Teaching in an Online or Blended Classroom
The Teacher Perspective
Teaching in a blended environment or online virtual school is significantly different from teaching in a face-to-face environment. Like the physical classroom, instructional planning is vitally important in online teaching, as all aspects of the curriculum, assessments, and deadlines must be prepared before the start of the course. However, the biggest difference is that teaching emphasis shifts away from a teacher-centered to a student-centered delivery model.
For the online classroom, a Learning Management System (LMS) serves as the learning environment. The blended teacher will usually report to a brick-and-mortar school, in addition to utilizing an LMS for online interaction. The LMS hosts all curricular content for the course, including subject matter text, multimedia content, lessons, tests, and discussions. Think of the LMS as a combined classroom, textbook and testing center. In many cases, an online or blended teacher can personalize their "classroom" by including images and graphics that highlight the subject matter. The teacher can use audio and video announcements and instructions to provide a personal connection to the students. Students submit work electronically allowing for ease of revision. Tests can be created from large banks of questions that can be randomized. Authentic performance-based assessments are submitted digitally in the form of word processing documents, presentations, spreadsheets, audios, videos, and/or hyperlinks to Web 2.0 tools.
Online teachers have the opportunity to interact frequently with students in an online environment. Bob Hiles, an online teacher from Corona del Mar High School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District says, "One of the great things about online learning is that you are afforded the time to get to know the students. With the time constraints of a traditional high school day, the environment lends itself to the students who are outgoing or are willing to ask questions. Like the 'squeaky wheel,' those are the students who typically get the attention. But the online environment breaks down those walls. The teacher interacts with all students through grading comments and class discussions. Kids who may never say a word in a traditional classroom will open up in the online environment and post discussion comments they would never say in a face-to-face classroom. It is basically impossible to tell the quiet and shy kids from the extroverted ones." When the emphasis of teaching switches from "sage on the stage" instruction to one-on-one interaction with students, teachers have the opportunity to know their students better and the type of work they can produce.
Teaching online can be much more student-centered than a traditional classroom. The course curriculum is comprised of project-based lessons, reflective writing assignments, and threaded discussions. Therefore, the teacher spends the majority of their time interacting with student-generated work. The Florida Virtual School practices an instructional model where students can correct and resubmit all assignments for full credit. In this setting, the teacher provides feedback via grading comments. The student learns the material within an encouraging and supportive environment.
Teachers comment that student work submitted online is often of better quality than in a face-to-face environment. Based on anecdotal experience, teachers usually attribute this to students' ability to work at times that are most convenient to them, at a time of their preference beyond traditional school hours. Without a bell schedule to segment student learning, online students have the opportunity to take the time necessary to complete assignments. There is potential for a more productive learning environment and better student results.
In addition to digital versions of the curriculum, online teachers also provide a variety of links to primary sources, podcasts, videos, interactive web sites, and other dynamic content. Often, there is no hardbound text. Students have the vast resources of the Internet to use for research and expanding their understanding. Information can also be presented in multiple formats, offering students a choice in its delivery. "The online teacher has more tools at their fingertips to use extra materials from the Internet to either feed a student's enthusiasm for a topic or reinforce material." [Ash, K. (2010). E-Learning in All Shapes and Sizes, EdWeek, 29, (30), 13.]
One online advantage is that choices can be given to students, providing a level of personalized instruction that is difficult to replicate in a traditional classroom. For example, a lesson on Black History Month might require students to study Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Students could independently choose to read, hear, or watch the speech, based on their preference. With class time being finite, classroom teachers are often limited to one delivery mode, though it might not optimum for all students.
Time and Organization
Organization is extremely important to the success of an online teacher. Assignments should be graded in a timely manner and discussion boards must be continually screened. Students should ideally receive feedback within 24 hours. Student progress must be monitored and interventions scheduled, when needed. This requires the teacher to schedule daily time appropriately. You may be interested in this article, "Time Management Strategies for Online Teaching," by Min Shi, Curtis J. Bonk, and Richard J. Magjuka.
Take a look at this eight-minute video to learn how Connections Academy® online public school meets the needs of the Brems family. Hear from the parents and their three children and watch how they spend their school days - in school, after school, and on field trips.
Here is a sample of the Parent/Legal Guardian (Caretaker) Acknowledgment from Connections Academy®.
Supporting and Evaluating Teachers
Susan Patrick, former Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education and current President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), offers a couple of reasons why teachers like online teaching. The digital age has produced a whole world of powerful and creative new tools for teachers to use. She emphasizes the flexibility of teaching online and opportunities for more one-on-one time with students.
Online teachers are evaluated on more dimensions than most traditional classroom teachers. This is possible, in part, because of the nature of the learning management system technology that can capture teacher-student interactions, class discussions, and course content in a way not possible in a traditional classroom. The asynchronous nature of a threaded discussion makes it easy for a school administrator to supervise the conversation. In contrast, observing a traditional classroom discussion requires scheduling in real-time with the classroom teacher. In some online programs, student feedback is a component of teacher evaluation. This information is typically gathered through anonymous online surveys. Even when student feedback is not used as part of the formal evaluation process, it may still be provided to teachers for use as a self-assessment.
Watch this four-minute video clip of Susan Patrick talking about why online learning is a smart solution. She also emphasizes how professional development needs to change in order to prepare online teachers.
Information in this section is based on Southern Regional Education Board. (2003). Essential Principles of High-Quality Online Teaching: Guidelines for evaluating K-12 online teachers.