Best Practices in Online Learning

From David Evans

A recent Time magazine article, “The Teacher You’ve Never Met: Inside an Online High School Class,” profiled Jane Good, one of Colorado’s 21st Century Virtual Academy K-12 teachers. As a teacher who only sees her students’ hands raised through buttons clicked on a screen and will never be able to tell if a student has dozed off on his or her desk, Good realizes that there are effective and ineffective practices for teaching in an online classroom.

As Time magazine asserts, “They are a new breed, these teachers who work remotely, and they face an array of challenges.”

To overcome these challenges, Good advocates for involvement on the teacher’s end by communicating in and out of the classroom. Good explained to Time, “You have to be so good at communicating with students and making sure that they truly understand what you want them to do, and that you can recognize when kids are not understanding and not asking for help.”

The seventh through tenth grade teacher has also found that collaborating with fellow online teachers helps in learning others’ online practices. Good and her colleagues attend monthly training sessions to learn each other’s strategies.

One of Good’s students labeled her as one of the teachers who will “go the extra mile” in their effort and communication. As an online learning expert, I completely agree with this teaching practice—teachers cannot just post a lesson and clock out for the day. They need to work with their students through frequent conversation.

However, teachers also need to create technical foundation to allow for the most successful online learning environment. By following these three practices, teachers can create concise, direct and attractive lessons for their students.

  1. Keep online lessons short. An effective online lesson should be short—lasting no more than 15 minutes. This may seem very curt in comparison to the 45 to 90 minute classroom sessions, but remember, these are not the same as face-to-face sessions. The shorter the session, the more concise and direct it will turn out. Plus, this frees up students’ time for deeper inquiry.
  2. Use the right technology. As online videos have become popular in teaching online, teachers should know the most way for students to most easily access them. Teachers should display online videos through a streaming video service, rather than uploading videos from their desktops. Videos that teachers upload through services load faster for students, adding to the directness of the lesson. In addition, teachers should keep videos to five minutes long at the most.
  3. Enrich your lessons with multimedia. Although your video usage should remain short, the rest of your lesson can be embedded with other forms of multimedia—and the more the better. Think about it: if students do not have a teacher making eye contact to hold their attention, they need more than a white screen to attract them to a lesson online. In addition to relevant videos, teachers can incorporate pictures, animations or interactive activities. Teachers can even present text in a graphic way to grab their students’ attention.

While teachers can no longer tell if a student is doodling in their notebook, they can work to create an even more exciting learning environment than one in a traditional classroom. They just need to take the right steps by using the appropriate technological practices, along with frequent communication, to effectively engage and educate their students.

Are you an educator who teachers primarily online? What best practices have you gleaned from your experiences? Share in the comments or over on our Facebook page.

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