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Distance Learning


Virtual Schooling Keen on Green

Virtualization in schools is gaining more ground nationwide as more district leaders strive to reduce their carbon fooprint and save money. Some of the virtualization measures used in schools include having more online classes and professional training, green purchasing and disposal, and consolidating servers.

Such measures will help cut waste, pollution, and energy consumption in schools, experts said at a recent Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Web seminar on green computing trends.

CoSN’s Value of Investment Leadership Initiative, a new project designed to provide a method for the effective use of technology, was unveiled during the seminar. The program will support district leaders buying more recyclable computers with low toxins and thin client computers, as well as consolidating server space by combining several servers into one. Thin clients rely on a central server for processing activities, using just 20 percent of the energy needed for a computer that does its own processing on a hard drive, says Rich Kaestner, director of the initiative.

Because of high gas prices and carbon dioxide emissions, Kaestner says, “schools feel they need to cut back on field trips.” But instead of eliminating trips, CoSN’s project promotes virtual field trips which can be exciting lessons for students right in their own classrooms.

Jim Schul, a speaker at the seminar and chief information officer at the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) in Texas, which serves the county’s 26 districts, seeks to reduce transportation by altering class schedules—possibly to three days a week—or splitting students so only half attend school each day. So if the district with half the students needs to a new building for example, the district might get away with building a smaller school, which would use less energy and materials, than it would have built.

Online classes can also reduce the need for a school building and off er curriculum not traditionally provided by the school. Kaestner says district leaders may be wary of this kind of virtualization because they see it as counter to native course off erings, but he believes in its ability to introduce alternate learning approaches. “Some students don’t identify with the traditional style of standing-in-front-of-the-classroom teacher,” he says.

And the growth of digital two-way video, which allows teachers to be trained at their own location, and Internetbased training eliminates travel time and immerses the instructors in the teaching environment, Schul says.

Though virtual schooling is not always less expensive, Schul says one of its goals is to redirect money “from operation to instruction.” If 65 percent of a school’s budget is allocated for instruction, the school should do all it can to prevent building and maintenance costs from eating into that money. Kaestner says another goal of online ed is to create lifelong learners by promoting the belief that learning can happen outside the classroom and beyond the school years. —Ginny Marr


Online Ed “Set to Surge”

The authors of a new paper by the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank at Stanford University, predict that by 2019 half of courses in grades 9 through 12 will be delivered online.

Citing cost savings and the flexibility to tackle unmet needs in the traditional system, such as AP courses, the report says that online education is set to surge.

According to the North American Council for Online Learning, enrollment in online classes last year reached the 1 million mark, growing 22 times the level seen in 2000.