When is Virtual Real Enough?
As an editor, it is in my nature to over-consider the meanings of words. (In fact,
I can hear some of you now asking, “Is
over-consider a word?”) So when it came time to
write about online learning for this issue’s target
topic, I had to stop and ponder all of the meanings, synonyms, and connotations of the terms
connected with online learning.
Back then, this was thought to be a radical way
to educate students. Prospective parents asked,
“How will my child get accepted to college?” and
“How will we know what his/her GPA is?” Turns
out colleges welcomed our graduates.
I created a wordle to help me brainstorm
about the topic. Though it didn’t appear larger
in the wordle, the term I kept stumbling on
was virtual. Merriam-Webster defines virtual
as “being such in essence or effect though not
formally recognized or admitted (e.g., a virtual
So when I hear the negative reactions to online
learning, I get annoyed. No matter how you define
it, accredit it, or label it, online learning is happening all around us. Students are getting a great
deal of their information and constructing their
learning in large part from what they do, see, read,
and hear online, whether in a formalized course, a
hybrid course, or a Google search.
That’s precisely where we are with online
learning as a concept. It’s not quite real somehow, at least not in many administrators’,
educators,’ or parents’ minds.
My high school experience, though radical for
its time, actually prepared me better for my work
life than my college experiences did by allowing
me to work in teams on a regular basis, to get
out of the classroom more frequently, and to be
responsible for documenting my own progress
When I was in high school in San Francisco
in the 1970s, I attended what then was a new
kind of school. We didn’t have regular 50-
minute classes, we had two “block” periods a
day of two-and-a-half hours each, and we took
the same two blocks for six weeks at a time,
which allowed us to explore a subject in some
depth. We did group projects, though it wasn’t
called project-based learning, and we did our
learning in and out of the classroom, though not
online. We also had no letter grades, just self-evaluations and those written about our work by
By Kate Conley
Let’s look at online learning not as a less-than-real form of education, but as one that has
the potential to expand learning and teaching
experiences far beyond the four walls of our
brick-and-mortar schools. Read how educators
in Alaska, Arkansas, and Maryland are already
doing this in “e-Learning Programs Come in All
Shapes and Sizes” by Shawn Coyle, Thea Jones,
and Shirley Kirk Pickle on page 12 and in Christine Greenhow’s Research Windows column,
“Are We There Yet? Changing Trends in Online
Learning and Internet Use,” on page 35.
Kate Conley is ISTE’s
and the editor of L&L.
Her first career was as
an English teacher in
the San Francisco Bay
Area. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and a bachelor’s
in English. Conley just
celebrated her 10-year
anniversary at ISTE.
September/October 2009 | Learning & Leading with Technology 5