‘Teacher cheerleaders’ make online learning successful

Virtual learning can help many at-risk students graduate on time.

As online learning reaches more students in districts across the country, some educators struggle with how they can become successful virtual teachers—but tips from the 2011 National Online Teacher of the Year might help.

Kristin Kipp, who teaches English online at the 21st Century Virtual Academy in Jefferson County, Colo., has been teaching online for three years. Kipp teaches 11th and 12th graders, is an instructional leader for the English department, and is a part-time adjunct English teacher with Colorado Online Learning.

Jefferson County’s 21st Century Virtual Academy is a district-led program that accepts students both from the district and across the state. Many Jefferson County students are enrolled part-time in the virtual academy, taking two or three classes at a local high school and a few courses online. This, said Kipp, has been especially successful, because students are still in “school mode” for their online courses.

Students range from those considered at-risk owing to issues such as poor grades or low attendance, to those hoping to fit in a few extra courses before heading off to college.

For more on virtual learning:

Introducing Online Learning in Your District

eSN Special Report: Blended Learning on the Rise

Kipp said she and some of her colleagues believe many colleges and universities look favorably on students who enroll in online courses.

“Obviously, the world of postsecondary education has moved to online education a whole lot faster than secondary education,” she said. “I think colleges look favorably on it because students already have some experience, and kids who work online have to develop this sense of being a self-motivated learner, and they have to make that decision every day. I think colleges are starting to realize that makes for a student who is well-prepared.”

Before enrolling in the virtual academy, students take a course introducing them to the principles of online learning, including time management and how to use virtual calendars and a course management system.

Kipp takes full advantage of all that virtual learning has to offer; her students use message boards to reflect on assignments and hold groups discussions. She suggests setting minimum participation requirements, such as asking each student to post to a message board three times per week, to keep group discussions ongoing and relevant.

Currently, Kipp’s seniors are reading different science fiction novels. She built groups for different novels in Blackboard, and students are posting reader response journals in their assigned novel groups. Next, they’ll create a wiki within that group to explore different themes and aspects of the novels.

For more on virtual learning:

Introducing Online Learning in Your District

eSN Special Report: Blended Learning on the Rise

Online discussion boards also help typically shy students interact more frequently. “They have time to compose, sit there, and really think” about their responses, Kipp said. And because the discussions in Kipp’s classes remain online and active, students can revisit topics throughout the course.

“It’s fun for me to see how their conversation about a novel continues over the course of several weeks,” she said. “They may come back to an idea that they posted on the board earlier and expand on it later as they read the novel.”

Kipp uses a handful of key strategies to remain in communication with her online students and to ensure that they are engaged and successful in their online courses.

Establish a relationship: “In so many ways, I feel like I’m so much closer with my students now than face-to-face [students],” she said. Kipp works with each student one-on-one and said she uses an “I see you” approach to communicating with her students. “I’m not afraid to be quirky and do funny things,” she said, adding that she’ll give her students virtual high-fives for jobs well done.

Stay in contact: “I tease about being a cyber-stalker, but even if students never log into the course system, they’re going to hear from me a couple times per week.” Kipp said she’ll eMail students, then move to phone calls if she receives no response, and will then text message students if they fail to return her phone calls.

Offer consistent praise: Kipp uses a weekly to-do list that prompts her to communicate with different groups of students on certain days. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is being really purposeful about not just letting the struggling kids hear from me,” she said. On a Monday, for instance, Kipp might sent motivational eMails to students who are excelling or improving grades. On Wednesday, she might send messages to students who seem to be struggling. “I’ll get responses that are questions that they would not have asked had I not initiated the conversation,” she said

For more on virtual learning:

Introducing Online Learning in Your District

eSN Special Report: Blended Learning on the Rise

Set a schedule: Kipp sends her students suggested study and work schedules. Jefferson County’s virtual academy moves students through in a cohort approach and it not completely self-paced. Kipp gives her students a week’s worth of assignments with a corresponding suggestion of how students might want to break up the work and assignments.

Become a teacher cheerleader: “When I hear someone say that online education is going to devalue the teacher, I think … absolutely not,” she said. “If kids are going to have a great experience, they have to have a great teacher, because that makes or breaks the entire experience.”

Pay attention to student-to-teacher ratio: Many online programs have a high student-to-teacher ratio, and that makes a huge difference in how much attention an online instructor can devote to each student, Kipp said.

Interaction, interaction, interaction
: It’s important to note that an online course does not concern only the interaction between the student and the content, but also includes the interaction between all the students and the interaction between each student and the teacher. “I think about how I have those three interactions going on at all times,” Kipp said.

The National Online Teacher of the Year for K-12 was co-founded by the Southern Regional Education Board and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. The other finalists from this year include Thomas Landon from Virtual Virginia, Dianna Miller from Florida Virtual School, Emily Parrish from North Carolina Virtual Public School, and Andrew Vanden Heuvel from Michigan Virtual School.

Because online learning can help such a wide range of students, Kipp said access is of the utmost importance.

“I don’t necessarily think that full-time online education is the best approach for every kid, but for those who need it, it is absolutely essential. I have so many kids who wouldn’t graduate if this program didn’t exist,” she said. “It’s so important that we value online education and make sure all kids have access.”

For more on virtual learning:

Introducing Online Learning in Your District

eSN Special Report: Blended Learning on the Rise

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.