By Michelle Mueller
Online classrooms have become a revolution in today’s education. As principal of Wisconsin Connections Academy (WCA), one of Wisconsin’s first virtual schools, I have seen first-hand the benefits that online learning brings to students and their families. WCA’s virtual school program helps students build on their individual skills and interests in a setting that is both personalized and connected to a larger school community. I started with WCA in 2002, and since then have helped serve thousands of K-12 students throughout the state. With online learning becoming more and more popular, it is incredibly beneficial to understand the anatomy of what makes an online classroom successful.
Here are some tips to consider when teaching online:
- Ensure that students have access to needed tools. It isn’t uncommon that a student doesn’t have regular access to the internet or a computer, or their ability to access these tools is limited. It is important to help students connect with needed resources prior to starting any online lesson plan.
- Be available. To defeat the stigma that online classrooms are impersonal, it’s vital that teachers are available for questions and feedback as they would be in a traditional face-to-face classroom. Setting up a timeframe that you will be available for students not only helps you connect with your class, but also helps ensure your students don’t fall behind or become overwhelmed. We have found that our online school teachers get to know the learning styles, skills, and interests of their students, which in turn gives students the best opportunities to excel.
- Create a collaborative online community. When designing a course, a great strategy is to develop a plan that involves consistent social feedback from each student. Discussion forums and group projects are an easy way for students to connect with each other and share ideas, compare experiences, and have fun learning together. Our school even has opportunities for students to attend in-person gatherings, activities, and field trips that bridge online and offline experiences.
- Provide effective feedback. Written feedback isn’t the only way to provide responses to students. Alternative, more interactive methods of communication can foster engagement and success in the learning environment. For example, video chats make feedback more personal and also give the student a better idea of what they did well on or where they could improve.
- Reflect on your teaching. Whether online learning is something new or you’ve been involved in a virtual classroom before, it’s not a bad idea to reflect on successes and opportunities for improvement after conducting classes. At WCA, our teachers are committed to continuous improvement. Working with parents, we regularly hold conversations to evaluate effective approaches to curriculum. We have found that this feedback is vital to the success of the student. Likewise, it can be beneficial to gain feedback from students to see what works and what doesn’t. Nurturing relationships and extending the student experience beyond the screen really helps to open communication with students.
I love working at a virtual school. Technology has given us the ability to grow and adapt to individual student needs and provide flexibility for those who need it. Knowing that we are able to make such a positive effect on students’ lives tells me that we’re doing something right.