Six steps for a successful online summer school

Presenting engaging, interactive, interesting content is half the battle. However, if students cannot easily navigate to those engaging activities, they won’t be able to start learning. The learning management system (LMS) — the platform upon which the content is served up to learners — should help, not hinder, the learning experience. Students must be able to navigate the program interface successfully after a short orientation or tutorial.

When it comes to user experience, simplicity can be essential. Look for a platform that credit-recovery learners can navigate with ease and that can provide additional functionality as the district and its learners become more sophisticated about online learning.

Step three: Teacher team

Two myths characterized the infancy of online learning initiatives. The first was that online learning was impersonal and isolating. The second was that virtual classes would eliminate the need for a teacher. Overwhelmingly, qualitative and quantitative data affirm the opposite (3). Online learning can be a great deal more personal and interactive than face-to-face classes, and the online school teacher is as important as ever. However, the teacher’s role does change in an online environment.

The online teacher: a 21st century role

Unburdened from the need to deliver content, the online teacher is a coach who stands ready to offer guidance, answer questions, motivate, encourage, and document these interactions with students and parents in a communication log. The online environment affords access to excellent tools — many of them free — that facilitate a variety of student–teacher and teacher–teacher interaction. A teacher’s communication log and information from the content management system also provide transparency, so educators can rapidly identify when students require intervention and support. Thus, it is important to hire teachers with good communication skills, train them adequately, and support them fully.

Because the first time through a virtual course is difficult for an online teacher — learning a new role, experiencing the ins and outs of the course, and navigating a new learning management system — his or her comfortable relationship with multiple technologies is a must. Leaders should consider requiring an electronic application and using Skype for the initial interview to test new applicants’ technological proficiency. That being said, familiarity with specific tools is less important than a prospect’s attitude toward leaving her comfort zone. Many teachers who come to online learning expecting they will have less to do will soon be overwhelmed by the demands of online courses and students.

Specialized roles

Summer school planners should identify and train a Lead Teacher to add an extra layer of support and oversight for the online program. Because the Lead Teacher is a super-user of the courseware to support, rather than supervise, the teacher team, she should have early access to the content of the courses and additional training. Though the role is not that of a direct supervisor, the Lead Teacher should develop a rubric for all the teachers that clearly defines weekly/monthly expectations (checkpoints) and assesses teachers on an ongoing basis. Checkpoint recommendations include: the minimum number of office hours that the teacher is immediately available by phone, eMail, or other means; logging in six out of seven days; issuing progress reports per a defined schedule; and contacting students weekly and parents monthly. This data is not intended to be used to criticize teacher performance, but rather to indicate where they need additional support.

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