, over 2,000 online educators, administrators and businesses felt the need to meet face-to-face in New Orleans for four days, starting Sunday.
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNacol) says it’s the largest gathering since they first started hosting the symposium seven years ago. Exhibitors–mostly companies trying to sell software to educators–ballooned to almost 90 vendors, 22 percent more than last year.
Of course, it’s another sign that interest in online education is booming. Even iNacol’s own staff has tripled this year.
This year the conference shifted its focus to using online curriculum inside traditional schools, what is often referred to as blended learning. One attendee, Rebecca Long, who runs the virtual school in the Spring Independent School District outside of Houston, Texas said she came to learn how she might use components of her online courses inside the district’s classrooms.
“I think we’ve hit the max of who we’re going to serve with full-time virtual schools,” said Megan Henry of the Arizona Virtual Academy. She said that pure virtual instruction is probably only for up to 4 percent of the student population. Most parents can’t stay home with their kids and many kids want more social interaction.
To reach more students, the Arizona Virtual Academy is opening drop-in centers and full-time sites for students to come to everyday and receive instruction from teachers as well as computers.
Susan Patrick, iNacol’s president and CEO, now says they’re representing “online and blended learning”.
I asked Patrick if the Virtual School Symposium itself will ever be virtual. “It’s something we talk about a lot,” Patrick said. “But there is value to face-to-face interaction.”
It seems, with the rising blended learning movement, that’s true for students and teachers too.