Virtual Schooling at the K-12 Level: A Study of Curricular and Instructional Decision-making by Teachers
thesisposted on 20.06.2014, 00:00 by Dennis C. Federico
A study of the experiences of K-12 virtual teachers was conducted using a methodology derived from an email interviewing protocol previously developed by virtual ethnographers. Via email exchange, an initial series of qualitative survey questions were posed, with additional follow up questions posed based on the responses of individual participants. An interpretive approach to data analysis sought to identify and understand both individual and common experiences. Questions addressed working conditions, status, terms of employment, decision-making authority surrounding curricular and instructional decisions, and professional preparation and credentialing for virtual teaching and for curriculum design. Additional questions addressed the nature of interactions both in virtual classrooms and with other members of the virtual schooling community, including colleagues, administrators, and parents. Four (4) virtual teachers with experience teaching in seven (7) different virtual schools participated in the study; participants had a combined 80 years of experience serving as teachers in traditional, face-to-face, K-12 schools before becoming virtual teachers. Participants served virtual students in grades 3-12 in a variety of subject areas. Interpretive analysis revealed common experiences among participants. These included being treated as independent contractors working part-time under short-term contracts, feeling secure and satisfied in their positions, having the authority to design and modify the curriculum for the courses that they teach, relying on their own face-to-face teaching experience to make curricular decisions, and being evaluated based on the satisfaction of students and parents as customers. Questions were raised regarding whether the reported experiences would likely be typical as virtual schools scaled up to serve larger numbers of students, requiring larger numbers of teachers. Questions were also raised concerning the potential implications of the reported virtual teaching experiences for the future of schooling practices. These include questions concerning the future of the professional status of replaceable and outsource-able teachers, the future of pre-service professional preparation for virtual teaching, the future of common schooling experiences for all students, and the future of curriculum as a substitute for the decisions made by expert, professional teachers.