As the world embraces more and more applications of online learning and virtual schooling it is important that we find ways to have the greatest impact. Although in some cases schools and teachers were forced into the virtual space, it has become a choice by more and more parents who are seeking the positive advantages flexible learning offers.
We are receiving regular enquiries and questions about how best to support teachers, children and families in virtual schooling. Investors are also looking into ways they can capitalise on a growing interest in all forms of virtual schooling from language instruction through to K-12 fully virtual school platforms and even hybrid models that utilise a range of different modes of instruction.
It is important to deliver virtual schooling that has impact!
Presence for Virtual Schooling
There is obviously a major risk that presence is lost in a virtual environment. Presence in all of its many forms. Participants need to be able to project themselves socially, emotionally as well as academically, when they express themselves in learning processes. A community of enquiry is achieved when learning is constructed and meaning is made through authentic and meaningful interactions. Education becomes worthwhile when cognitive and social processes are brought to life by participants who are truly connected. When we remove non-verbal forms of expression, voice inflections we are often less effective. These factors help guide facilitation of student learning and direct instruction by teachers.
The digital tools we use become an extensions of our teaching and replace traditional forms of communication. Children don’t have to see or hear the teacher all the time, just as teachers do not have to physically observe the students, in person. Presence is achieved when we have direct and regular interaction that is both meaningful and asynchronous. Teaching presence and impact is achieved through interaction, in whatever form that might take. This is just one important way to deliver virtual schooling that has impact.
Instructional Design and Good Planning
When the pandemic first hit many schools and teachers quickly scrambled to ensure learning continued seamlessly. It was an emergency and professionals had to react fast. Online learning carries a stigma of being of lower quality learning in person in spite of the fact that research proves otherwise and not all children are the same. The fast pivot from one mode to another, in some cases delivered a poorer quality learning environment. To be fair, this was natural. Once the dust had settled however, it was time to move from reactive to strategic. We know from research about virtual learning models that effective virtual learning results from careful instructional design and planning. By using a systematic model for design and development of learning we can have an impact on the quality of the instruction. It is this careful design process that is absent in some cases when circumstances have not allowed for comprehensive design and good planning. Virtual schooling that has impact is well planned, strategic and not a reactive response to an emergency.
Some key areas for careful planning include decisions about design:
- Fully online
- Blended (over 50% online)
- Blended (25–50% online)
Instructor Role Online
- Active instruction online
- Small presence online
Student Role Online
- Listen or read
- Complete problems or answer questions
- Explore simulation and resources
- Collaborate with peers
- Self-paced (open entry, open exit)
- Class-paced with some self-paced
- < 35 to 1
- 36–99 to 1
- 100–999 to 1
- > 1,000 to 1
Online Communication Synchrony
- Asynchronous only
- Synchronous only
- Some blend of both
Source of Feedback
Role of Online Assessments
- Determine if student is ready for new content
- Tell system how to support the student (adaptive instruction)
- Provide student or teacher with information about learning state
- Input to grade
- Identify students at risk of failure
Source: Content adapted from Barbara Means, Marianne Bakia, and Robert Murphy, Learning Online: What Research Tells Us about Whether, When and How (New York: Routledge, 2014).
We know that in any relationships that involve direct communication, instructions, supervision or leadership, that clarity is an important factor in success. If a teacher is very clear when sharing new concepts or ideas then the student is more likely to understand. If the expectations and objectives for assessment are clear then a student knows what they are aiming to achieve and the steps to take to accomplish that. There is a risk in virtual learning environments for things to be much less clear as we depend on many varieties of communication modes including learning management systems (LMS), online documents, email, and other digital forms of communication. Students must not get lost. Teachers must o everything in clean, simple ways with limited clicks so that everyone can quickly and easily understand what is expected.There must be a clear way for students to find and gather resources in a central place, understand how to use technology tools, submit assignments and other essential but sometimes complex tasks.
Data Driven Instruction for Virtual Schooling
Success is no accident. It is important that we know the “why” something works, or does not work and for us to adapt based on feedback either directly from participants or what data tells us. By data, we can be referring to communication from participants, observations but also trends in student performance as well as levels engagement. Teachers in virtual learning environments tend to be experienced and comfortable in the online environment. They use a wide range of strategies, are willing to learn themselves, but they always use data and analytics to guide continuous improvement. Conversations about excellence in virtual learning environments always begin with “what we found was……” or “research has proven that……”
Our research and evidence about best practice virtual schooling that has impact:
a) Authentic and relevant course materials that connect directly to practice
d) Students’ reflection on their own learning
b) The use of multimedia resources, as appropriate for relevant contexts
e) the instructor’s explanation of the purpose and objectives of activities, technologies and assessments in the virtual learning environment.
c) Student creation of relevant digital content individually and collaboratively
Authentic Connection and Engagement in Virtual Schooling
Just like with traditional, face to face models of delivery, we know that virtual schooling has greater impact when we can demonstrate to kids that the teacher is authentically and personally interested and invested in every student. In a normal classroom it is much easier for teachers to keep a finger on the pulse but we need to find different ways for human connection in a virtual classroom. Teacher presence is all about connection. We need students to feel connected with the teacher and other students and not just the computer or technology platforms. Trust, support and loyalty are human traits not easily replicated by devices. Use a variety of methods such as discussion boards to explore topics, review each others work and ideas, and to create deeper reflections. We find that it is important to build a sense of community and it is only once we have achieved this that we can create a model for virtual schooling that has impact.
When we explore virtual schooling we need to view this through the perspective of our learners. The platform, tools and learning experiences must be simple and make navigation easy. We need to create a virtual school environment that supports learning and builds community.
If we ask ourselves these challenging questions we can create virtual learning environments that will be better for everyone.
If you want to learn more about the steps required to set up a virtual school check out some of our other articles:
CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry
Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.
Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.
Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.
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