Category Archives: General

Virtual School Glossary

Virtual School Glossary

by Mark Sivy


During my dissertation writing process last year, I noted several terms associated with virtual schools that needed clear descriptions. The following terms are defined within the context of the study:

At-a-Distance – interaction between individuals occurring over a geographic or time separation, usually technology mediated.

Digital – technology that uses discrete values (binary code) to transmit and process data.

Distance Education – the use of teaching methods and media (whether audio, visual or digital technology) to produce learning when instructors and students are not physically present in the same location at the same time.

Distributed Leadership – at-a-distance leadership that is shared among multiple individuals.

Educational Technology – technology for teaching, learning, and academic support purposes. This can include instructional development and deployment, communication, visualization and social media technology.

E-Learning – electronically supported and mediated teaching and learning, usually being computer or web-based. It is not synonymous with online learning, which is rather a subset of e-learning.

Full-time Program – these virtual school programs provide courses to student who are enrolled primarily or only in the virtual school.

Home School – the physical school at which a student is an enrolled member. Associated with students who are usually taking one or two courses through a virtual school.

Instructional Technology – refers to the use of specific technologies that facilitate instruction.

Leader – an individual who inspires or influences an individual or group of individuals to accomplish common goals and tasks.

Online – a state of connectivity that exists via the Internet and that is accessed through a digital processor-based technology such as a computer or mobile device.

Online School Program – a program that provides supplemental courses to students who are enrolled full-time in a traditional school.

Online Education –a major subgroup of distance education that uses the Internet for teaching and learning.

Personalized Virtual Learning – developing curriculum and instruction for a virtual school that enables learners to progress at their own pace, within limitations and as gauged by mastery of learning objectives.

State-led Virtual Schools – virtual schools that are authorized by a state-level governing body that often structures the school, determines policy, and provides a financial model.

Technology-facilitated – using technology in a manner to help bring about a desired outcome.

Traditional School (brick and mortar school) – a school housed and operated within a physically constructed space.

Virtual – an existence or extension of existence that is created, simulated, presented, or experienced using interconnected computers via networks and related technologies.

Virtual Education – teaching and learning that occurs through interconnected computers via networks and related technologies.

Virtual School (cyber school, fully online charter school) – an educational organization that entirely offers its courses and services for students who are at-a-distance via the Internet using web-based content, tools and methods.

Web-based – that which uses the attributes and resources of the World Wide Web.

World Wide Web – the global system of interlinked hypertext documents that are accessed through the Internet and viewed using a web browser.


One of the greatest issues I’ve found during my recent career experiences and education is the great variety of uses and definitions of common terminology associated with online / virtual education. This can be a challenge in the United States, and is be even more of an issue internationally. With this awareness, misunderstandings can be kept to a minimum.

There are many other terms and phrases associated with virtual schooling. Additional resources for these can be found at:

Reflection Point – “You must learn to talk clearly. The jargon of scientific terminology which rolls off your tongues is mental garbage.”     ~Martin H Fischer


Virtual School Work Environment

Virtual Schools Have Unique Work Environments

by Mark Sivy

virtual schoolThis post content was taken from my dissertation study and findings surrounding virtual school leadership. What I found was that interview responses concerning the work environment were generally similar from one leader to the next. Differences in the findings were usually due to the number and type of staff and their geographic proximity to one another.

External Work Processes

There were multiple discussions of the leaders interacting with individuals outside their virtual school for the purpose of assuring the school’s operation and success. The most frequent reference was dealing with the school districts that the virtual school served. The leaders often found themselves in role of working with school principals or district administrators to set the foundation for smooth interactions between the schools. Occasionally a virtual school leader was involved with negotiating special arrangements being made with a specific school district in terms of course content or instruction.

Beyond this, there was a mix of external involvement. Many of the leaders worked with online service vendors and course content providers to ensure cost-effective, dependable, and user-friendly services and systems for the school. The leaders also mentioned their participation in a variety of committees and professional groups where they worked on behalf of their virtual school on common topics and solutions to issues and challenges.

virtual school leader

Internal Work Processes

The requirements for and purposes of these processes are similar to those within a traditional school, but how they are carried out can vary widely due to the virtual setting. Even though many processes have been touched upon throughout the other themes, the leaders did directly discuss others that are included in this section.

One ongoing responsibility for the leaders was to position the organization to be capable of dealing with problems, changes, and new trends. This involved establishing flexible strategic plans and adaptable school goals and objectives. The leaders commonly accomplished this through teamwork and other collaborative efforts within the school.

To facilitate internal school operations, the leaders used an assortment of online, face-to-face, and hybrid gatherings to bring the stakeholders or project teams together. Some of these were strictly planning meetings, certain ones served as progress checkpoints, and others were interactive work sessions. Unless an executive decision was needed, the leaders tended to let project managers, team leaders, and the teams organize themselves and lead the progress.

virtual team

Internal Work Structure

Each school had their unique organizational pattern and hierarchy, distribution of work responsibilities, and employee work locations. This was often determined by funding, state-level directives, and the leader’s discretion. The first two created limitations, but the latter gave the leader latitude in making organizational decisions and assignments.

The individual styles, characteristics, and choices of the leaders are what gave the schools their personality and culture. The sense of trust and confidence that the leaders had to place upon their staff, mainly as a result of having so many working at-a-distance, enabled the organizational structures to remain functional and intact.

Reflection Point – “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein

Virtual School Ecosystems

Virtual School Ecosystems

by Mark Sivy

Graduate GlobeWith my doctoral degree now complete, I have an added wealth of knowledge, research skills, and theoretical perspective that complements many years of practical experience in educational technology, e-learning, and educational leadership. It’s now time to pull all of of this together and put it to some good use.

As a way to share what I’ve learned and have yet to discover about virtual school ecosystems, I’ve created this blog. So what makes up these ecosystems? Well, it involves all of those interactive school components, such as operations, infrastructure, technology systems, learners, governance, communication, community, teams, and staff. Please keep in mind that even though I refer to virtual schools, the information presented in this blog applies to similar references such as cyber schools, online school programs, and virtual charter schools.

Since I have other interests related to virtual school ecosystems, I also decided to create these additional blogs:

Sailing Ship LRAt this point each blog will set sail in its own direction and take on a life of their own. The destinations are many, with several being charted and where going where the winds might blow. So now onward with these journeys…

Reflection Point – I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.  ~ First stanza of Sea Fever by John Masefield