Florida students are in for a surprise this semester. Over 7,000 pupils in Miami-Dade County Public School will be enrolled in a program in which core subjects are taken using only a computer. The January 18, 2011 edition of The New York Times reports that the "virtual classrooms, called e-learning labs, were put in place last August as a result of Florida's Class Size Reduction Amendment, passed in 2002. The amendment limits the number of students allowed in classrooms, but not in virtual labs."
Unfortunately, these e-learning labs came as a shock to students and their parents because, as the Times article goes on to report, "while most schools held an orientation about the program, some students and parents said they were not informed of the new class structure. Others said they were not given the option of choosing whether they wanted this type of instruction, and they voiced concern over the program's effectiveness."
These e-learning labs are nothing new, however. The online courses are provided by Florida Virtual School, which in the past supplied online classes for homeschooled and traditional students wanting to take extra courses. The learning platform for Florida Virtual School works in much the same way as for other online learning platforms: Students log on to a Web site to gain access to lessons, which consist mostly, as the article reports, "of text with some graphics, and they can call, email or text online instructors for help."
E-learning labs are catching on fast in classrooms as far away as India. The January 6, 2011 edition of The Hindu reports that even "as staunch experimentalists disbelieve it, the use of information and communication technologies to do a laboratory experiment independent of a student's location is fast becoming a reality. In short, virtual reality technologies are revolutionizing the educational system."
If e-learning labs are going to prove a vital element of future education, then students need education in the benefits of this type of instruction. Schools and universities must sponsor adequate orientations and provide ample information about how these new technologies can best be put to use.