Online-learning programs tend to require more frequent contact with younger students. In terms of the content of the contact, this generally included wording that requires teachers and students to treat each other with respect, use appropriate language, have positive attitudes, and so on. This was often spelled out in the school’s acceptable-use or “netiquette” policies.

In many schools, teachers are required to speak to parents regularly to review student progress, but the frequency varies widely. According to iNACOL, having multiple methods of disseminating policy information to parents is important, because “relying exclusively on digital distribution for parents is particularly risky. … There is no guarantee that parents have access to the technology. Those schools with written communication policies seem to understand and follow this rationale by indicating that they use multiple methods, both printed and online, to disseminate information to teachers, parents, and students.”

Practices and delivery

iNACOL’s research brief also gives educators a glimpse into what instructional and communication practices work best for a wide variety of virtual schools, including the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in Canada; the Florida Virtual School in Orlando, and the Clark County School District’s Virtual High School in Las Vegas.

“Virtual schools use a variety of ways in which to structure and deliver educational opportunities to their students,” explains the report. “However, little is known about which of these are more or less effective in what specific contexts. Due to the localized findings, research is needed in a variety of locations with a variety of virtual and cyber schools.”

In summary, here’s what the report found:

– For content delivery, most schools rely on asynchronous technology to facilitate flexible scheduling and pacing, “enhanced by blending synchronous technology or face-to-face meetings in a few cases.”

Course development is predominantly accomplished at the local school level, with a few schools contracting with content vendors.

Pacing typically follows a traditional school calendar, often with suggested pacing guidelines. Only a few schools operate under open schedules and paces.

The role of the instructor is multifaceted, meaning that instructors must facilitate instruction using the school’s synchronous and/or asynchronous technology, as well as provide tutoring to students, lead discussions, and evaluate student activities.

– For communications, most online schools use course discussion forums and eMail as the primary methods of student-teacher communication, says the report, “with many schools requiring an asynchronous text-based form of communication in courses.” Some schools also require phone communication or other synchronous communication.

– For teacher requirements, all schools require teacher certification and most require teachers to have a minimum amount of teaching experience and online teaching preparation. Only one of the 10 programs surveyed requires online teaching experience, however.

Links:

iNACOL

“Research Committee Issues Brief: Examining Communication and Interaction in Online Teaching” (PDF)

National Standards for Quality Online Teaching (PDF)

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Learning Without Limits resource center. Online learning is no longer regarded with the skepticism it was a decade ago–and now thousands of K-12 schools nationwide are turning to online-learning providers for help with credit recovery, enrichment opportunities for gifted students, and even for providing core curriculum classes in areas where there isn’t enough demand to justify keeping a teacher on staff. Go to: Learning Without Limits


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