A Day in the Life of an Asynchronous Cyber School Student [A Student's Perspective]
Transitioning to a cyber charter school can be a significant change, and one that is undertaken for a variety of reasons. Some families choose this model for the quality of education: that’s why my parents chose PA Virtual for me. For others, it’s a solution for problems sometimes faced at brick and mortar schools, such as anxiety and bullying. Still others come to cyber charter schools because of the flexibility they offer.
At PA Virtual, there are two models of schooling: synchronous and asynchronous. Asynchronous is the model that provides the most flexibility, because students taking asynchronous courses complete their work for those classes during the time each day that works best for them. Instead of being in a math class at 8:10 every morning, math could be completed after dinner every night, or in the middle of the afternoon. Rather than having five hours of school to do in one sitting, families can break up those five hours across the day.
As a PA Virtual grad and proud alumni, I’d love to tell you about what school looks like when you take async courses. In elementary school, I had many asynchronous classes and I have fond memories of the work that I did.
Getting to School
Something that remains constant for students whether they have synchronous or asynchronous courses is logging into Blackboard every day. Blackboard is a website that functions like a brick and mortar building. Attendance is tracked through logging in, and any resources for school are available from Blackboard.
For async courses, students will find they follow the directive of that course’s teacher. The teacher will post instructions in their Blackboard course.
Regardless of when you’ll be doing your school during the day, you must log into Blackboard at the start of the school day for attendance. Another thing I’d recommend is checking your email. Significant information comes through email, and it’s important to read it so you can respond during your teacher’s hours.
For async courses, class doesn’t mean sitting at the computer and interacting in real time with the instructor. Class can be anywhere and can happen at any time.
You have an asynchronous teacher who provides directions specific to the course. It’s accessible through Blackboard and will direct you to other learning platforms that PA Virtual uses. One platform is the Online School. For example, your teacher's instructions might tell you to complete a lesson in a particular unit for your history class. You’d log into the Online School and work through the interactive lesson listed in the daily plan.
If you run into problems or need help with a lesson, you have your teacher to ask questions. They’re ready with resources and office hours.
Example of a weekly calendar for a current high school student who has an almost complete asynchronous schedule
When I took classes asynchronously, I liked to go outside and read in the grass. I’d spread out a blanket and have a stack of books. Often I did work at my desk, but sometimes I’d move my laptop to a different place in the house to write assignments. When my family drove two hours to visit Grandma, I’d usually have some schoolwork along with me.
Although asynchronous learning is flexible, students taking async courses complete all of their work according to the PA Department of Education standards. Whether a student is taking all asynchronous courses or a combination of synchronous and asynchronous courses, they are still required to complete a full school day of 5 to 5 ½ hours of academic work.
What does this look like? Well, if you’re a dancer, or a fencer, or involved in martial arts, you might do some schoolwork before you leave for your lessons and finish the rest when you get back. Other students have morning appointments, so they do all their work in the afternoon and evening. The time of day is entirely up to your family.
Even if a student is taking their core courses synchronously (in real time), they will still have one day of asynchronous work. On Fridays, there are no live classes at PA Virtual. This allows families and teachers to travel to outings, which are great socialization and education opportunities that the school offers.
As a student taking all async courses, the no-classes Friday policy doesn’t affect your work. However, all students are invited to Friday outings, so Fridays could look different than the rest of your week.
Attending outings on Fridays was one of my favorite parts of school at PA Virtual. My family picked outings that interested us and were within a reasonable driving distance.
While not required, they are definitely worth participating in. Depending on your schedule, and why you are choosing asynchronous classes for your education, attending outings might not always work out. But I’d encourage you to make the time if there is something you are interested in!
Why Choose Async Classes?
There are many reasons why the asynchronous classes work best for families. Some students succeed when working at their own pace. Other students have a variety of unconventional commitments that require the flexibility that PA Virtual offers.
For myself, in high school, I was a member of a robotics team. We had a small timeframe in which to build a robot every year. Many of the team members were homeschool and cyber school students! The flexibility allowed students to arrive earlier in the day for this unconventional education choice, while brick and mortar team members came in the evenings.
Whatever situation you and your family may be in, the flexibility of PA Virtual and asynchronous classes may be the solution that you are looking for. Being supported by knowledgeable teachers as you tackle your education during the hours that work for you is an amazing opportunity.
Can Async Prepare You for Brick and Mortar College Classes?
One concern that is frequently voiced about cyber school is the fear that it doesn’t prepare students to succeed in high school or college. This is especially voiced for asynchronous work, where students can choose to work on their own and at their own pace. In this situation students don’t collaborate directly with teachers for their classwork, which is unlike brick and mortar education.
As a student who took asynchronous classes and is succeeding in college, I disagree. Working at my own pace taught me time management, which has been an invaluable skill in both high school and college. Often, I will have homework of various difficulties due in every class throughout the week, as well as work responsibilities. My ability to organize my days and accomplish my work in chunks is rooted in my asynchronous work at PA Virtual. Students taking async courses learn how to use their time efficiently because they balance their work and usually some extracurricular activities.
Another skill I gained as a student taking async courses is independence. In college, I’ve found that professors have incredible variety in their teaching styles. Students are expected to take responsibility for their learning. We cannot passively receive—we have to take an active role in wrestling with material. Because I took classes asynchronously in grade school, I learned to not depend on the lectures of my teachers to learn. Instead, I learned to do everything in my power to understand and to reach out to those teachers if I needed additional help. In this way, the asynchronous option is one of the best preparations for success in college that students could have.
If you are a high school student and think cyber school might be a good fit for you, check out our blog post Should I Take High School Online?
If you are a parent looking for more information about virtual charter schools for grades k-12, you can check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA. This guide will answer your questions and help you decide whether your child would benefit from a cyber charter school.
About the Author: Alexis Dingeldein attended PA Virtual for all of grade school and graduated in 2017. During her time at PA Virtual, she wrote and self-published six novels. She is currently at Geneva College studying business and writing.