For teachers accustomed to teaching at the front of a classroom, the move into the virtual world presents new and interesting challenges. How do you create the same kind of connection with students when they are no longer physically sitting in front of you? How do you know if Sally is paying attention or if Jim is truly absorbing the subject matter when you can’t make eye contact and directly observe their behaviours?
While it takes some adjustment, teaching in the virtual classroom can be an exciting, dynamic, and engaging experience. There are studies that show students who learn online perform as well as their peers in core subjects, and our collective understanding of what makes for a great learning/teaching experience in the virtual world is growing. It is a very different teaching paradigm and must be approached as such. Says Rita-Marie Conrad, who along with Judith V. Boettcher wrote The Online Teaching Survival Guide, “Years ago, we used to say the danger of online courses was they were just going to become electronic correspondence courses. That’s still a danger. As each new wave of teachers come into this environment, there’s still that misunderstanding that this is a new environment.”
So what best practices can teachers draw upon when teaching in the virtual classroom? Here are eight suggested best practices and observations for instructors looking to hone their approach:
- Based on study evidence, blended and purely online learning conditions generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
- Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and by prompting learner reflection. Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online learning as individuals.
- When groups of students are learning together online, support mechanisms such as guiding questions generally influence the way students interact, but not the amount they learn. These tactics work better when leveraged on an individualised basis.
- Use data provided by a learning management system to alter teaching structures, adapt to various learning styles, and provide early intervention when a student is struggling.
- Take the time that would typically be spent in a traditional classroom on lesson planning and reorient it toward communicating with students and giving feedback.
- Present learning materials in multiple formats from labs to video to text to provide alternative learning paths.
- Stay active within the course, frequently checking message boards, grading, facilitating discussions, and providing feedback.
- Commit to continual improvement both in terms of curriculum and in the use of technology for learning.