George Lucas Educational Foundation

Virtual High School: Education on Demand

A pioneering effort of the Hudson School District and the Concord Consortium of Massachusetts allows students from around the world to schedule classes at their convenience in subjects not offered at their local school. Read the article.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Virtual High School: Education on Demand (Transcript)

Narrator: While most of her fellow students are hitting the books at 10:00 A.M. Zoey McNealy is pursuing gold medal dreams. She can do much of her school work any time of the day or night thanks to the online offerings of Virtual High School.

Nancy Eddy: Zoey's been doing the VH classes since she was a freshman at Hudson High School, and it really made the schedule for her skating much better because the after-school skating ice is so much more crowded than the daytime skating ice so it allowed her to leave school during the day so that she could skate on an ice surface that didn't have 20 children skating on it.

Zoe McNealy: In tenth grade I took a writing class and a Holocaust class. And then this year I took Personal Finance and now I'm taking Honors Environmental Science. So I can log on anywhere that has Internet access so it allows me to either access the work at competitions or I can access it when I come home and get the work done that I missed without really missing anything.

Narrator: Virtual High School is a nonprofit collaborative of over 300 high schools in 26 states and 16 foreign countries that offers more than 150 high school courses over the Internet. Each participating school contributes a course to the mix.

Liz Pape: They agree to free up a teacher one period a day to teach a course online and VHS provides the training services for that classroom teacher to learn how to effectively teach online.

I think a really critical element of a good online course is the ability to build a community of learners in that course. We design our courses so that the students are engaged in online activities, they're engaged in online collaboration through group projects. These students are gaining the information and communication technology literacy skills that they're going to need, not only to do well in high school but to do well in college and to do well in the workforce.

Narrator: Virtual High School Cofounder Shelly Berman sees VHS as a way to take learning to the next level.

Shelly Berman: We've had a concept here that we wanted to provide opportunities for students to take advanced courses, to take specialized courses, to try to accelerate their learning whether they are having significant challenges in the classroom, or whether they're very advanced and can move rapidly through material.

Zubin Patel: This is almost like a textbook. All of my controls are here.

Narrator: For Zubin Patel VHS means taking advanced computer science courses like cryptography at home.

Zubin Patel: The VHS basically allows me to take these courses that aren't offered at school. It means extra work. It means staying up some nights until 3:00 in the morning doing readjust work but you have to do what you have to do.

Narrator: For special needs student Katherine Hoar, VHS means learning how to learn.

Katherine Hoar: I write slower than I talk like I think about it faster in my head than I write it. On a computer I type faster than can- I type fast so it gets all my ideas out faster that way and I can spellcheck and make sure my punctuation is correct and make sure that there isn't any missed words in a sentence because I notice I have a lot of that.

Narrator: For Hudson's Music Program Director, Jason Caron, VHS meant learning a new way of teaching. He took the virtual school's 15-week teacher training covering subjects like how to foster online discussions before developing his own VHS course in American Popular Music.

Jason Caron: The students get two compact discs with excerpts of music and they also get a videotape. Their job is to listen to that music or watch the video, and then discuss with their online classmates what they listened to and what they saw. The tone in our voice doesn't get transmitted over the Internet connection. So you have to have to be very careful with wording and really spell out your expectations and that's, you know, the hindrance I guess of being disconnected from the students physically. But a lot of it is quite the same too. You build collaborative projects, you do a lot of community building activities to try to find the sense of the class and the personality of the individuals in the class too.

Teacher: Yeah, you can click right up here and just drag that title out.

Narrator: The rigorous teacher training and engaging course designs seem to be paying off. The completion rate for VHS courses is 90 percent, and the VHS pass rate for advanced placement courses is 10 percent higher than the national average. But even Shelly Berman believes high schools must maintain a balance.

Shelly Berman: I don't believe you can have a completely virtual education. I don't think that we- it's appropriate for students to have all their courses virtually and I think the social environment of the high school is an important environment.

Narrator: For Zoey McNealy VHS offers the best of both worlds.

Zoe McNealy: It's almost what an actual class would offer you except you're able to do it on your own.

Nancy Eddy: The skating has opened up a world for her that is incredible and without the VHS class I really don't think we would have been able to do it. But I have come to the point where even if she stopped skating today, I would continue having her do those VHS classes. That's how much I really like her being able to do that.

Get Video
Embed Code Embed Help

You are welcome to embed this video, download it for personal use, or use it in a presentation for a conference, class, workshop, or free online course, so long as a prominent credit or link back to Edutopia is included. If you'd like more detailed information about Edutopia's allowed usages, please see the Licenses section of our Terms of Use.


Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Roberta Furger
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland
  • Blair Gershkow

Camera Crew:

  • Michael Mulvey
  • Ken Ellis


  • Kris Welch

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • Channel One Network
  • © 2005
  • The George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • All rights reserved.

Editor's Note: Since this video was produced in 2005, Virtual High School has grown to include 662 member schools in 32 U.S. states and 33 countries (including the U.S.). They also currently offer 336 individual course sections.

Visit our Schools That Work: Online Classes Personalize Teaching and Learning package for more resources.

Comments (2) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Zaheer Kidvai's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How does an overseas school or group of schools join up to be part of this system?

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.