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Embracing Virtual Learning to Ease Overcrowding

Educators in the Manchester school district in New Hampshire are scrambling to respond to outcries about overcrowded classrooms by considering the introduction of blended and virtual classes for students there, according to this article in the Union Leader.

As part of a district report titled "Maximizing Educational Opportunities," Manchester Superintendent Thomas Brennan suggests creating classrooms where students can take courses through the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School as well as in "remote classrooms" that allow students from any high school in the district to log in to any course being taught at a different high school. Students would also be able to take face-to-face classes through the University of New Hampshire-Manchester under the proposed plan.

The use of virtual education to solve problems is becoming increasingly common. Many school districts are turning to e-learning to provide teachers in hard-to-fill subjects as well as to provide access to low enrollment classes by consolidating students across schools in a blended or virtual learning environment. And the rise of blended learning in K-12 education has caught the attention of education leaders across the country as they look for new and different ways to offer better teaching and curriculum without spending a lot more money.

But some educators and policymakers caution school leaders not to rely too heavily on virtual education to solve problems since the research on its effectiveness remains mixed.

The Manchester district already has about 500 students participating in VLACS classes, according to Brennan's report, but he would like to increase the district's participation through the creation of blended learning labs, which Brennan proposes building in each of the district's three high schools. The projected cost for that would be $30,000 for hardware, for which Brennan suggests seeking corporate and nonprofit funding, and $43,500 to pay lab facilitators, which would come out of the district's general fund.

The remote classrooms would also be built in each of the district's three high schools, and the projected cost for them is $3,687 each. The report aims to create both the blended learning labs and the remote classrooms by Jan. 22, 2013, the beginning of the second semester.

Read more about schools' shift toward blended and virtual learning in Education Week's special e-learning reports, and in particular the most recent report titled "Evaluating What Works in Blended Learning."

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