A small pilot study to test the effectiveness of a new type of virtual learning that some K12 districts are using has found that student motivation is the best indicator of success.
Pavel Samsonov, an associate professor of educational technology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, conducted the study using Skype, a free, Internet phone service that allows users to see the people with whom they are communicating—or in this case, the classroom and whiteboards. The study used three longterm homebound students in the Saint Mary Parish Schools in Centerville, La.
Samsonov says the study, "Leading a Horse to Water: Connecting Homebound Students to Their Classrooms Using Skype Technology," was only a starting point. He hopes to work with school administrators—including Steve Harris, director of special services at Saint Mary's schools, who provided the students' names—to get a federal grant for a larger study of up to 30 homebound students. "The main conclusion," says Samsonov, a Skype enthusiast, "is that the Skype technology can be effective in providing the homebound with an almost 'being there' opportunity to be involved in the classroom learning; however, motivation is the strongest factor of the effectiveness. Children need a push."
Skype administrators, who supported the project, agreed to buy three laptops with cameras for the initial three students. One student dropped out early because her mother didn't understand Skype and did not approve of it. The two students who remained were homebound due to complicated pregnancies. The project started in early 2008 and resumed in September 2009 and was used in English, social studies, science and math classes.
One of the students, a senior, said she would have had to drop out of school were it not for Skype. But the other student did not take it seriously, often failing to log on, Samsonov says. Among the solutions to counteract student apathy at home, he says, would be to have a contract co-signed by the parents mandating that their children log on and to involve homebound teachers to set up Skype for the students.