This is the last post for the Georgia Virtual Learning Tool, and I want to take this time to reflect on the practices of an effective virtual teacher.
Georgia Virtual Learning lists eleven standards for an effective teacher and online course:
- The asynchronous classroom is a welcoming, interactive environment.
- The synchronous classroom time is well planned and managed.
- An accurate reflection of progress is provided to each student.
- Student success is promoted and facilitated through regular feedback, prompt response, and clear expectations.
- Opportunities are provided for collaboration and to allow students to utilize different learning styles and access alternative learning paths in order to demonstrate mastery of the Georgia Performance Standards.
- Participation in professional development and learning activities is demonstrated.
- Considerations are made for students with untraditional academic needs and circumstances.
- Communication with stakeholders is consistent, evident, and part of the daily operations of the classroom.
- School procedures are valued and prioritized as part of the classroom management necessary for student success.
- Instructors are provided with regular feedback regarding their instruction and classroom management.
- Management tasks are well managed and highly valued.
Of these eleven standards, the last three deal mainly with administrative duties and less with teaching, so I will only focus on the first eight. This list of eleven objectives works like a checklist, and this form is useful during observations and periodic self-assessments, but when thinking about effective teaching as a whole, it is more helpful to consider how these eleven objectives fit into four different services teachers provide:
- A positive learning environment
- Standards 1, 2, 4, 6,
- Opportunities for social learning
- Standards 2, 5,
- Standards 3, 4, 8
- A personalized learning experience
- Standards 3, 7
Positive Learning Environment
The learning environment includes the course’s design, engaging activities, and quality assessments. A course’s design should be easily accessible in both appearance and flow. Effective online teachers will use good design theory, as I discussed in “Appearance and Design,” and homepages and subsequent lessons need to be easy to navigate. My sample homepage illustrates how an effective teacher will purposely design the course page to grab students’ interest, and it should include resources for students to explore and assignments to complete.
Once students access the course homepage and begin learning the material, they must have a variety of engaging activities. Engagement begins as soon as the course opens, and during the Participate competency, I offered many ways a teacher can build a positive learning community while teaching students my expectations for their online etiquette and strategies that protect intellectual property. During my exploration of the Create competency, I offered many examples of activities that dealt directly with course content. There are examples of how to use Web 2.0 tools, practice activities, as well as student discussions. In “Creating and Maintaining Discussion Forums,” I argued that effective student discussions should be a fundamental part of the digital classroom, and without a positive learning environment, effective student discussions are impossible.
Finally, students need quality assessments that align to the course objectives and connect to the real world. The posts “Summative Assessment” and “Communicating with Rubrics” posts, I discussed and showed how to align standards with actual goals, and in “Sample Assignment and Feedback,” I showed how a project can offer concrete connections to the students’ individual lives by having them not only explore the topic of individuals overcoming obstacles to achieve goals but to also have them interview family members and other adults about this topic. The activity culminates by giving the students a real product that can be published or saved for a future portfolio.
Opportunities for Social Learning
Social learning is not just a trend in education, but it also is how we are wired as human beings. Quality teachers will deliberately plan for social learning by beginning with policies and procedures that encourage positive peer interactions. My “Digital Resources and Netiquette” post suggests positive behaviors, and my “Digital Rights and Responsibilities” post, I offer lesson plans that use social learning to instruct students on copyright and plagiarism. I continue to explore ways for students to learn from each other in my “Sample Assignment and Feedback” post, and then in my “Differentiation based on Data” post, I suggest ways in which social learning can help challenge gifted students or offer support for struggling students.
Teacher feedback must be timely and constructive. Timely feedback is not only feedback that responds quickly to parents’ concerns, but it also should also be proactive. During the Communicate section, I described communication guidelines that ensure timely feedback and communication. My blog has several examples of these guidelines in place, as described in “The Newsletter and Communications Wrap-up” and it also lists some trouble-shooting ideas in “Ongoing Communication.” Finally, in “Using the Data,” I identify some specific instances when a teacher needs to reach out to a student who seems to be lost in the class.
However timely the feedback is, it will be useless if the teacher does not offer positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. Synchronous sessions, as I discussed in that post, are a great way to give meaningful feedback. Emails and news items are also useful for providing feedback, and the teacher has many options. Find a few examples in the “Giving Digital Feedback” post. Finally, feedback must help students grow as learners, and I showed an example of quality feedback that address the course objectives in “Quality Feedback.”
A Personalized Learning Experiences
While there should be plenty of opportunities for students to share ideas with classmates and work together, a major part of the online class is self-paced. In order for students to be successful, the teacher must consider possible barriers to the learning when designing the course, which are addressed “Access to the Digital Community.” Furthermore, students need choice. In “Web Tools for Assessment” post, I showed how a teacher could incorporate student choice in an assignment, and in “Competencies“ I showed how competencies can help learners create their own learning path.
It has been a long journey exploring the five different aspects of virtual classrooms and online learning, and I thank you for reading along with me. The work and research of going through this process showed me what a quality virtual teacher must do to intellectually reach students who may be miles away. The GAVL section of my blog includes many examples of quality online teaching and effective lessons and assessments, but if you would like to know more about my history or my pedagogy, please email me.