As the number of K-12 students taking online classes increases, the need for research to identify best practices specific to the online classroom becomes greater. Michigan and Florida, along with other states, require most students to take an online course in order to graduate. Moreover, students are electing to enroll in virtual schools for all of their classes, whether those schools be in their district or in a charter school, public or private. The chances are that a teacher entering the field today will, at some point, have the opportunity or obligation to teach in an online setting. The value of a great teacher is established and makes the need for best practices more urgent.
For teachers already teaching online, it quickly becomes apparent that while a few classroom strategies transfer to the virtual classroom, many do not. The available literature on the topic of teaching online centers around either higher education settings or blended learning models. Some new research, though, has worked to identify the best methods virtual teachers can use to connect with students.
Increased student engagement in an online course increases the likelihood of student success and retention. The roles identified for increasing engagement in an online course are designing and organizing, facilitating discourse, instructing, nurturing, motivating, and monitoring. All of these practices increase the teacher’s presence in the online classroom, thereby increasing student engagement.
The first aspect, designing, and organizing varies by teacher, as many teachers use the curriculum they were given, and a few design their virtual lessons themselves. However, ensuring that the content is organized in a logical and consistent fashion aids the student in navigation and reduces frustration.
When selecting curriculum providers, teachers identified the need to modify the curriculum as a key need. The use of deadlines also helped to keep the courses organized. Finally, the use of audio or video assignments lessened the occurrence of plagiarism and cheating.
Next, facilitating discourse involved teachers who regularly check in on students and parents. This allows for problems to be addressed in a timely manner. Another key area of discourse was staff discourse, which was achieved using online faculty rooms.
Third, teachers reported more opportunities for one-on-one instruction in the virtual classroom and less repetition than they remembered in the traditional classroom. The use of one-on-one instruction was more efficient than either face-to-face classes or synchronous virtual meetings.
The nurturing aspect of engagement was achieved with what research subjects called a “shepherding” program, similar to Michigan’s required mentor contact. This interaction was most successful when promoted by the teacher and the mentor and involved not only academic help but relationship-building conversations as well.
Monitoring of student progress was achieved through data collected by the school’s LMS. Teachers also monitored within the one-on-one meetings, using verbal assessments to check for understanding.
Motivation remains the key to student engagement in the online classroom. Teachers used a combination of cheerleading and firm reminders to keep students engaged. Small rewards were also used. Third, public recognition was motivating for some students. Knowing the students well enough to know their preferred motivation was key.
Borup, J., Graham, C. R., & Drysdale, J. S. (2014). The nature of teacher engagement at an online high school. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(5), 793-806.
Petek, N., & Pope, N. G. (2016). The multidimensional impact of teachers on students
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